ILC ARTICLE

In focus: the subsidence surges of 2018 and 2022


ILC Home & Property Claims hosted its Subsidence Surge specialist conference at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry on 23 March, when experts from across the sector met to discuss the similarities between the 2018 and 2022 surges, how the industry has responded, and what lessons can be learned going forward.

Hosted by Alan Soutar, Home & Property Claims Chairman, and headline sponsored by Optera Structural Solutions, the day began with a presentation from Mike Lawson, CEO, Property Risk Inspections.

Mike revealed that in both 2018 and 2022 unseasonal weather conditions in the preceding winter and then during the summer resulted in especially dry surface clay soil, which ultimately led to surges.

Volumes

He was followed on stage by a panel discussion with Kevin Williams, Head of Subsidence & Valuations, Sedgwick; Richard Rollit, Technical Director, Innovation Group; and Nick Hill, Head of Home Claims, Aviva, who explained just how significant the recent surges were in terms of volumes, and how prepared the industry is for future extreme events.

Richard said, “2022 was a very quiet year, but then from August we got over a period of four months the same amount of volume of work we’d expect to get in the whole year. So if you imagine a business that gets 12 months’ of work in four months, that’s the hurdle we have to jump over.”

Nick recognised that spike – “Claims started to accelerate in August and over the next three or four months we saw a huge amount of notifications,” he said – and according to Kevin the same trend was mirrored across the whole industry.

He said, “Market volume in 2022 was similar to 2018, just slightly under. We saw 17 weeks from the beginning of August to the end of November of double volume, with peaks of around four, nearly five times volume.”

Supply chain

However, whatever pressures this may have put on insurers, it was even more challenging for the supply chain.

Kevin explained, “The supply chain has done better than in 2018 although there are still challenges around site investigations. But while we might have to ramp up three of four times normal volume, the site investigation side has to ramp it up seven times because not only does repudiation rates drop during a surge but the mix of the claim will drop as well. That means there are more claims that need investigating. So the challenge is even harder for them.”

Solutions

Digital solutions are one way of adding efficiency to the process, with the panel agreeing that strides were taken in this area between 2018 and 2022 and further progress is being made, particularly around live video with the customer to accelerate decision-making, and online customer booking.

This use of technology to gather and share data, said Nick, is critical not just for the customer in terms of streamlining the claims process, but for the insurer as well.

He said, “When surges start the first thing insurers need to understand is volume and severity. We need to get those insights really early, while the surge is still happening. That helps us get the reserving right and the financial forecasts in place. The more data we have the more accurate our actuarial forecast can be – and it’s vitally important for insurers to manage the annual finances to project the likely impact of these events.”

Skills

But alongside data and technology, another area of focus is a potential lack of skills. All industries have found recruitment and retention more difficult since Covid-19, and the insurance sector is not immune.

Nick said, “For now there is enough expertise in the sector to handle subsidence claims. As to the balance of that expertise between insurers and the supply chain, the relationships work well. There is more exchange of data, now but projecting forward we need to make sure that expertise remains there and improves and adopts new and innovative methods. We need to make sure there is a continued pipeline of people and skills and that’s probably the bigger concern than the distribution of expertise.”

Kevin agreed. He said, “You can’t rely on just taking people from competitors. It’s more about training your own people. We spent six months before the surge training 12 people to handle the rising volumes and it really helped. So you have to invest that time into your team.”

Future

Going forward, the climate crisis and its potential influence on subsidence claims can’t be ignored; in many ways it is already having an effect both directly and indirectly.

One of its more nuanced impacts is to do with local authority trees. Richard explained how claims costs rose by about 50% from 2018 to 2022, and suggested that one of the reasons was a growing conflict between insurers and local authorities when it comes to removing trees that may be exacerbating instances of subsidence by drawing even more moisture from the soil.

He said, “There is a climate crisis so the consensus is that trees are good and we shouldn’t be taking them out. But sometimes the environmental benefits of removing that tree are greater than leaving it there and dealing with the consequences. But that’s a very difficult argument to make because there isn’t much awareness.”

Of course, this example is the climate crisis effect in microcosm. On a much grander scale, its real impact is yet to be fully understood.

Mike concluded, “Climate change will lead to increased rain at unusual times, higher temperatures, and the peaks and troughs of that will be difficult to manage and very complex. We will get more freak wind storms, we will get more surface water and large-scale flooding and extreme temperatures, but how will the mix of all that impact subsidence claims? I don’t think anyone has the qualifications to answer that.”

ILC would like to thank Headline Sponsor Optera Structural Solutions, Gold Sponsors 360Globalnet, CoreLogic, geobear, Innovation Group, Sedgwick and Stress Group, and Silver Sponsors Crawford, Davies, mainmark, and Pulse.

If you have any comments, thoughts or queries regarding the subsidence surge, please contact alan@iloveclaims.com

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