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How do you adapt your insurance pricing strategy in the face of increased price competition?

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How do you adapt your insurance pricing strategy in the face of increased price competition? 1

By Ketil Kristensen, Senior Advisor, Insurance, SAS

Many countries in Europe have in previous years experienced increased price competition for general insurance products. Especially in Southern Europe, the competition has been very fierce, fuelled by online price comparison websites. In Spain, Portugal and Greece, there has been a substantial drop in average premiums for products like motor, home and health insurance. This poses a real threat to the profitability of property and casualty insurers.

While some insurance products are highly specialised and almost impossible to compare, most common products have increasingly become commodities. Consumers can now easily compare them online.

When comparing insurance policy prices and details becomes as effortless as getting quotes for airline tickets or hotel accommodation on price comparison sites, more insurance companies will eventually enter the market. And thus price competition will increase.

Preparing for a price war

Once the price war starts, there is no way to avoid it. And insurers need to meet their competitors head-on.

To win a price war, insurers need to be meticulous when they set the premium levels. They might also need to rethink the definition of “profit” when they are making pricing strategies for the future. In a market where premium levels are volatile and the competitive situation may change rapidly, insurers also need the capability to evaluate potential future scenarios in a short period of time.

Setting the premiums right

In the fast-paced digital era, customers expect insurance prices to be easily available online. They will make inquiries for insurance covers for their cars or homes on price comparison websites and expect the prices to be available immediately. From an insurer’s point of view, the premium customers will see on their screens when comparing insurance policy prices is the sum of the insurer’s technical premium and the commercial loading.

The technical premium represents the break-even price that the insurance company would charge for the policy if it had no costs and no desire to make a profit. Commercial loading represents the sum of the insurance company’s costs and the profit it expects to make on the policy. Technical pricing is the subject of many actuarial textbooks. But as machine learning algorithms make their way into actuarial departments, we will need to rewrite those books. Modern pricing techniques that include machine learning algorithms are a notable improvement compared to traditional models. If applied properly, ML models will result in more accurate technical pricing given the same data.

But what about commercial loading? How much profit should the insurer aim for?

Every one of us has a different tolerance for how much we would pay for, e.g., a car insurance policy. Some customers don’t consider price to that important. Others will try to search for a better deal elsewhere, regardless of how much time the process would take. Most customers are somewhere in between.

Being able to price the insurance products analytically based on the “willingness to pay” is, for many actuaries, seen as the holy grail of insurance pricing.

Personalised premiums

Most insurers already do personal pricing to some extent today. For example, they give different discounts to policyholders with equal risk. However, there is often a great potential to do segmentation and price calculations in a more analytical manner. Ideally, insurers would like to set the premiums as high as possible, but not so high that customers move their policies to another insurer.

On the other side, insurers would like to move customers away from their competitors by offering low premiums – but not too low. The insurer must first determine the price sensitivity of insurance customers and then price each insurance policy so that it maximises the profit for the insurer. At SAS, we refer to this as portfolio optimisation.

Insurers that can quickly reoptimise changing prices in the online market will also quickly identify customers that are at risk for churn. They can then perform the appropriate actions to prevent this from happening.

Rethinking ‘profitability’

When insurers think “profit,” they usually mean the income statement for next year. This is about to change. The concept of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is becoming more and more common in the insurance industry. And many insurers are now refining their pricing strategy based on a maximisation of the CLV of all its customers, thus not focusing solely on the profit definition in the income statement. The CLV of an insurance customer is the net present value of this customer for the insurer, where behavioural effects like renewal, cancellation and cross-selling of other insurance products are considered for the entire lifetime of the customer.

To accurately compute CLV for a customer, the insurer will need data that describes the behavioural patterns of the customer. Most insurance companies have quite a lot of such data available – the problem is usually that it is not adequately structured. In practice, to quantitively identify the customer lifetime value, insurers need to integrate both actuarial and customer behaviour models. Once a system for this is in place, insurance companies will have a strong quantitative foundation to compute the customer lifetime value of their policyholders.

SAS and insurance pricing

Price competition is changing the insurance market right now. When a customer determines where to buy insurance, the price is the most important factor. Thus, to stay competitive and still run a profitable business, insurers need to set their premium levels just right. The evolution of price comparison websites – which provide real-time quotes on competitor prices and increased access to data that contains information about the customer’s insurance risk – has made the actuary’s job of calculating the premium more complicated.

