Riot and strikes insurance back with a bang amid unprecedented street clashes in Hong Kong

Enoch Yiu

More Hong Kong companies and shops are considering insurance policies that cover rioting and strikes, French insurer AXA, the city’s largest general insurer by market share, said.

The special administrative region has witnessed unprecedented social unrest over the past three months, with protests against a controversial extradition bill now in their 12th week.

“We have seen more demand from customers looking for cover for damage related to riots, strikes and civil commotion, in recent months,” said Sally Wan Yuen-wai, chief executive designate of AXA Hong Kong and Macau.

“While most large hotel operators and big companies will have comprehensive coverage, which may have riot-related cover already, many companies in Hong Kong do not have insurance cover that includes losses due to rioting, strikes and other civil commotion,” she said.

That is because Hong Kong is not prone to violent civil unrest. Even the current crisis started off with a peaceful march on June 9 that is said to have attracted a million people. It has since, except in few instances, taken a violent turn, with clashes in Admiralty, Wan Chai, Mong Kok, Yuen Long and Tsuen Wan, among other areas of Hong Kong.

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“Recent incidents have pushed small and medium enterprises, restaurants and other businesses to consider insurance protection against any losses related to rioting and strikes,” Wan said. The type and price may vary and can be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the location and nature of the business, and the extent of cover wanted by companies, she said.

Ivan Wong, who owns Yakiniku More, a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, had to double-check he had cover for rioting following clashes in his neighbourhood.

“I had to check with my insurance agent if commercial and property insurance policies covered damage related to riots. My agent said mine didn’t. I will ask him to make sure I am covered for rioting and strikes going forward. It’s important – my shop is on the ground floor,” he said.

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Swire Properties’ Pacific Place mall, which is close to the government headquarters and Hong Kong’s legislative Council in Admiralty, closed all shops early on the evening of June 12, as well as the morning of June 13. The mall, however, has cover for such situations.

Riot insurance cover does not require that police declare a situation as a riot, it is up to an insurer’s claims department to decide if the event constituted a riot as per the insurance policy, said Glenn Turner, chief operations officer at independent financial planning company Altruist Financial Group. “The Hong Kong insurance world would generally deem the marches to be riots,” he added.

Elsewhere, AXA said it received about 300 travel insurance claims from customers whose travel plans were affected by protests at Hong Kong International Airport on August 12-13 that led to the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights.

The anti-government protests at Hong Kong International Airport on August 13. Photo: Sam Tsang

The company said it covered the disruption as an exceptional case, even though most policies did not provide cover for such situations.

The protests have also led to a 20 per cent decline in sales of insurance products to mainland Chinese customers over the past two months. Wan, the chief executive designate of AXA Hong Kong and Macau, however, said the company’s total sales remained stable and that it expected stronger growth in life and pension product sales ahead.

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