Multi-year investment programs that may ultimately cost in the billions of dollars will be required by governments to remedy issues left by a century of poor planning, Suncorp CEO Steve Johnston says.
Mr Johnston says past decisions probably taken with good intentions have led to issues that will require spending across federal, state and local governments that goes beyond commitments already made, and which will also need improved planning approaches.
“This is a multi-year, I think ultimately multi-billion-dollar program that needs to be implemented at all levels of government to really make a material difference to more than 100 years of potentially bad planning decisions,” he told an investor briefing today.
Those decisions had probably been taken “in good faith at the time, but ultimately in a changing climate environment with intensity and severity changing, don’t stack up as well” currently, he said.
Suncorp has welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment to spend up to $200 million a year on mitigation and resilience for a total of $1 billion over five years, and the intention that it be matched by state and territory governments.
The insurer is playing an active role in the Queensland $741 million Resilient Homes Fund and has welcomed the $800 million NSW Northern Rivers program and a heightened focus by governments on resilience.
“All of a sudden, the lightbulb has gone off. We are getting really good engagement federally, we are getting good engagement at state level and we are starting to turn the dial,” Mr Johnston said.
Suncorp today reaffirmed its guidance for an underlying insurance trading ratio of 10-12% for this financial year and said it expected to return the majority of its business interruption provision to shareholders in the financial first half.
“The financial year-to-date premium growth across the portfolio is in line with our expectations from both a volume and average written premium perspective,” Mr Johnston said.
Suncorp continues to put through premium increases in response to rising costs and as it enhances its underwriting technology.
Mr Johnston says the company aims to grow strongly in areas where perils don’t have as big an impact on the underlying risk, while also advocating strongly for improved mitigation, and pricing appropriately, where perils do have a material impact.
“We want to be able to be in a position where we can provide insurance to those customers that are impacted by the perils in a larger way, and we also want to be interacting with government to make sure they play their part in working alongside us to make sure there is affordable product for those consumers in those areas,” he said.
The company is in the process of renewing its home building panel, and Mr Johnston said inflation levels there are significantly lower than is being seen in building repairs across the economy.
“We have big volume and we are using our scale effectively to drive down that cost,” he said. The reliability and procurement advantages of the group’s insurance work also offers advantages to participating builders, he says.
Mr Johnston says Reserve Bank of Australia interest rate rises will have an effect on building construction and the private renovation market, which will help curb inflation pressures in the home portfolio while some cost factors in motor remain “stubbornly elevated”.