Insurance is a supply and demand type of product. In order to provide insurance coverage the insurance company has to pledge assets to support the losses on that insurance. Depending on where the insurance company is domiciled there are different standards for how much surplus has to be leveraged to support insurance premiums. Most US traditional insurers leverage their surplus between 1:1 and 2:1, premiums to surplus. The limiting factor for overall insurance capacity then is how much surplus is available. Surplus is contributed to insurance companies by investors, for the large part shareholders of the publicly traded stock insurers. Shareholders are drawn to a particular investment because there is a good chance of earning a significant return from the investment. Insurance companies connect these dots and then make decisions on which insurance segments they will deploy their surplus into in order to get the best return on investment.
All this works well for market segments that exhibit stable and profitable results overall. But what if you are a good player in an otherwise iffy market segment? In a soft market the differences between good and iffy are not as distinguishable, but in a hard market, where premiums are rising as a result of external pressures, insurers have to start making tough capital deployment decisions. Remember they can only write insurance premium in an acceptable ratio to their surplus. Markets that are iffy get the short end of the allocation stick and as a result the reduced capacity for that market makes the prices jump dramatically for that segment. Think trucking, medical malpractice, tough workers compensation exposures, residential home-builders, product’s liability, coastal property, etc….Remember that we are not talking about all risk in these industries. Let’s face it some accounts deserve the pricing they get, but there are accounts that represent excellent risk characteristics in every market, regardless of what that market’s averages are, and these are the prime targets for captive insurance involvement.
A captive insurance arrangement in essence creates capacity for its owner-insureds and it often does so in a regulatory environment that supports premium to surplus ratios that far exceed that of traditional insurance companies. These leverage ratios can be as high as 5:1, making for a very efficient use of corporate capital to support risk transfer needs.
By further connecting underlying captive insurance capacity with reinsurance placements a significant amount of capacity can be created in a market segment that might not have had any reasonably priced capacity available at all. The best accounts in a market segment can leverage their own investment in loss control and risk management in order to take control of their risk financing costs even in the hardest part of the insurance market cycle.