That’s right, the worst “loss year” ever was also the best profit year since ship owners began sharing risk together at Lloyd’s Coffee House in London in the eighteenth century. How can that be? Here’s a hint: the insurance world’s use of the term “loss” is a misnomer. It’s just a claim that’s paid and has nothing to do with the profit/loss we normally associate with an income statement, which, trust me, is what counts.
An insurer who complains about having to pay claims is like Ford complaining about having to make cars. It’s what they do.
I could go on—and I will! Insurers by law are required to keep a policyholders’ surplus for unexpected claims, those that hit with unforeseen severity—like Katrina. But in 2005—annus horribilus, year of Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and Dennis—insurers had enough left over after profits, buying back shares, paying dividends, paying Ed Liddy and Tom Watson’s salaries, etc., to add to this reserve by $35 billion. Industry surplus now stands at a record $495 billion, ten times the size of the worst-ever property-casualty disaster (Katrina) on record.
My point: If the surplus is for emergencies, when are we going to have one?
Listen, I pick on this story by a fine reporter at a great newspaper, and, yes, I will pick on others. This is not a question of me being more perceptive, more moral, more sensitive, less mainstream media, and certainly more smarter than anyone else. I’ve just had the benefit of a year off the newspaper treadmill to think about things like this.
So, with apologies to The Insurance Transparency Project and its questionable staff, here is an alternative headline, which, I submit, a responsible mainstream business publication could run, depending on how you want to frame it, based on the same facts as those found in the Allstate story:
Take Money, Run
Netting $7 billion-plus
Over Five Years,
Allstate Cuts Coastal Coverage.
“Disastrous” ’05 Net: $1.77 billion
The Wall Street Journal, A1, November 27, 2006.