Insurers are creating products for a world where virus outbreaks could become the new normal after many businesses were left out in the cold during the COVID-19 crisis.
While new pandemic-proof policies might not be cheap, they offer businesses from restaurants to film production companies to e-commerce retailers ways of insuring against disruptions and losses if another virus strikes.
The providers include big insurers and brokers adding new products to existing coverage, as well as niche players that see an opportunity in filling the void left by mainstream firms that categorize virus outbreaks like wars or nuclear explosions.
Tech firm Machine Cover, for example, aims to offer policies next year that would give relief during lockdowns. Using apps and other data sources, the Boston-based company measures traffic levels around businesses such as restaurants, department stores, hairdressers and car dealers.
If traffic drops below a certain level, it pays out, whatever the reason.
“This is the type of coverage which … businesses thought they had paid for when they bought their current business interruption policies before the coronavirus pandemic,” the company’s founder Inder-Jeet Gujral told Reuters.
“I believe this will be a major opportunity because post-COVID, it would be as irresponsible to not buy insurance against pandemics as it would be to not buy insurance against fire.”
The company is backed by insurer Hiscox and individual investors, mostly from the insurance and private equity world.
Restaurants in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Monday ordered dining to shut down soon after reopening, are now reeling, said Andrew Giambarba, a broker for Insurance Office of America in Doral, Florida.
“It’s been like they made it to the ninth round of the fight and were holding on when this punch came out of nowhere,” said Giambarba, whose clients include restaurants that did not get payouts under their business interruption coverage.
“Every niche that is dealing with insurance that is affected by business interruption needs every new product they can have.”
Pandemic exemptions have helped some insurers emerge relatively unscathed and the sector has largely resisted pressure to provide more virus cover. Indeed, some insurers that paid out for event cancellations and other losses have removed pandemics from their coverage.
British risk managers association Airmic said last week that the pandemic had contributed to a lack of adequate insurance at an affordable price and most of its members were looking at other ways to reduce risk.
To help fill the void in a locked-down world, Lloyd’s of London insurer Beazley Plc BEZG.L, started selling a contingency policy last month to insure organisers of streamed music, cultural and business events against technical glitches.
“These events are completely reliant on the technology working and a failure can be financially crippling,” said Mark Symons, contingency underwriter at Beazley.
Marsh, the world’s biggest insurance broker, has teamed up with AXA XL, part of France’s AXA (AXAF.PA), and data firm Arity, which is part of Allstate, to help businesses such as U.S. supermarket chains, restaurants and e-commerce retailers cope with the challenges of social distancing.
With home deliveries surging, firms have hired individual drivers to meet demand, but commercial auto liability insurance for “gig” contractors with their own vehicles is hard to find.
Marsh and its partners devised a policy based on usage with a price-by-mile insurance, which can be cheaper than typical commercial auto cover as delivering a pizza doesn’t have the same risks as driving people around.
“Even when the pandemic is over, we believe last-mile delivery will continue to grow,” said Robert Bauer, head of Marsh’s U.S. sharing economy and mobility practice.
A report by consultants Capgemini showed that demand for usage-based insurance has skyrocketed since COVID-19 first broke out and more than 50% of the customers it surveyed wanted it.
However, only half of the insurers interviewed by Capgemini for its World Insurance Report said they offered it.