Analysts at Swiss Re have warned of continued claims severity pressures for property and casualty (P&C) re/insurers over the coming year, although the firm says that claims growth will ease slightly alongside a moderation in inflation.
Swiss Re expects headline inflation to decline but stay elevated in 2023, to some extent alleviating upward pressure on claims compared to 2022.
However, it adds that cost inflation in certain prices, such as labour and healthcare, may remain high, with motor and liability also set for continued pressure as additional factors like social inflation and more frequent traffic accidents underpin claims.
“This environment will require P&C insurers to consider continuing underwriting discipline in 2023,” Swiss Re concluded in a new report on the claims environment.
Analysts note that high inflation has already proved expensive for P&C insurer, and estimates that inflation alone will increase P&C claims costs by between 5% and 7.5% across the main five markets in 2022 and 2023.
And for property, which as a short-tail business immediately sensitive to inflation impacts and rising construction costs, Swiss Re estimates a 6% to 13% increase over the two years, which is higher than the 5% to 8% range of registered price increases.
“We expect P&C claims growth to ease in 2023 alongside moderation in inflation,” analysts wrote. “Coupled with a repricing in loss-making areas during recent primary market renewals, this may alleviate some of last year’s underwriting pressure.”
They continued: “Still, insurers will need to maintain discipline in pricing, and terms and conditions, as we forecast inflation to continue to impact many claims-relevant price categories, such as labour and medical costs. Prices in these areas typically grow more slowly than in other segments, and they remain elevated.”
Swiss Re estimates that the average combined ratio in P&C insurance rose to 99.3% in 2022 from 96% in 2021, driven mostly by inflation, and forecasts a combined ratio of around 98% for the sector in 2023, which would be close to the pre-COVID 2019 level of 97.7%.
Looking at notable factors for the coming year, it’s expected that cost increases in construction, which peaked in 2022, should ease but will remain high by historical standards, as building activity is still strong and China’s re-opening will increase global demand for commodities.
Likewise, Swiss Re suggests that cost rises in motor vehicle repairs and replacements should ease in key markets, but will still be above pre-pandemic levels.
And regarding other inflation drivers, it expects tight labour markets to increase wages and backlogs of medical procedures to increase healthcare costs, putting pressure on long-tail lines of business in casualty and motor liability.
“Signals for a market correction had been mounting long before the inflation-driven rise in claims 2022,” Swiss Re concluded. “The underlying claims drivers indicate that higher primary insurance rates are likely. Sustained insurance underwriting discipline will be needed in 2023 to help improve underwriting results.”