Property Perspectives: Insuring Canada's natural resource-based businesses
Ian Rutherford loves the outdoors. An avid mountain biker, snowboarder and surfer, Ian values the rich outdoor resources available to him across Canada. So do the brokers and clients he supports. As Regional Underwriting Leader for AXA XL’s Canadian property underwriting operations, Ian helps our clients design the right property insurance protection for their mining and forestry businesses which rely on the country’s rich natural resources. Here he shares his insights on the challenges of protecting commercial property assets in the Great White North.
Canada’s economy is heavily natural resource based. What does that mean for the businesses that you serve?
Rutherford: Yes, Canada’s natural resource sectors accounted for 17% of GDP in 2017, according to the latest data from Natural Resources Canada. While we still see a fair share of manufacturing, technology, retail and other commercial property risks, many of our clients represent two of Canada’s key industries – mining and forestry. Both are big business sectors and key contributors to our economy.
In 2016, in the latest published data from Natural Resources Canada, Canada produced 60 types of minerals and metals worth nearly CAD $41 billion. Mineral products – including gold, silver, nickel, copper, zinc, lead, iron, molybdenum, uranium, potash and diamonds – accounted for 18.9% of total domestic exports.
And Canada is home to roughly nine percent of the world’s forests. Traditional forest products, such as lumber and other wood products as well as paper and pulp are the backbone of the Canadian forest industry. According to Natural Resources Canada, the forest industry is one of Canada’s most important manufacturing sectors, contributing some CAD $23 billion into Canada’s economy.
What are the challenges of insuring these kinds of operations?
Each sector has its own unique challenges. Consider mining where much of the sector’s operations are underground. In underwriting the risk, we’re required to evaluate extensive underground exposures, including equipment that is often transported to and from sites. Likewise, forestry operations entail some very large and specialized equipment.
A key component of our property coverage is not only coverage to protect the equipment itself from physical damage but also from potential breakdowns. Our equipment breakdown is available as part of our property program or as standalone coverage. Since these businesses rely on very specialized equipment, they have significant breakdown and power supply exposures. A power outage or a broken, hard-to-get piece of equipment can halt operations for some time and pose significant business interruption risks.
What exposures present the most threats to your clients’ property and equipment?
Like anywhere in the world, Canada has had to deal with increased severity of storms and other natural catastrophes. Of course, many are concerned with increased risk of wildfires but our clients also look to protect themselves from hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, hail and severe winter weather.
Interestingly enough, approximately 5,000, mostly small, earthquakes are recorded in Canada each year, with the coast of British Columbia being the most active region. And, like parts of the US, we’ve seen a very active wildfire season again so our clients have continued concerns about the risk wildfires pose. The 2016 wildfire disaster in Fort McMurray is still fresh in everyone’s mind. It has been deemed the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history, causing about CAD $3.7 billion in damage to individuals and businesses.
That said, floods top the list of worries in Canada. Most often caused by heavy rainfall or rapid melting snow, floods are the most frequent natural hazard and costliest in terms of property damage.
How is your underwriting team prepared to help clients address these risks?
Our team has exceptional industry knowledge and underwriting experience. That knowledge and know-how is vital to evaluate and properly underwrite the risks.
With underwriters in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, our clients are able to work with local underwriters who are all well connected and familiar with their industries.
Plus we are fortunate to have our property risk engineering team to call on to help in the evaluation of risk and to find ways our clients can reinforce their property loss prevention programs.
A key component of our property coverage is not only coverage to protect the equipment itself from physical damage but also from potential breakdowns."
Given the size and complexity of mining and forestry businesses, do they have other special requirements?
Both mining and forestry risks often require large capacity. Given our expertise and experience with these risks, we’re able to offer significant capacity. We’re also experienced at collaborating with other insurers on quota share programs, allowing more mining and forestry businesses the option to address their insurance needs in the local market.
It also helps that we’re part of such an expansive organization. Canada has a strong mining industry both inside and outside the country. For instance, many of Canada’s minerals, exploration and mining companies have mining assets abroad. That’s why our global network is a significant advantage to our mineral sector clients. Very few insurance companies have genuine international capabilities to address exposures globally, but through our global network, we can address our clients’ property insurance needs in more than 200 countries.
Storms, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires are national catastrophes that are not easily averted. How do you help businesses minimize their exposure to them?
That’s where coordinated efforts with our property risk engineers really help. For instance, businesses located in or near a forested environment need to understand the importance of preparing for and mitigating any risk involved in a wildfire. Likewise, mining and mineral processing industries require strong risk management strategies to protect their physical assets.
Aside from the natural resource exposure, precautionary efforts are encouraged on a lot of different fronts. For instance, since both industries depend on such specialized equipment, taking added maintenance steps, assuring that machine parts are readily available if something breaks down, or having back up power supplies, also need to be part of our clients’ risk management considerations.
Whatever exposures our clients face, we want to assure that all their property assets are well protected, damage is minimized whenever possible and equipment stays up and running.
For brokers and businesses interested in enlisting Ian’s help in addressing the complex commercial property risks they face in Canada, contact him at Ian.Rutherford@axaxl.com