Surplus Lines Market: An Overview

The Surplus Lines Market in the U.S. is unique, complex, and dynamic. Unlike the heavily regulated traditional insurance market, the surplus lines market is less regulated and operates under different rules.

Source: ProgramBusiness | Published on April 19, 2023

Insurance agency study

The Surplus Lines Market in the U.S. is unique, complex, and dynamic. Unlike the heavily regulated traditional insurance market, the surplus lines market is less regulated and operates under different rules. Its primary use is to insure risks too obscure or complex for traditional insurers to cover.

The surplus lines market is crucial to the U.S. property and casualty (P-C) insurance industry. It involves the placement of insurance policies with non-admitted insurance companies, meaning those not licensed in the state where the risk is located. This unique market allows for coverage of hard-to-place risks that traditional admitted insurers may not cover.

As with other market sectors, the insurance industry is racing to adapt to increasingly complicated business environments while providing clients with the protection they need. The surplus lines business is central to keeping the industry current and able to offer applicable products. As such, its capabilities are fundamental to making high-risk coverage available when standard insurers avoid or cannot address them.

Market Trends and Drivers

In 2019, the U.S. surplus lines insurance market was worth $52 billion, and by 2027, estimates are for it to reach $125 billion, with a CAGR of 15.2% from 2020 to 2027. And in 2020, the market experienced direct premium growth of 15.7%, which marked the most significant year-over-year premium increase since 2003.

The upsurge in large corporate institutions needing customized coverage, the advancement of underwriting divisions, and the rapid global growth of mergers and acquisitions are some driving factors behind the market’s growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the surplus line market in the U.S. Due to the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the market experienced a slowdown in premiums, but the surplus lines market also saw increased premiums due to natural disasters.

There is an increasing demand for coverage from surplus lines for unconventional or hard-to-place risks, such as cyber and environmental risks. Another trend is the growing use of technology in the insurance industry, which has made it easier to underwrite, price, and manage risks. In addition, it encourages new players to enter the market.

Impact on the P/C Industry

The surplus lines market significantly impacts the U.S. property-casualty (P-C) industry. It provides an alternative source of coverage for high-risk or unconventional risks that traditional insurers are unable or unwilling to insure, which helps reduce the overall risk exposure of the P-C industry in the U.S.

The surplus lines marketplace has proven its worth recently by effectively insuring high-risk properties and industries, such as oil rigs, nuclear power plants, and airport liabilities. The expertise and experience that surplus lines contribute to the overall strength and stability of the insurance industry enable it to perform better in times of crisis.

One of the challenges in the surplus lines market is the unstable regulatory environment across states. Each state has its own rules and regulations, making it difficult for surplus lines brokers to operate across state lines. However, the market also presents opportunities for growth and expansion. With the increasing demand for coverage of hard-to-place risks, there is room for innovation and the development of new products and services.

High-Risk States Rely on Surplus Lines

In states like Florida and California, which are prone to natural disasters like hurricanes, sinkholes, and wildfires, the surplus lines market is critical to providing coverage for properties located in high-risk areas. As a result, standard insurance carriers are often reluctant to offer coverage in these regions due to the increased likelihood of catastrophic losses. At the same time, surplus lines brokers provide specialized policies tailored to the unique needs of these clients.

New York’s insurance market has an intense concentration of high-value properties and specialized risks, such as coastal properties exposed to storm surge and flooding risks and being a high-value target for terrorists. Each represents unique dangers to the state’s businesses and residents. Since standard carriers limit their underwriting capacity for such properties, property owners face difficulties finding adequate coverage without tailored insurance solutions for these high-value properties from surplus lines brokers.

Increased Coverage Limits Above Standard Market Offerings

Surplus lines insurance, also known as the E&S (excess and surplus) market, is a facet of the insurance industry that offers increased coverage limits above standard market offerings. Clients particularly prize the specialized insurance coverage for their needs that exceed traditional policies’ limitations. For example, the surplus lines market allows insurance brokers to facilitate transactions between insureds and non-admitted insurance companies not licensed in the insured’s state. And so, its role is essential for the insurance industry to provide risk management solutions with access to high-limit and hard-to-place coverage.

