Pandemic Fuels Growth in Captive Insurance

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer

The coronavirus pandemic and the financial challenges it presents have fueled growth in captive insurance – a form of self-insurance in which one or more entities establish their own insurance company. They also may insure the risks of organizations other than their major owners. 

“Wholly owned” captives are set up by large corporations to finance or administer their risk financing needs. If such a captive insures only the risks of its parent or subsidiaries, it is called a “pure” captive.  Multiple companies may also form a “group captive.”

Captive formations nearly doubled in 2020, according to a recent survey by Marsh. The global insurance broker and risk advisor’s survey of more than 1,300 captives also shows that gross written premiums in this area grew from $54 billion in 2019 to nearly $61 billion in 2020.

 In January 2022, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) board of governors unanimously approved a $175 million fund to create a captive for event cancellation. With insurers unable to cover risks related to the coronavirus pandemic – which falls under the umbrella of communicable diseases policies – because of the potential for unsustainable costs, the captive structure has become a more popular method to protect from losses.

The NCAA formed its captive after the 2020 NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19, resulting in a $270 million payout – or about 40 percent of what the 1,200 participating schools would have earned for the tournament. In 2021, the NCAA limited the number of fans at the tournament, with the organization’s coverage allowing it to pay the total $613 million to members last year. However, their coverage for 2022 had expired, and communicable disease coverage was now difficult to find.

“When the NCAA looked to renew coverage for the 2022 tournament, a lot of it was going to look similar,” said John Beam, a broker for Willis Towers Watson, “but there is not coverage for communicable disease right now.”

The sports and entertainment industry experienced losses between $6 billion and $10 billion as the coronavirus pandemic raged on, with premiums in event insurance increasing between 25 percent and 50 percent. For many organizations, captive insurance provides a viable alternative for these risks.

Workers’ comp and captives

The coronavirus pandemic has also affected captive owners in the workers’ compensation field. Indeed, the pandemic, alongside the ensuing “Great Resignation,” during which employers have struggled to retain staff, has made many captive owners potentially more willing to pay workers’ comp claims, according to a panel at the recently held Captive Insurance Companies Association international conference.

Amy O’Brien, vice president of third-party administer sales at Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., a claims service provider, said the initial phases of the pandemic saw many insurers denying COVID-19-related claims. Claims asserting exposure at work were difficult to prove, and many captives questioned if the claims were associated with claimants’ work. Additionally, there were possible regulatory changes that these captives were concerned about.

“With medical costs continuing to rise, the most significant dynamic in terms of any company controlling their workers’ compensation costs and claims is ensuring that there are adequate tools in place to help mitigate medical costs for claimants under their workers’ compensation,” said Dustin Partlow, senior vice president at Caitlin Morgan Insurance Services and an expert in captive insurance solutions.

“But with omicron and the Great Resignation, we’re seeing a change where employers are saying, ‘What can I do to get this person back to work sooner?’” Gallagher’s O’Brien said.

Approximately 90,000 claims were processed by Gallagher Bassett that covered a COVID-19 issue, with over 60 percent of cases closed without payment, frequently due to the fact that there were no related medical expenses, O’Brien said. But the 40 percent that did result in a payment averaged $4,000 per case.

“The employee is more valuable now – so they are being treated right. The employer is saying: ‘What can I do to keep this person?’,” O’Brien added.

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