The spread of COVID-19 is estimated to cost members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in excess of £1.2bn ($1.5bn) in claims payouts. With providers facing such a considerable and unplanned payout, the impact will truly be felt towards the end of the calendar year as the costs associated with natural catastrophes mount.

With the hurricane and typhoon season yet to arrive for 2020, the insurance industry is braced for a turbulent future. Munich Re estimated that insured losses stemming from natural catastrophes reached $52bn in 2019. Together with catastrophe losses, the unexpected losses associated with COVID-19 will place some providers under increasing financial strain.

The insurance industry will be impacted considerably in less direct ways than claims. Insurers’ exposure to financial markets through the investments they hold has been negatively impacted, as financial markets globally have fallen to unprecedented levels. Combining this with record-low interest rates, which have been set to provide some relief to economies anticipating recession, means the pressure on insurers’ balance sheets has increased dramatically.

The economic impact will not only be felt through financial market volatility but also the potential downturn in the demand for commercial insurance as economies slide into recession and businesses are forced to close. The extent to which this factor will affect the insurance industry will be dependent on how long it takes to get the spread of the pandemic under some form of control. Should this be achieved in the coming months and restrictions on activities be eased, a greater number of businesses will be able to recover.

The combination of natural catastrophes, volatility in financial markets, and economic recession will put the insurance industry under considerable strain. However, the full impact will not be known until later in 2020, once the majority of natural catastrophes pass and the severity of the economic implications become clearer.