Hard vs. Soft Insurance Markets Explained (with Video!)

Posted by Grant Patten on Aug 19, 2019 7:23:39 AM

Hard vs. Soft Insurance Markets Explained


What exactly is the difference between a hard and soft insurance market?

A “hard” market is characterized by a high demand for insurance coverage and, therefore, a reduced supply. Payouts may have increased and profits may have declined. As a result, insurance companies are less inclined to take on new business. The requirements to obtain insurance are stricter and premiums are more expensive.

Classic characteristics of a hard market include:

  • Higher insurance premiums.
  • More stringent underwriting criteria.
  • Reduced capacity, which means insurance carriers offer less coverage or limits.
  • Reduced competition among insurance carriers.

During a “soft” market, there is much competition between companies. Premiums are stable, if not falling. It’s fairly easy to get coverage for all kinds of risks. As someone looking to buy insurance, you may have a variety of options from which to choose and underwriting rules are less stringent.

Classic characteristics of a soft market include:

  • Lower insurance premiums.
  • Relaxed underwriting criteria.
  • Increased capacity, which means insurance carriers write more policies and higher limits.
  • Increased competition among insurance carriers.

As of Summer 2019, a hard market is expected in Canada over at least the next 12 months. We’re already seeing rating increases, especially on commercial property. As an insurance customer, then, you may be wondering, what is the reason for such price increases? Well, the insurance market is inherently cyclical and has “corrections” that involve premium price increases. Prices are rising for a number of reasons, including an increase in weather-related claims and auto insurance claims. Low interest rates are also a contributing factor.

We’re in a data-driven hard market today. With all the easily accessible data now available, insurance companies can pivot faster than ever before. In commercial lines, for example, insurers are getting out of different lines of business faster than in prior years. Once they see losses growing in one area, they will quickly shift out of that line of business. This also contributes to a hard market.

In Canada, we had been in a soft market for, roughly, the past seven years. There had been virtually no rating increases (including simple inflationary increases) for many years. There has also been some capacity pulled out of the broader insurance market – eight Lloyd's of London syndicates shut down at the end of 2018, for example.

In a July 2019 Canadian Underwriter interview, speaking on reasons for these price increases, Albert Benmichol, CEO of AXIS Capital said, “We believe the industry is appropriately reacting to loss trends that have deteriorated over the last few years and have exacerbated the negative impact of several years of price declines. We believe that pricing action will continue into 2020 and perhaps longer.”

Nevertheless, even in a hard market, rest assured that at Front Row, we remain committed to offering customers the best price for the best coverage. Our size gives us leverage with the insurance companies that we use to benefit you.