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The unexpected cost of business interruption

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Collapsed buildings, damaged factories or destroyed shipping containers: whenever natural catastrophes or man-made disasters strike the physical damage is often devastating for companies. However, the less obvious economic impact from business interruption (BI) is often much higher than the cost of the actual physical damage, and presents a growing risk to businesses operating in an increasingly interconnected world.
According to the latest Global Claims Review report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), the average large BI insurance claim is now in excess of €2-million, which is 36% higher than the corresponding average property damage claim of just over €1,6-million.
In its new report, Allianz’s specialist insurer for business and industrial risks AGCS, analysed more than 1 800 large BI claims from 68 countries from 2010 to 2014, totalling over €3-billion. BI now typically accounts for a much higher proportion of the overall loss than was the case 10 years ago. Both the severity and frequency of BI claims is increasing, which are mostly caused by human error or technical failure.
“This growth in BI claims is fuelled by increasing interdependencies between companies, the global supply chain and lean production processes,” explains Delphine Maïdou, CEO of Johannesburg-based AGCS Africa. “Whereas in the past a large fire or explosion may have only affected one or two companies, today losses increasingly impact a number of companies and can even threaten whole sectors globally. With our experts researching this topic we are well positioned to respond to this evolving risk.”
As production continues to be shifted to Asia, so have large claims. There is an increasing concentration of production sites and logistics hubs in some geographic areas. If such clusters are hit by natural catastrophes, or by fire or explosions – as recently happened at Tianjin port in China – disruptive effects can quickly multiply resulting in contingent business interruption (CBI) losses around the globe: In such cases a business is unable to operate because of an event that has damaged one of its suppliers.
“BI exposures are greatest for sectors with high levels of interconnectivity and technological values as well as concentrations of risks in single locations such as automotive, semi-conductors, power and petrochemical plants”, says Alexander Mack, chief claims officer of AGCS. “While modern supply chains may be flexible and cost-efficient, they are also more vulnerable to disruption. CBI coverage is increasingly being seen as an essential part of today’s insurance policy for many businesses.”
In the aftermaths of the Tohoku earthquake in 2010 and the Thai floods in 2011, which both produced a large number of BI and CBI losses globally, companies have taken steps to reduce supply chain risks.
“We observe that many global businesses are rapidly maturing in terms of BI and supply chain risk awareness and management, but there is still room for further improvement,” says Michael Bruch, emerging risks specialist at AGCS. Interdependencies between suppliers can be a big unknown and many businesses are still dependent on key suppliers. Business continuity planning should not only be part of a company’s own supply chain risk management programme, but also be extended to all of its critical suppliers. It is important that supply chain management is treated as a cross-functional task involving at least functions such as procurement, logistics and finance.
According to the AGCS analysis the majority of BI claims originate from technical or human factors (88% of BI losses) and not from natural catastrophes. The top 10 causes of BI loss account for over 90% of such claims by value, with fire and explosion being the top cause of BI accounting for 59% of all BI insurance claims globally. Each fire and explosion incident analysed averaged €1,7-million in BI costs alone.
The average BI claim in Africa between 2010 and 2014 is €2,05-million. According to AGCS statistics, structural collapse is the most expensive cause of BI loss in Africa, accounting for over 50% of claims by value. However this was a single large loss, which raised the relative importance of collapse by virtue of the fact that it had the highest value.
“In terms of frequency, the majority of BI claims in Africa are still fire and explosion,” says Julius Kluever, head of claims for AGCS Africa.  “We do expect an increase in BI claims in future as South African and global companies converge on the rest of the African continent. The region’s increasing trade with Asia, which is seeing a significant rise in large claims may result in more CBI claims.”
BI losses are highest by value for claims originating from energy (€3,96-million) and property (€2.,21-million) lines of insurance, followed by engineering (€0,9-million) and entertainment (€0,3-million).
The highest average value BI claims typically occur in the oil and gas industry, especially for incidents involving energy platforms (averaging €4,2-million in BI losses). The cost of large energy claims has been rising, with BI now accounting for a higher proportion of it, as exposures have increased due to larger onshore energy facilities and growing interdependencies between companies resulting in regional CBI claims if one plant is disrupted.
At the same time demand has risen because new buyers from Russia in particular are purchasing BI cover for the first time while existing buyers in the US and Europe are looking for higher insurance limits.
In the entertainment sector, illness or an accident of a cast member is the most prevalent cause of interruption: Injury to a major star can delay the production and leading to multi-million dollar claims. This so-called ‘cast loss’ is responsible for 60% of insurance claims received. The proliferation of costly visual effects in film production, which often require contractual commitments with third party specialists, can cause more expensive claims through production delays.
BI and CBI are significant drivers behind the increasing severity of very large property losses. In future, non-physical damage causes of business interruption could become more relevant, too. Perils such as cyber-attacks, political violence, strikes, pandemics or power outages could potentially cause large losses for companies without damage to property. Other non-damage events include actions taken by civil or military authority such as access restrictions or air space closure. For example, a number of losses following the Tianjin explosion are the result of subsequent interruption of flow in stock and production because the port was closed by authorities. Such losses would only be covered by emerging non-damage policies which only a few companies have purchased to date, but more and more businesses are becoming interested in.