The economic toll of Hurricane Harvey could reach as high as $100 billion.
As Hurricane Harvey passes through Texas’s Gulf Coast, insurance experts have begun to assess the storm’s potential financial impact. Preliminary estimates of total damages are as high as $100 billion, making the hurricane one of the costliest storms in the country’s history.
According to CNBC, JPMorgan expects insured losses from Hurricane Harvey to range from $10 billion to $20 billion, or slightly less than one-quarter of the entire insurance industry’s earnings. Chuck Watson, Disaster Modeler with Enki Research, told Bloomberg that it could cost insurers as much as $24 billion.
Some experts anticipate even greater total payouts. David Havens, Insurance Analyst at Imperial Capital, estimates the final cost could hit $100 billion — below the $120 billion in damages caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but above the $80 billion in insured losses incurred by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Whatever the ultimate price tag, Hurricane Harvey will rank among the ten most devastating natural disasters in U. S. history.
Many Lack Flood Insurance
Unfortunately, many homeowners in the Houston metropolitan area lack federally sponsored flood insurance, which is mandatory for properties that sit within a flood hazard zone. More than half of residential dwellings and commercial properties reside outside of such areas, according to CoreLogic. In South Texas, the percentage declines to 44%.
Aon estimates that one million homes, or roughly one-sixth of houses, in Houston’s Harris County are protected by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). So many unprotected structures were damaged because the historically powerful Hurricane Harvey impacted properties previously considered safe from flooding, explained Carolyn Kousky, Director for Policy Research and Engagement at the Wharton School of Business Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. “Lots of the people getting inundated never even thought it was possible that they could flood,” she told CBS News.
Standard homeowner insurance policies cover wind damage, but exclude destruction due to floods. Flood coverage is typically purchased from the NFIP. The nonprofit Consumer Federation of America predicts that wind damage claims could reach as high as 50,000, with flood-related claims two to three times higher, costing insurers as much as $2 billion for wind claims and $5 billion for flood damages.
Businesses covered under commercial insurance policies can be compensated for flood damages, JPMorgan Analyst Sarah DeWitt noted. However, commercial reinsurers and insurers could be in line for “meaningful losses” from those claims, she added.
How to Help Clients
Even for insurance agents who don’t work in Texas, Hurricane Harvey offers some important lessons on how to help clients dealing with a natural catastrophe. Sharing these tips with your clients could help them get through a similar crisis.
Peter Kochenburger, Deputy Director of the Insurance Law Center at the University of Connecticut School of Law, told CNBC that homeowners shouldn’t assume they are automatically unprotected against flood damage because they don’t have a separate flood insurance policy. A homeowner could receive compensation for water damage if wind busts a hole in the roof and lets in rain, he explained.
Homes aren’t the only assets harmed by a hurricane. Cars, too, can be ruined by flooding. Fortunately, Insurance Information Institute VP Loretta Worters told CNBC that a comprehensive provision included in an auto policy typically typically insures a car from flooding and storm-related damages and provides compensation up the vehicle’s market value.
Lastly, use Hurricane Harvey to stress to your clients the importance of keeping insurance documents in a safe and accessible place so they can immediately contact you to file a claim. You should also have your clients take pictures of the damage and keep receipts of any items lost or damaged so they can reimbursed. In addition, you should conduct periodic reviews of property and homeowner insurance policies so your clients know what is covered and what is not. As Hurricane Harvey demonstrates, natural disasters can strike anytime, so it’s best to prepare your clients.