The predictive power of ESG for insurance

In recent years, environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors have gained significant importance across various industries, as the metrics to be measured, to evaluate the sustainability and societal impact of businesses. While traditionally associated with ethical investing and corporate responsibility, ESG considerations have now found a compelling application in the insurance sector. Insurers are recognising the predictive power of ESG metrics in assessing risk and pricing policies and ultimately enhancing their performance while contributing to a more sustainable future.

However, it is also true that the three factors are difficult to quantify and fall under a very broad spectrum of conditions. Insurers often do not know where or how to approach the issue. Several other challenges are thrown into the mix – third-party risks, supply chain management and business portfolios, to name just a few. 

Traditionally, insurers have always relied on financial metrics and historical data to assess risk and set premiums. However, with growing environmental concerns, shifting societal values, and increased emphasis on corporate responsibility, insurers find that incorporating ESG considerations can provide a more comprehensive view of risk.

On the other hand, ESG is enabling insurers to pursue new markets, create innovative products and drive new targets. In fact, a survey by KPMG International reported that 44 per cent of insurance CEOs agreed that ESG programmes helped boost their financial performance.

Understanding ESG: Beyond financial metrics

  • Environment:

    Environmental factors are probably the most tangible of the three. This category considers the impact of an organisation’s business operations on the environment, such as its carbon footprint, effects on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous waste, usage of toxic materials, other forms of pollution, resource depletion, damage to biodiversity such as deforestation, imbalances in wildlife preservation and not enough green initiatives.

Investors, customers and stakeholders increasingly want to associate themselves with organisations that take meaningful actions to demonstrate their concern for the environment. Financial risks due to climate change are receiving a lot of attention as regulations are being framed. From an insurance standpoint, organisations that face challenges because of exposure to climate change need closer scrutiny to understand the financial risks.  

  • Social:

    The social element of ESG evaluates an organisation’s interactions with its employees, customers and communities, covering areas like diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), labour practices, gender inequality and community relations. The social factor even looks at how an organisation works towards social good in the world beyond its sphere of business. There is a growing demand for insurers to behave purposefully and ethically while examining an organisation’s behaviour.

DE&I is an area that has been generating a great deal of interest and is also an area that is evolving rapidly. Organisations that do not address social factors effectively risk legal action, financial losses and reputational damage. It is expected that certain organisational behaviours that are up for debate will be addressed by necessary regulations and legislation. Meanwhile, it is important that insurers take preventive measures and act in good conscience.

Social factors also include third parties and supply chains, both of which are not easy to track in terms of social performance. Work on standardising these is going on too.

  • Governance:

    Governance emphasises setting up and maintaining a sound corporate governance system. Governance factors focus on the leadership, transparency, executive pay, remuneration policies, and accountability of an organisation's management and board. It also looks at anti-bribery and corruption policies, business ethics and other elements of corporate behaviour.

Governance failings are not uncommon. Poor working culture, lack of oversight, and inadequate products are all signs of improper conduct and can result in negative outcomes for customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders. Poor governance can result in misrepresentation in financial and other reports, leading to regulatory and legal risks.

Benefits of integrating ESG factors into insurance practices:

  • Enhanced risk assessment:

    By considering a broader set of risk indicators, insurers can identify potential risks earlier and more accurately, reducing the likelihood of underpricing policies.
  • Better underwriting:

    ESG insights allow insurers to customise coverage and pricing to align with an organisation’s sustainability efforts and risk exposure, leading to more competitive and attractive offerings.
  • Long-term sustainability:

    Insurers that incorporate ESG principles into their operations help promote sustainable practices and responsible business conduct, fostering goodwill and trust among customers and stakeholders.
  • Competitive advantage:

    ESG-focused insurers can attract environmentally and socially conscious customers who seek to align their values with their insurance choices.

ESG and risk assessment in insurance

ESG factors can significantly impact the risk profile of companies and industries. For insurers, integrating ESG criteria into risk assessment models can help identify potential pitfalls that might not be apparent through financial metrics alone. For example:

  • Environmental risk:

    Organisations that rely heavily on fossil fuels may face increased risk due to potential regulatory changes, resource scarcity, and climate-related events. Insurers can use ESG data to assess such organisation's exposure to these risks and adjust premiums accordingly.
  • Social risk:

    Organisations with poor labour practices or inadequate safety standards might face higher employee turnover, legal disputes, and reputational damage. Insurers that consider these factors can better predict potential liability claims and price policies more accurately.
  • Governance risk:

    Weak governance structures can lead to mismanagement, fraud, and legal issues. ESG analysis can uncover governance vulnerabilities that might lead to future losses, allowing insurers to adjust risk assessments accordingly.

Challenges and path ahead

Despite all the benefits, integrating ESG into insurance practices is not without challenges. The availability and quality of data may be inconsistent, making accurate assessment difficult. Developing standardised ESG metrics and reporting frameworks is crucial.

The predictive power of ESG in insurance is likely to only grow stronger. As societies continue to prioritise sustainability and responsible business practices, insurers that adapt and incorporate ESG into their risk assessment models will be better equipped to navigate a changing risk landscape, foster long-term profitability, and contribute positively. Good reporting processes and attractive incentive programmes can boost quality and help those in leadership roles to make informed decisions.

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