Brokers are fielding an influx of calls from clients affected by Australia’s widespread extreme weather as the industry struggles to keep up with the number of claims for flood and storm damage under a third consecutive La Nina.
Floods have devastated central west NSW this week and severe storms struck SA, on top of recent floods in Victoria.
Evacuation centres are open in Forbes, Eugowra and Moama. Thousands of homes in SA are without power and claims have been lodged for damage caused by falling trees, lightning strikes, and leaking roofs as a result of heavy rainfall.
Brokers tell insuranceNEWS.com.au only around one in two clients in areas deemed flood prone have flood cover in place.
Ausure Orange Broker Assistant Teagan Sharp says her regional NSW clients span farm insurance policyholders to a range of business property owners. Flood cover was taken up by around half of clients, with farm insurance the most challenging.
Flood claims lodged so far on behalf of clients have been accepted by insurers.
“We are getting an influx of clients calling in claims,” Ms Sharp said. “We’re touching base with most of our clients to see that they’re okay, which is the main thing.
“We’re checking in just to see what we can do, if there’s anything extra, and making sure they’re covered properly for what they need, or answering any questions they have. That’s most we can do at the moment.”
MGA Insurance Group MD Paul George says the Shepparton area has already endured some significant flood damage and there is concern Murray River water volumes may “have some huge impacts” going forward.
“It just seems to be relentless,” Mr George said. “The floods are all anyone can think about at the moment. In the main, I think insurers are actually doing a pretty good job under the circumstances. It’s a pretty huge task, it’s impacting all of us.”
The industry has been battered by escalating severe weather events for a decade, he notes.
“I don’t envy the position the overall industry is in at the moment, and we’re going to have to try and find ways to be viable in the future while understanding the risks and just how many situations we’re being faced with.”
Most farm clients do not have flood cover, he says, and whether residential clients do is very much dependent on their region.
“It’s really difficult to make a broad brush statement around who’s got flood and who hasn’t, it really does depend on the region’s potential flood risk.
“A good broker will always seek flood options, and then the client can make the decision whether they want to take the option for flood or not.
“We just have to help where we can. As I believe most brokers would say, we’ll get flood cover whenever we can, and if the market doesn’t provide it for us, we can’t buy it. It’s disappointing we have to say that, but that’s just how it is. We get the covers we can get in place.”
Going forward, it is going to be “really difficult,” he says, unless a national plan is developed to help underwrite flood. Since 2011, when a significant number of insurers did not offer flood cover at all, more capacity is available but Mr George says “it needs to priced for [the risk] and that’s entirely reasonable”.
He worries the current floods will only add to future bushfire fuel loads.
“The conversation only recently focused on fire risks recently when it seemed half the country was on fire. Many of our local and international markets retracted and started to take a different view of the Australian regional risk profile. We seem to be going from one extreme to the other.”
Capacity shortages are easing, MGA says, but the claims industry is suffering under the weight of more than half a million claims and the $5.5 billion flood catastrophe in Queensland and NSW in February/March.
“A lot of people forget that once a client is notified, that’s the easy part. It’s when we’re 6-9 months into these large-scale losses that things really start to lock up and assessors and insurer claims teams start to get really busy,” Mr George said.
“Now we’re looking at another loss and everyone’s attention is elsewhere and it’s very, very difficult to get mobilised.”