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Riot Risk: Do You Have Enough Cover?

22 February 2024 Aon South Africa
Simon Baker

Simon Baker

As South Africa heads to national elections on 29 May, the spectre of the 2021 riots still looms large.

Any complacency around South Africa’s seeming insulation against large-scale riots was blown up in July 2021, when violent riots exploded in KZN and Gauteng, with over R50 billion in resulting damage and 340 lives lost. The economic fallout of these riots was enormous as South Africa’s stability was compromised.

The ripple effect of the July 2021 riots has been the hesitancy on the part of both local and international insurance markets to provide cover to this line of business. The international Insurance markets that provided supplementary coverage to SASRIA were also affected - Sasria SOC Ltd offers insurance for four perils in South Africa which are Terrorism, Political, Non-Political, and Labour Unrest risks in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act No 1 of 1999. According to Sasria’s Integrated Financial Report¹, the insurer paid net insurance claims of R31.5bn following the July 2021 riots, with assistance from the government of a R22 billion cash injection.

“The premiums now payable for riot cover, either through SASRIA or the International Property Terrorism and Strikes (PTS) Insurance market have increased drastically – Sasria premium prices increased by 47% as reinsurance costs increased by 600%. Furthermore, Sasria reduced its coverage limits from R1,5bn for assets and business interruption to R500m. It’s now more challenging to obtain Insurer interest, with many more exclusions and restrictions added to the coverage provided. The bottom line is there has been a big increase in the cost of riot cover for businesses, as well as a reduction in the limits of indemnity,” explains Simon Baker, Executive Head: Retail at Aon South Africa.

“However, in the past 12-18 months, we have seen carriers wanting to advance again in providing riot cover solutions for businesses. But as we have seen in other countries across the globe, the political outlook can change quickly. As South Africa prepares for a potentially volatile election period with the election date announced for 29 May 2024, the insurance market could go one of two ways. If the current environment continues and remains steady, with little riot damage up to and beyond the election, we’re likely to see the underwriting regime soften. However, if there is a deterioration with riots before or after the election, we’re likely to see some insurers withdraw entirely, or certainly seek even more onerous terms.

“The reality is that underwriters typically become more cautious prior to elections – this is a global trend - with more subjectivities imposed, however for now the market continues to provide solutions for our clients in South Africa. Potentially, we may see a reduction in capacity in the short-term leading up to elections, however if there is minimal to no unrest, then this capacity becomes readily available. We have seen the London Market pay out cumulative claims in excess of USD1.5billion to our clients following the unrest in 2021, making this a tried and tested solution,” explains Simon.

Implications for large corporates with Sasria’s R500million limit
Sasria offers cover up to a limit of R500 million for most classes of risk subject to predefined premium rates. For many large corporates, these limits may however be insufficient and will require additional cover in the form of a ‘riot wrap’ policy. The riot wrap provides additional coverage for loss of profit, contingent business interruption and material damage in excess of Sasria limits. The riot wrap cover also provides cover for exclusions of war and civil war which are not covered under Sasria. Essentially, where combined material damage and business interruption values exceed Sasria’s R500 million limit, the riot wrap policy will provide extended coverage in respect of the claim once the underlying Sasria (or primary limit) is eroded.

“Structuring of insurance programmes around riot and political risk needs specialist broking experience of both the local and international insurance markets to structure the best solution around what is an increasingly complex and volatile risk, which has the potential to be financially and operationally devastating if not correctly insured and managed.

“With levels of unrest rising globally, its essential to consult with specialist brokers to ensure that riot coverage has been extended to cover all perils and close any gaps, that left unchecked in a crisis, could be catastrophic,” concludes Simon.

References: 1. Parliamentary Monitoring Group. https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/37630/ [Accessed 12 Feb 2024)

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