Over the years, SAS has worked together with insurers to ensure that strong system support is in place to compute premium levels down to an individual policy level. These pricing systems have been put through the test in some of the most competitive insurance markets in Europe. They have turned out to be a valuable strategic tool for insurers to balance the desire for profit against the desire for market share. And maybe most important of all, they have enabled these insurance companies to effectively join the price war, fight it and still make a profit.

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European shares drop on inflation risk concerns; Lagarde speech eyed

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European shares drop on inflation risk concerns; Lagarde speech eyed 2

(Reuters) – European shares fell on Monday as concerns over the risk of higher inflation due to a jump in commodity prices tempered optimism around a vaccine-led economic recovery.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 0.7% by 0810 GMT, led by declines in technology companies and food and beverage stocks.

Germany’s benchmark stock index dropped the most among its European peers, down 1.1%.

Europe will decide whether to extend the suspension of its rules limiting budget deficits and debt, known as the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), in coming weeks, the Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni said.

Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 0.4%, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson plots a path out of COVID-19 lockdowns in an effort to gradually reopen the battered economy.

All eyes will be on European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde’s speech on stability, economic co-ordination and governance in the EU later in the day.

In company news, French car parts maker Faurecia lost 1.5% even after it targeted its sales close to 25 billion euros ($30.29 billion) and an operating margin above 8% of sales by 2025.

(Reporting by Shashank Nayar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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OPEC, U.S. oil firms expect subdued shale rebound even as crude prices rise

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OPEC, U.S. oil firms expect subdued shale rebound even as crude prices rise 3

By Alex Lawler and Jennifer Hiller

LONDON/HOUSTON (Reuters) – OPEC and U.S. oil companies see a limited rebound in shale oil supply this year as top U.S. producers freeze output despite rising prices, a decision that would help OPEC and its allies.

OPEC this month cut its 2021 forecast for U.S. tight crude, another term for shale, and expects production to decline by 140,000 barrels per day to 7.16 million bpd. The U.S. government expects shale output in March to fall about 78,000 bpd to 7.5 million bpd. [OPEC/M]

The OPEC forecast preceded the freezing weather in Texas, home to 40% of U.S. output, that has shut wells and curbed demand by regional oil refineries. The lack of a shale rebound could make it easier for OPEC and its allies to manage the market, according to OPEC sources.

“This should be the case,” said one of the OPEC sources, who declined to be identified. “But I don’t think this factor will be permanent.”

While some U.S. energy firms have increased drilling, production is expected to remain under pressure as companies cut spending to reduce debt and boost shareholder returns. Shale producers also are wary that increased drilling would quickly be met by OPEC returning more oil to the market.

‘MORE DISCIPLINE’

“In this new era, (shale) requires a different mindset,” Doug Lawler, chief executive of shale pioneer Chesapeake Energy Corp, said in an interview this month. “It requires more discipline and responsibility with respect to generating cash for our stakeholders and shareholders.”

That sentiment would be a welcome development for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, for which a 2014-2016 price slide and global glut caused partly by rising shale output was an uncomfortable experience. This led to the creation of OPEC+, which began cutting output in 2017.

OPEC+ is in the process of slowly unwinding record output curbs made last year as prices and demand collapsed due to the pandemic. Alliance members will meet on March 4 to review demand. For now, it is not seeing history repeat itself.

“U.S. shale is the key non-OPEC supply in the past 10 years or more,” said another OPEC delegate. “If such limitation of growth is now expected, I don’t foresee any concerns as producers elsewhere can meet any demand growth.”

Still, OPEC is no rush to open the taps. Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Feb. 17 oil producers must remain “extremely cautious.”

$60 OIL HELPS

Shale output usually responds rapidly to price signals and U.S. crude has this month hit its highest level since January 2020, topping $60 a barrel.

While shale companies have added more rigs in recent weeks, a tepid demand recovery and investor pressure to reduce debt has kept them from rushing to complete new wells.

“At this price point, any oil production is profitable, especially the relatively high-cost U.S. shale patch,” said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM Oil Associates.

“Yet despite these positive growth signals, U.S. tight oil production is far from recovering its pre-COVID mojo.”

The chief executive of shale producer Pioneer Natural Resources Co, Scott Sheffield, recently said he expects small companies to increase output but in the aggregate U.S. output will remain flat to 1% higher even at $60 per barrel.

