14 April 2011
One might naturally assume that the tragic events in northeastern Japan would also be devastating the Japanese insurance industry. By the beginning of April some 320,000 P&C claims related to the disasters had already been filed with insurers. After the Kobe earthquake of 1995, when many home and business owners discovered their policies did not cover the damage, people got in the habit of buying earthquake / tsunami insurance. So fortunately more properties were insured on 3/11 than may have been otherwise. In conversations with Japanese carriers, however, Celent has found that insurers are remarkably sanguine about the likely effect on the industry here. Firms say they have adequate reserves set aside precisely to cover an event of this magnitude, which has long been predicted. As a result, Celent expects that major Japanese insurers will continue to invest in strategic initiatives to boost competitiveness and lower costs in this very crowded market. IT spending growth at Japanese insurers, which has been close to flat for years anyway due to the maturity of the market, will suffer a modest dip in the short term. Smaller insurers are likely to put off renewal projects for a while. Pressure to merge will increase at some firms, but again the industry has seen a spate of consolidation activity in recent years already. The recent events are likely to encourage Japanese insurers to accelerate their international expansion efforts, which are already underway. Carriers have been looking abroad for growth opportunities, especially to the Asia Pacific region but further afield in the Americas and Europe as well. In Tokyo, along with the concern, there is a new competitive spirit in the air. April is the start of Japan’s fiscal year and businesses look determined to find ways to grow even as the economy is forecast to contract. The insurance industry would be no exception. For example, the past year has seen the emergence of new internet and mobile based distribution models and products, approaches which seem almost tailor-made for the post-3/11 era. Technology suppliers will want to know that amplified interest in business continuity is leading insurers to think seriously about cloud computing. The blooming sakura and early spring sunshine might be distracting me from some of the harsher realities of 21st century Japan. But certainly a little optimism is not misplaced in what is after all one of the world’s major insurance markets.