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Press Release

Above-average annual insured natural catastrophe losses in 2020 despite multiple ‘near-misses’

Casualty|Insurance Consulting and Technology|Property|Reinsurance
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February 2, 2021

LONDON, February 2, 2021– Insured losses from major natural catastrophes in 2020 reached roughly $78 billion, the fourth largest total since 2011, and about 17% higher than the ten-year average of $66.5 billion. However, the total does not reflect high levels of storm activity, because multiple hurricanes and tropical cyclones skirted major built-up areas last year, according to the Summary of Natural Catastrophe Events 2020, published today by Willis Re, the reinsurance division of Willis Towers Watson, the leading global advisory, broking and solutions company (NASDAQ:WLTW).

The total loss figure arose despite the limited impact of North Atlantic hurricanes during the most active season on record with 30 named storms. Few of these made landfall, with Hurricane Laura causing an insured loss of $8 to 9 billion, the largest weather-related loss event. Instead, the total loss arose from a series of small and medium-sized events.

Insured losses from natural catastrophes since 2011

*Willis Re estimates, presented in USD at 1 December exchange rates for the year reported
Year US$ (billion)
2011 120
2012 60
2013 35
2014 33
2015 23
2016 39.5
2017 143
2018 80.5
2019 53
2020 78
Average 66.5

In Europe, windstorm Ciara (Sabine) impacted more than ten countries producing nearly $2 billion of insured losses, amongst several other storms – Ines, Dennis, and Jorge – within a two-week period. Such storm clusters have the potential to cause larger insured losses as a result of accumulated precipitation and wind damage, although the impact of this cluster was mostly driven by Ciara.

In Asia, Tropical Cyclone Haishen caused under $1 billion of insured losses, well below those caused by similar storms during 2019’s cyclone season. The largest event of 2020 to hit Latin America and the Caribbean was hurricane Iota in November, with an estimated economic loss of about $1.3 billion, but a much lower insured loss.

During a year when COVID-19 dominated catastrophe loss discussions, there were nevertheless a series of smaller but impactful natural catastrophe events.”

Yingzhen Chuang | Regional Director, Catastrophe Analytics, Willis Re International

Yingzhen Chuang, Regional Director, Catastrophe Analytics, Willis Re International, said: “Natural catastrophe losses were high in 2020, but things could have been worse, given the number of storms which formed around the world. Fortunately, despite an active Atlantic Hurricane season, landfalls were limited. Whilst losses in Europe were modest, we did see a number of earthquake events as a reminder of the seismically active nature of southern Europe, as well as severe flooding from windstorms and hailstorm activity. During a year when COVID-19 dominated catastrophe loss discussions, there were nevertheless a series of smaller but impactful natural catastrophe events.”

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Vaughn Jensen, Executive Vice President, Catastrophe Analytics, Willis Re North America, said: “A record number of North Atlantic hurricanes formed in 2020, but landfalls did not occur in great numbers, or touch areas with highly concentrated insured exposures. If they had, the story of 2020 would have been dramatically different. However, the sheer number of storms – and the continued incidence of billion-dollar wildfires in the US and elsewhere, plus the severity of the Iowa derecho event – gives the industry cause to consider new emerging trends.”

View the complete report here.

About Willis Re

One of the world's leading reinsurance brokers, Willis Re is known for its world-class analytics capabilities, which it combines with its reinsurance expertise in a seamless, integrated offering that can help clients increase the value of their businesses. Willis Re serves the risk management and risk transfer needs of a diverse, global client base that includes all of the world's top insurance and reinsurance carriers as well as national catastrophe schemes in many countries around the world. The broker's global team of experts offers services and advice that can help clients make better reinsurance decisions and negotiate optimum terms. For more information, visit Reinsurance.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimise benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas – the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.