Crawford’s Van Bakel: Weather-related insured claims topping $100bn “the new norm”

Last year was an “unprecedented year” in which nearly the entire North American continent was “blanketed with smoke from wildfire”, Crawford & Company’s president of loss adjusting for North America Pat Van Bakel has told The Insurer TV.

“On top of that, we see high net worth and ultra high net worth properties are continuing to be developed in high-risk areas where honestly, the vistas are breathtaking, but the wildfire exposures are significant,” he added.

Van Bakel also noted that 2023 will be remembered as a year in which severe convective storms and wildfires took centre stage over hurricanes in terms of insured damages. The Toronto-based executive cited the drying out of the world’s boreal forests over the last decade as a major contributing factor to increased fire events.

“Wildfires are horrifying events. They're devastating to the local communities where they happen,” said Van Bakel, noting the horrific wildfire on Maui as an example.

“The good news is I think that the world is waking up to the risk a little bit and getting more serious about mitigation, which really means tackling things like airborne embers, underbrush spread and creating natural fire breaks in the high-risk areas.”

Complicating matters for adjusters, according to Van Bakel, is access to the property.

“It's often weeks before we and the property owners can get in and start putting the pieces back together. And in a world where immediacy has become the norm that can be very stressful for everyone involved.”

For Van Bakel, one solution is mitigation.

“The world is changing. To state the obvious, it's hard to deny that it's been hotter and drier in recent years. And the tough part really is determining whether that's a cyclical issue versus a permanent climate shift,” said Van Bakel.

“But I don't think that taking steps to mitigate the risk in either case could ever be the wrong answer.”

Also key is technology.

“Solutions that exist today significantly improve things – like targeted pre-loss communication, omni-channel first notice of loss, claim triage and assignment, supplier management, imagery capture, drone activity,” said Van Bakel.

Watch this 6-minute video to learn more about:

  • Why $100bn loss years are becoming the norm
  • What dried-out boreal forests have to do with increasing wildfires
  • Why the toughest problem for adjusters is access to damaged property
  • Why the key to limiting wildfire damage is mitigation and technological advances