Risk managers in Higher Education have always had to work within tight budgets and balance institutional priorities. Recent property insurance pressure makes their jobs even more challenging.
A new report from the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) called this the “hardest property market in a generation.” We’ve been in the business a long time, and it’s the hardest property market we’ve seen in multiple generations. Rates are rising rapidly, driven by a confluence of factors including inflation, supply chain constraints, and catastrophic losses from severe weather.
Rate increases and tighter underwriting terms impact higher ed institutions in high-risk zones most dramatically. However, even universities “safe” from extreme weather are seeing 10-15% rate increases. What can higher ed risk managers do in this environment? Prepare, mitigate, and communicate.
Investing in prevention, planning, and accurate property value appraisals can save an institution millions in the long run. And a risk manager's ability to communicate insurance challenges to department chairs can make or break access to necessary funding. We can help arm you with valuable intel.
Let’s dig into top recommendations for higher ed institutions navigating this historically difficult property market.
Prevention and planning
Climate change-related events will continue to increase in frequency and severity. The best way to limit losses and lessen the impact of the hard market is to invest in risk mitigation.
Risk management programs can be perceived as a large, non-urgent cost to the institution, but they're crucial investments. The National Institute of Building Sciences reported that $1 spent on hazard mitigation can save up to $13 in repair and recovery costs. That’s a substantial return. It’s a lot less expensive to spend money on loss prevention upfront than to endure a catastrophic loss. Additionally, implementing strategic risk management programs can be far less chaotic than post-disaster rebuilds.
During the underwriting and renewal process, carriers will want to see that you’re proactively investing in risk improvement and mitigation. Demonstrating your commitment to minimizing loss could lead to lower premium increases and an easier renewal process.
A loss prevention program will look different for each institution depending on the specific geographic risks, but some basic features that all programs need to include are:
- Water / liquid mitigation: Whether coming from drains, faucets, piping, tanks, rain, or storm water, having a liquid prevention and mitigation plan is essential for all institutions.
- Fire prevention and response plan: A fire can occur anywhere and at any time. All institutions need a robust prevention and response plan in place and, most importantly, exercise the plan regularly.
- Inspection, testing, and maintenance program: All equipment—electrical, mechanical, fire protection—needs to be inspected, tested, and maintained based on manufacturers’ recommendations or local code requirements. Doing so ensures proper operation and reduces the likelihood of failure.
- Regular roof inspections: Engage a qualified roofing consultant to inspect all roofs at least annually. Facilities / maintenance personnel need to inspect and clean roofs at least semi-annually and before any forecasted storm.
Preparing for the worst means developing robust plans, procedures, and strategies. Two of the most critical are business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans. These plans help institutions recover after catastrophic events, but need to be constantly reviewed, tested, and revised to keep them effective and applicable.
Accurate property values
In property insurance, everything is tied to the statement of values. If property values aren’t accurate, properties aren’t adequately covered, which leads to devastating losses after catastrophic events.
In recent years, inflation and supply chain constraints caused property values to climb. Many colleges and universities have not updated their properties values to reflect the increases, leaving them underinsured. A recent analysis by a well-known independent commercial property appraisal firm showed that 68% of buildings valued between 2020 and 2021 are underinsured by 25%. More than 19% are underinsured by 100%.
Work with a third-party appraiser and/or broker to make sure property values are accurate before heading into the underwriting process. Carriers will sometimes share the cost of an appraisal. Your broker can also provide access to trusted data sources that support real-time property value estimates.
For risk managers struggling to get personal property appraised, working with your university’s Chief Financial Officer could help. Finance teams and risk management teams can work together to come up with a cost per-square-foot of business personal property throughout institutions. Risk managers can use results to more accurately value business personal property for insurance purposes.
Especially now, given the current market, make sure you’re regularly assessing property values and accounting for inflation and other factors beyond your control which may impact replacement / reconstruction costs.
Increased property values often mean higher premiums, which gets complicated in the world of academia. Everyone is under pressure to keep costs low. Alternative risk transfer and creative approaches can help:
- Captives: Captives can be an effective tool for colleges and universities to fund property losses. Additionally, captives allow you to tap into the reinsurance market rather than just having access to primary insurers. This notably increases capacity.
- Explore carrier options: You can sometimes use competition in the marketplace to your advantage and look to other carriers for lower rates. Shared programs, with coverage from multiple carriers, can also shield institutions from the full impact of rate hikes.
- Excess property: In a crunch, excess property coverage is available, but it can be cost prohibitive to institutions. It would be most useful to those expecting high-value claims, who are concerned about the adequacy of their limits.
Tell your university's story
Executives at higher ed institutions might not know the realities of the market, and therefore won’t know how to budget for rate hikes. Having that conversation as soon as possible gives decision makers time to accommodate rising premiums and allocate funds to mitigation measures. Always be transparent and set expectations while clearly communicating what the university needs to prevent losses.
Additionally, telling your university’s story to underwriters early and often can help avoid surprises when renewals roll around.
We may be in the hardest property market in decades, but higher education institutions will make it through. Proactive, prepared, and strategic risk managers will lead the way.
Want to learn more?
Find Steve Bryant on LinkedIn, here.
Find Peter Fallon on LinkedIn, here.
Connect with the Risk Strategies Education team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with the Risk Strategies Property team at email@example.com.
About the authors
Steve Bryant serves as a risk management consultant to higher education institutions. Prior to joining Risk Strategies, he was Managing Director for the Office of Risk Management at Texas Tech University System.
Peter Fallon leads the National Property Practice at Risk Strategies. With a background in underwriting and property reinsurance for captives, he helps colleges and university's structure and place property and builder’s risk insurance programs.
Amy Hahn, a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS), assists clients in identifying property-related risks and ways to mitigate them, including analyzing exposures to catastrophes.