Insurance conference focuses on catastrophe-awareness

POSTED: 09/3/14 4:23 PM

St. Maarten – “With this conference we want to appeal to people to remember the devastating effects of hurricanes,” Neil Henderson said yesterday at a press conference about the Catastrophe  Risk Insurance Conference his company Henderson Insurances organizes on Friday at the Belair Community Center.

Henderson picked the date of September 5 with a dedicated purpose in mind: it is the 19th anniversary of Hurricane Luis, the monster storm that wreaked havoc on St. Maarten, not only on physical property, but also on the minds of many citizens.

“The government is facing challenges with the budget and its cash flow and as a member of the insurance sector we have to remain vigilant about the consequences of hurricanes,” Henderson said.

The conference is an initiative to raise awareness among citizens about insurance. Henderson said that he expects 150 people to attend, among them members of the government, and of the current and the new parliament. “All stakeholders will walk away from the conference with the same information,” Henderson said.

“Insurance is a vital instrument to protect property,” Henderson said. “People aspire to own their own homes and there is a rise in sole proprietorship businesses. The natural trend is that people want to progress. The question is: can the insurance sector play a role in this?”

The conference will take place on Friday at the Belair Community Center. Registration is open from 1 p.m. The conference is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and to conclude at 5 p.m. The registration fee is $30.

Finance Minister Martin Hassink will present the opening address. Milo Pearson, the chairman of the Caribbean Catastrophe Insurance Facility (CCRIF) is the keynote speaker.

The World Bank founded the CCRIF in 2007 with a grant from the government of Japan as a regional catastrophe fund for Caribbean governments designed to limit the financial impact of devastating hurricanes and earthquakes. The organization quickly provides cash when a policy is triggered. Sixteen countries in the Caribbean are currently CCRIF-members, but St. Maarten is not among them. Neighboring Anguilla and countries like Haiti, Jamaica and Dominica are among the members.

Henderson said that the CCIF fund works like a charm: when a major earthquake hit Haiti a couple of years ago, the fund settled $9 million in damages within the first week after the disaster.

Asked how many people in St. Maarten actually have home insurance, Henderson said that this is generally measured “pre-Luis and post-Luis.” Before the 1995 hurricane, the number of owners with home insurance was much lower than it is today, he said.

The aspiration to own a home is frustrated by the financial sector: banks charge on average 7 percent interest on a mortgage. Ten years ago, this percentage was between 13 and 14 percent.

Henderson said that there is some good news on the horizon for consumers. Because investors are massively investing in risk there is a downward pressure on the price companies have to pay to re-insure their liabilities. “This will lead to a 10 to 15 percent decrease in premiums,” Henderson said. “Insurance companies that do not give this advantage back to their clients will be forced to do this, because others certainly will. Then it pays to do business with an insurance broker, who represents multiple insurers.”

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