Amid all the Japan loss estimates, one shouldn’t forget the realities on the ground

Talk about the impact of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami in Japan pervades all corners of the (re)insurance industry. From underwriters and brokers walking between the Lloyd’s building and their offices, to delegates at the MultaQa Qatar event – held three days after the catastrophic event hit – the industry is discussing little else.

Amid all the speculation about possible insured losses and whether the earthquake will harden the global market, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a country lies devastated. Thousands of people have been confirmed dead, and many thousands more are still unaccounted for.

It is also worth noting that, as with the tragic events of 11 September 2001, the Japanese earthquake has struck the heart as well as the pocketbook of the industry. While the Tokyo offices of Japan’s mega-insurers are intact and their employees safe, some of the branch and support offices outside the capital have been destroyed, and employees, colleagues and friends of those in the offices are among the missing.

The conversations about losses and their impact are important. These issues are, after all, what the (re)insurance industry is there to deal with.

The focus is also understandable, given the event’s timing – only weeks away from the Japanese renewal season on 1 April and in close proximity to the 1 June and 1 July renewals for Australia and the USA.

But industry practitioners need to keep these conversations in perspective, and spare a thought for those who have suffered as a result of this catastrophe.

There is also a lot of talk about the potential opportunities that could arise from such a big loss. While some of the focus will inevitably be on raising rates, the real opportunity for the industry is to show how good it is at its main function – paying valid claims promptly and supporting clients in the difficult months that follow.

Ben Dyson, assistant editor, Global Reinsurance