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Australian insurers are looking to reinforce their claims provisions and execute capital-raising actions to bolster their solvency positions following the recent business interruption (BI) test case, according to AM Best.

The case considered the application of certain infectious disease exclusions in BI policies. The unanimous ruling by the New South Wales Court of Appeal against the arguments made by the insurers brings into sharp focus the potential downside risk for the industry, said Best. The ratings agency said it expects the question of pandemic BI coverage to remain a significant source of uncertainty for Australian commercial insurers.

According to Best: “The re-evaluation and refinement of loss provisions for potential Covid-19-related business interruption exposures are expected to lead to an adverse impact on commercial insurers’ operating earnings. The extent to which this affects capital positions remains to be seen, although Best views companies with strong financial flexibility and a track record of accessing capital markets as being best placed to contend with adverse capital implications. Some smaller insurers exhibit limited financial flexibility due to their ownership structures and therefore may have less ability to raise significant additional capital if required.”

Myles Gould, director, analytics, AM Best, said: “Another key factor relevant when determining the financial impact of potential business interruption exposures for insurers is with regard to their ability to make recoveries from reinsurance programmes. Loss triggers may be a source of dispute with reinsurers, such as in the event of non-alignment of policy exclusions in primary wordings and reinsurance contracts.”

Alex Rafferty, associate director, analytics, AM Best, added: “This test case outcome remains only one piece of a much larger puzzle, with a number of other business interruption contract triggers yet to be evaluated ahead of understanding the full liability for insurers. Additionally, this test case decision could be appealed.”

Separately, S&P Global Ratings said that potential payouts for BI claims will be manageable: “We expect the additional claims cost as a result of the test case ruling will vary by insurer and depend on specific policy cover. Payouts may also be subject to further legal avenues. Our expectation is that while there will be a hit to current-year earnings, the impact on ratings is negated by conservative reserving, reinsurance protection and maintenance of robust capital buffers.”

A new insurance group, based in London, has been launched with £800m in capital. The new insurer, Inigo, will open for business in the 2021 year of account, subject to approvals from the Corporation of Lloyd’s, and will commencing underwriting on 1 January 2021.

Inigo is being founded by Richard Watson, former chief underwriting officer of Hiscox, who stepped down from the group last year after 33 years, along with Russell Merrett, former managing director of Hiscox London market, and Stuart Bridges, former chief financial officer of both Hiscox and ICAP. Sir Howard Davies, chairman of NatWest Group and a former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, has been appointed as chairman of Inigo.

The capital was raised from a consortium of global investors, including funds controlled by Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Enstar, J.C. Flowers & Co., Oak Hill Advisors, Qatar Investment Authority, Stone Point and Inigo’s management team.

Inigo has signed an agreement to acquire certain insurance underwriting assets of StarStone Underwriting, including its Lloyd’s Syndicate 1301 and its managing agency – from Enstar Group – subject to regulatory approvals. According to Inigo, these are intended to form the foundation for its operations as a specialty insurer, writing a streamlined portfolio of insurance and reinsurance risks. It stressed that no legacy underwriting will be transferred to Inigo.

The new insurance group said it believes that current conditions are ideal to launch a new insurance business, at a time when demand across a number of classes of insurance and reinsurance is high.

Mr Watson said: “This significant capital raising, together with our acquisition, gives us the platform we need to turn Inigo from a concept into reality. We believe that 2021 will mark the beginning of an exciting growth phase for Lloyd’s and the London insurance market; and Inigo will contribute to growing the specialty and reinsurance marketplace, as it returns to profitability. Sir Howard Davies joining our board validates our vision for Inigo and our determination to provide credible additional capacity and services to customers and brokers.”

He added: “We are fully supportive of the direction that John Neal, Lloyd’s CEO, is taking the market, making it a more attractive and efficient place in which to trade. For a company like ours, entirely focused on underwriting, London also has the depth of young talent we need to develop the analytical and data-led approach that is at the core of what we hope to do.”