PRODUCTION FREEZE

Last week’s severe cold will wreak havoc on oil and gas production as companies deal with frozen equipment and a lack of power to run operations. The largest U.S. independent producer, ConocoPhillips, on Thursday said the majority of its Texas production remained offline.

But J.P. Morgan analysts said in a Feb. 18 report rising oil prices might prompt a quicker shale revival.

“As long as operators have sufficient drilled but unfracked well inventory to complete, they should be able to easily grow production while keeping capex in check,” the bank said, using a term for drilling spending.

Forecasts for 2022 such as from the U.S. Energy Information Administration are for more U.S. supply growth [EIA/M], although perhaps not enough to cause problems for OPEC+ for now.

“U.S. oil output will not go back to pre-COVID levels any time soon,” said PVM’s Brennock. “But that is not to say that U.S. shale will not one day return as a thorn in OPEC’s side.”

(By Alex Lawler in London and Jennifer Hiller in Houston; Editing by Gary McWilliams and Matthew Lewis)

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Boeing recommends airlines suspend use of some 777s after United incident

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Boeing recommends airlines suspend use of some 777s after United incident 4

By Jamie Freed and David Shepardson

(Reuters) – Boeing Co said it recommended suspending the use of 777 jets with the same type of engine that shed debris over Denver at the weekend after U.S. regulators announced extra inspections and Japan suspended their use while considering further action.

The moves involving Pratt & Whitney 4000 engines came after a United Airlines 777 landed safely at Denver International Airport on Saturday local time after its right engine failed.

United said the next day it would voluntarily and temporarily remove its 24 active planes, hours before Boeing’s announcement.

Boeing said 69 of the planes were in service and 59 were in storage, at a time when airlines have grounded planes due to a plunge in demand associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The manufacturer recommended airlines suspend operations until U.S. regulators identified the appropriate inspection protocol.

The 777-200s and 777-300s affected are older and less fuel efficient than newer models and most operators are phasing them out of their fleets.

Images posted by police in Broomfield, Colorado showed significant plane debris on the ground, including an engine cowling scattered outside a home and what appeared to be other parts in a field.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said its initial examination of the plane indicated most of the damage was confined to the right engine, with only minor damage to the airplane.

It said the inlet and casing separated from the engine and two fan blades were fractured, while the remainder of the fan blades exhibited damage.

Japan’s transport ministry ordered Japan Airlines Co Ltd (JAL) and ANA Holdings Inc to suspend the use of 777s with P&W4000 engines while it considered whether to take additional measures.

The ministry said that on Dec. 4, 2020, a JAL flight from Naha Airport to Tokyo International Airport returned to the airport due to a malfunction in the left engine about 100 kilometres north of Naha Airport.

That plane was the same age as the 26-year-old United Airlines plane involved in the latest incident.

United is the only U.S. operator of the planes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The other airlines using them are in Japan and South Korea, the U.S. agency said.

“We reviewed all available safety data,” the FAA said in a statement. “Based on the initial information, we concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes.”

Japan said ANA operated 19 of the type and JAL operated 13 of them, though the airlines said their use had been reduced during the pandemic. JAL said its fleet was due for retirement by March 2022.

Pratt & Whitney, owned by Raytheon Technologies Corp, was not available immediately for comment.

A spokeswoman for South Korea’s transport ministry, speaking before Boeing recommended suspending operations, said it was monitoring the situation but had not yet taken any action.

Korean Air Lines Co Ltd said it had 16 of the planes, 10 of them stored, and it would consult with the manufacturer and regulators and stop flying them to Japan for now.

In February 2018, a 777 of the same age operated by United and bound for Honolulu suffered an engine failure when a cowling fell off about 30 minutes before the plane landed safely. The NTSB determined that incident was the result of a full-length fan blade fracture.

Because of that 2018 incident, Pratt & Whitney reviewed inspection records for all previously inspected PW4000 fan blades, the NTSB said. The FAA in March 2019 issued a directive requiring initial and recurring inspections of the fan blades on the PW4000 engines. (This story corrects number of Korean Air 777s in service and stored in paragraph 18)

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and David Shepardson in Washington; additional reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu and Maki Shiraki in Tokyo, Joyce Lee in Seoul and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Sam Holmes and Christopher Cushing)

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