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NZ insurers expect to pay $NZ20 billion

New Zealand insurers expect to pay out more than $NZ5 billion ($3.9 billion) in earthquake claims this year and more than $NZ15 billion ($11.7 billion) next year.

Figures from the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) annual review show the industry earned gross written premium of $NZ3.98 billion ($3.1 billion) in the year to September 30, up 10% on the previous corresponding period, and incurred claims of $NZ3.3 billion ($2.6 billion), up 58%.

Its loss ratio was 111.81% and its combined ratio 146.36%. It is the third time in five years that the combined ratio has gone over 100%.

Gross written premium for earthquake cover rose to $NZ350 million ($274 million) from $NZ220 million ($172 million) in 2010, but earthquake claims incurred rose to $NZ1.49 billion ($1.17 billion) from $242 million ($189 million) in 2010 and only $NZ6 million ($4.7 million) in 2009. 

The 2010 figure captures the September 4 quake that started the Canterbury series of more than 10,000 earthquakes and aftershocks. 

Earthquake payouts of over $NZ5 billion this year are projected to jump to $NZ15 billion in 2013 as the Christchurch rebuild picks up and owners of large commercial projects call on their insurance.

Earthquake cover comprised 8.8% of gross written premium (GWP) in 2011, up from 6.1%, with other categories changing only slightly. Motor cover contributed 33.7% of GWP, domestic 26.4% and commercial 12.6%.

Gross written premium from commercial lines, comprising material damage and business interruption, rose 7% to $NZ502 million ($393 million) and claims incurred dropped 10% to $NZ155 million ($121 million).

Home buildings and contents GWP rose 13% to $NZ1.05 billion ($820 million) while claims incurred fell 2% to $NZ515 million ($403 million). The figures do not include earthquake cover and claims.

ICNZ CEO Chris Ryan says the lower claims numbers might reflect some commercial and hard-to-place risk going offshore and a relatively benign year when earthquake loss is excluded.

He told that gross written premium is continuing to rise because New Zealanders are more aware of the value of insurance, and the industry will have earned more than $NZ4 billion ($3.1 billion) in calendar 2011.

The premium increase has fuelled comments in the New Zealand media that brokers are reaping a windfall from higher commission earnings.

But Insurance Brokers Association of New Zealand CEO Gary Young told brokers are working much harder to secure renewals, with fewer insurers in the tougher market.

He says brokers are also spending “considerable” amounts of time helping clients with claims.

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