Innovation Is a Hallmark of Surplus Lines

A surplus line’s market strength is innovation in new coverages and insurance products. However, due to its less regulated nature, the E&S market can develop and test new products without the same stringent restrictions as standard carriers.

Having the freedom to experiment has led to the creation of various innovative insurance solutions that have ultimately benefited the entire industry. Over time, some of these products may become more widely accepted and transition into the standard market, further highlighting the importance of the surplus lines as a driving force for innovation.

Financial Stability

Besides adaptability and innovation, the market is also known for its financial stability. That is because surplus lines operations are often held to higher financial standards than their standard market counterparts and are required to maintain more significant financial reserves. This oversight helps to ensure available capital to pay claims, even in a catastrophic loss. As a result, clients and agents can trust that the E&S market will meet their needs, regardless of the challenges that may arise.

Competitive Pricing

A compelling strength of E&S markets is competitive pricing. In their markets, surplus lines brokers can offer policies for higher-risk activities or locations that traditional insurers may not want to cover. Because these brokers are typically smaller and more agile, they adapt quickly to market changes and offer more competitive and flexible pricing structures. As a result, their agility allows them to serve clients with unique or specialized needs better.

Since surplus lines cover unique and specialized risks that standard insurance companies may not cover, they bring more market competition, creating better pricing with a broader range of options and tailored coverage to meet specific client needs.

Global Markets Access Enables Tailored Coverage and Pricing 

A critical strength of the surplus lines market is its ability to connect with global markets, allowing it to tailor coverage and pricing to meet clients’ needs. This unprecedented flexibility and customization can only be found in the market, making it a crucial component of the overall insurance business.

Unlike traditional insurance markets, surplus lines brokers have access to a vast network of underwriters and brokers specializing in unique and hard-to-place risks. These capabilities enable them to provide coverage for hazards that may have been previously considered uninsurable. As a result, the surplus lines market will experience impressive growth in 2023 and beyond.

Quick Policy Turnaround Times 

Another of the critical strengths and values of the surplus lines business is the speed with which it provides customer policies. Brokers offer an alternative to standard insurance companies for unique risks that do not fall under conventional insurance coverage. As a result, the surplus lines market provides more flexibility in underwriting and quicker policy turnaround times.

Surplus lines offer a significant advantage for businesses and individuals seeking tailored coverage to meet their needs. By leveraging the expertise of brokers and agents, customers get the protection they need more efficiently, which improves the insurance business overall.

The surplus lines marketplace has proven its worth in the recent past by effectively insuring high-risk properties and industries, such as oil rigs, nuclear power plants, and airport liabilities, to name a few. The expertise and experience of the surplus lines market add strength and stability to the insurance industry, allowing it to react positively in times of crisis.

Enhanced Flexibility Benefits All Sectors

The increased underwriting flexibility of surplus lines brokers gives policyholders access to coverages unavailable through traditional insurance channels, thus safeguarding against otherwise ignored or overlooked risks. Moreover, the market’s increased underwriting flexibility and growth indicate its continued strength, value, and vital role in improving the insurance business.

A unique and potent aspect of surplus lines insurance is its ability to cover niche and new markets and respond quickly to troubling risks such as climate change, cybersecurity, and the gig economy. In addition, brokers use the market’s flexibility to fill the gaps the standard insurance market leaves and to give clients adequate protection.

Regulatory Landscape

Both state and federal laws regulate the surplus lines market. The Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010, introduced new regulations affecting the surplus lines market. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) also plays a crucial role in regulating the surplus lines market.

In contrast to traditional markets, surplus lines are not subject to the same level of state regulation. This difference gives brokers the flexibility to create specialized insurance coverages that meet the needs of a broader range of clients. In addition, the market provides flexible capabilities and market innovations designed to meet the unique and complex risks clients face.

Future Outlook

The surplus lines market will grow and evolve in the coming years. The demand for coverage for unconventional and hard-to-place risks is a primary growth driver for the industry. And technological advancements are sure to impact the surplus lines market in terms of efficiency and innovation. As a result, the surplus lines market will be increasingly important in the future of the U.S. insurance industry.

The Best Way to Find Coverage for Risks Carriers Avoid

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