Tuesday, 22 September 2020

The FCA business interruption Test Case – Closure, or grinding onward?

The UK High Court handed down its verdict on the Financial Conduct Authority’s test case on Business Interruption on September 15. Some of the 370,000 policyholders affected will now be hoping to receive insurance payouts in time to stave off bankruptcy. Others will now be considering whether they have viable grounds for appeal.

There were a number of battlegrounds in the case. BILA (British Insurance Law Association) will be holding a webinar on September 28, but in the meantime some of the interesting points were:

  • Causation: The Court held that the proximate cause of the business interruption was the composite peril of the business interruption following the occurrence of the notifiable disease. Individual outbreaks were deemed to be part of a national whole.
  • Public authority and prevention of access clauses differed between the policy wordings under consideration, with some being deemed to provide narrow, localised cover while others were deemed to respond to government regulation when it was issued on March 26.
  • Trends clauses are relevant to the calculation of the insured loss because they take account of the circumstances/trends of the insured business.  Insurers relied on the decision in Orient Express Hotels v Assicurazioni Generali Spa (UK)* to argue that the insured could not show that the business loss would not have been suffered ‘but for’ the insured peril because many businesses would have suffered loss in any event due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The court felt that Orient Express had been incorrectly decided and therefore did not follow the precedent.

Appeals from both sides are likely, and then a key question will be whether the Court of Appeal chooses to hear the case or leapfrog it straight to the Supreme Court. An expedited appeal might be heard in late 2020 / early 2021, but not even that will really bring closure. Major UK insurers who are not currently part of the FCA test case will likely find that policyholders seek to read judgments across to their coverage, and thus find themselves embroiled in coverage disputes.

Meanwhile in the background and on the sidelines, the skirmishing will continue.

The FCA has published a Dear CEO letter suggesting quite strongly that insurers should not seek to deduct furlough and similar government payments from any claim settlement, but they have not provided any guidance on how else such payments might be fairly treated.

Reinsurers have already given strong indications of their intention to scrutinise any payments which insurers may make and for which they may seek to recover under their reinsurance arrangements. Certainly catastrophe reinsurers will be considering:

  • The operation of hours clauses: the treaties are designed to respond for specific identifiable events such as earthquakes and windstorms. In the case of a disease outbreak, is it a natural catastrophe? When does the event begin and end? Is it one event, or several?
  • Loss quantification: if an insurer has been using poorly drafted policy wordings which resulted in coverage being awarded where none was intended, can the reinsurer argue that this qualifies as some sort of ex gratia payment and is hence not recoverable?
  • Loss aggregation: a large composite insurer may have multiple portfolios of risk – say SME property/BI, marine and event cancellation (to name just a few). If treaties are written on different bases (eg occurrence vs risks attaching) how will insurers aggregate their losses? 

And so the Business Interruption battle will grind onward – in adjudication as well as in arbitration. Certainly many new precedents will be set. It’s an interesting time to be considering insurance and reinsurance disputes.

* Trading as Generali Global Risk, [2010] EWHC 1186 (Comm).

This post has been written Shirley Beglinger (Advisory Board Member) at Crescendo Advisors.  

Crescendo Advisors (www.crescendo-erm.com) is a boutique risk management consultancy. Crescendo Advisors has a solid track record of successful engagements in both adjudication and arbitration. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Lessons Learnt from Covid-19 ... or Not?

Covid-19 is a health crisis, a business crisis and an economic crisis which has struck the insurance industry hard.

Claims spiked in some areas while volatile financial markets made it almost impossible to steer the investment portfolio, and lockdown measures kept staff at home while struggling to cope with surging call and claim volumes. Meanwhile, there is vocal pressure from some quarters for a “flexible” approach to claims, where “flexible” is shorthand for dishing out large amounts of money for claims which may or may not be covered.  

How has the industry coped, and what lessons has it learned?

To answer that question, Crescendo Advisors carried out a series of structured interviews with a selection of risk and finance professionals from insurance firms. Most of the firms were UK based, with an aggregate turnover of £120 billion in 2019.

Although the firms varied in size and portfolio mix, there was a high degree of consensus in their opinions. Here are Crescendo’s top five findings and conclusions:

  • While most UK firms have weathered the crisis to date, it appears that few did so as laid out in their pre-Covid-19 business continuity planning.  Business continuity plans usually assumed local outbreaks and had to be re-created in the face of a total and global shutdown.
  • All firms who viewed their lockdown experience as ‘successful’ attributed that to excellent, ongoing communication from senior management to all stakeholders;
  • The traditional hostility to staff working from home has changed from “not possible” to “why not?”. Going forward firms expect staff to continue working at least part-time from home, and hence plan on reductions in their office footprint;
  • As remote working and virtual teams have become the post-Covid vogue, the purpose and value of The Office is being critically re-evaluated. It may still be the best place for meetings and staff onboarding, but do we really need all those desks crowded together?
  • With staff working remotely, the cost-benefit dynamic of outsourcing could be changed so that firms will find it beneficial and desirable to bring activities back in-house.

Interestingly, while most participants anticipated the need for a lessons learnt exercise, only one of them acknowledged at the time that his firm was already kicking off such an exercise.

Are insurers perhaps being complacent? They had six weeks to prepare for lockdown and they put the time to good use. By the time staff were required to stay home, many did so with newly acquired laptops and secure connections. The main limitations on productivity came from the lack of suitable home office facilities or from inadequate broadband speeds. The show stayed on the road with remarkably few wobbles.

Next year UK insurers are likely to work in the implementation of operational resilience requirements.  There are lessons to be learnt from Covid-19.  But here’s a thought, if working from home is no longer the backup disaster recovery plan – it is the new normal – what is the new disaster recovery plan?

This post has been written by Isaac Alfon (Managing Director) and Shirley Beglinger (Advisory Board Member) at Crescendo Advisors.  

Crescendo Advisors (www.crescendo-erm.com) is a boutique risk management consultancy.  We would be happy to share an overview of the findings of this survey.  We can also support your efforts to both learn lessons from Covid-19 using the tools we developed for this survey and consider the implications of working from home arrangements for the risk and control environment.