This year, 2011, will enter the record books as one of the most expensive for the insurance industry. There has been an unprecedented range of natural disasters around the world and the cumulative effect has been a major disruption of the supply chains. It might not seem very important to us as we sit in relative comfort in the US but, as an example, the floods in Thailand have been catastrophic and they have been having a direct effect on what we can buy here and the prices at which we can buy. To explain we need to reflect on the reality of global trading. To earn savings in low-cost labor and manufacturing, work is farmed out to different countries around the world. In some cases, the whole product is fabricated and assembled abroad. In others, the parts come from multiple manufacturing sites to be assembled in one of our own factories. When the world is at peace, everything arrives “just in time” and we find everything we want when we want it. But this year has been Japan suffer a major earthquake and tsunami in March, there were extraordinary tornadoes in the US, Hurricane Irene hit in September and then came the floods in Thailand.
When you put all these together, the disruption to the supply chain has been immense. Globally, the claims on Business Interruption Insurance has been more than $70 billion so far this year. The problem for the insurance industry is simple. Suppose one factory in Thailand owned by Toyota suddenly finds itself several meters underwater. That may be only one factory out of action, but suppose it supplies parts to fifty other factories around the world. Now there are fifty-one claims for business interruption. As it happens, Thailand is the world’s second-largest producer of hard-disk drives, has factories owned by Honda and Toyota, and so on. The highest rainfall in fifty years flooded some 1,500 factories. Now scale up the disruption. It’s affecting every major manufacturing country around the world.
If your own business is in manufacturing, assembly, logistics or distribution, and you depend on moving complete products or parts around the country, you need to review all those parts of your insurance cover for events affecting your supply chain. This is both direct and contingent interruption, i.e. your exposure depends on where you are in the value added chain and how easily replacements can be found. Insurers are now going to ask for a lot more transparency. In the past, this type of insurance was underwritten with a minimum of information. After this year’s experience, insurers are more likely to ask for detailed disaster plans to show how your business will respond if key suppliers are unable to supply on time. A failure to produce such a plan is likely to lead to a refusal of cover or very high business insurance rates.
The changes in the weather patterns are becoming more obvious and all business insurances rates are going to rise, both to cover property damage and business interruptions. This is not the time to sit back as winter approaches and assume there will be no problems with winter storms whether here in the US or elsewhere in the world. Proper planning will keep your insurance affordable.