Workers Compensation Brokers Should Prepare as market hardens with major workers comp premium increases

Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:05pm EDT

Fitch: Workers' Compensation Remains Weakest Commercial Lines Segment

Workers' compensation, the largest commercial lines segment representing approximately 18% of commercial lines net written premiums in 2011, posted a statutory combined ratio of 117% in 2011, according to a new report by Fitch Ratings. This result is 9.5 percentage points worse than the commercial lines aggregate for 2011 and the worst result in the past 10 years for the workers' compensation line.

'Recent premium rate increases in workers' compensation are an encouraging sign that the market has reached a cyclical bottom,' said Jim Auden, Managing Director at Fitch. 'However, claims costs will continue to be affected by rising medical severity and premium rates will need to improve significantly further for the market to reach an underwriting breakeven.' Fitch estimates that it will be difficult for the workers' compensation market to have a combined ratio of 110% or better in 2012 or 2013 without significantly more price improvement.

Workers compensation has generated reserve deficiencies from prior underwriting periods in the last three consecutive years. 'Fitch believes that workers compensation reserves at year end 2011 are one of the weaker segments from a reserve adequacy perspective for the property/casualty industry, and industry results will continue to be affected by unfavorable reserve development going forward,' said Auden.

From a ratings standpoint, overall underwriting performance is given greater consideration than individual lines' results. However, workers compensation is a source of significant underwriting volatility for commercial lines insurers, and signs of a cyclical turn from recent weak performance levels will promote stability in ratings in the near term.

Fitch's report analyzes the workers' compensation market and the factors currently influencing the market. In addition, it reviews the results of the top 15 workers' compensation underwriters and the shifting market composition over the last five years.

Per this article, 2011 has had the worst results in the workers comp line in the past 10 years. Also, it doesn't seem like that there will be better ratios for 2012 and 2013 without significant price improvement. To me, this article sums up the fact that the workers compensation market will probably experience a hardening market the quickest out of all commercial lines based on poor claims results and a continued lack of sufficient rates despite already numerous rate hikes in various states with carriers lacking investment income. How are carriers making money now in workers comp if they are servicing blue-collar industries? My suggestion to all brokers is to look for every possible way to reduce your clients' premiums. Look for the same strategy to win new business. Start with services that have no out-of-pocket expenses to you or your client/prospect.