Defining Systemic Importance for Insurers

On 12 February 2013, Julian Adams, FSA Director of Insurance, gave a speech at the Economist Insurance Summit in London on the lessons for insurance supervisors from the financial crisis.

Mr Adams explained that the overall objective of the FSA is to create an environment in which no insurer is too big, too complex or too interconnected to fail, and where participants are able to exit the market in an orderly fashion which ensures continuity of access to critical services.

He noted that the UK currently does not have a resolution regime for insurers, instead relying on ‘run-off’, Schemes of Arrangement and formal insolvency.  However, each of these options carries attendant risks meaning that it is necessary to at least consider whether a resolution regime for insurers in necessary.  Any such regime would be consistent with the Financial Stability Board’s ‘Key Attributes’ document and would also take a lead from the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, which is due to publish its initial list of Globally Systemic Important Insurers in the summer of 2013.  The key challenge is to recognise the specificities of insurance compared to other financial sectors – particularly the factors that make an insurer ‘systemically important’.  On this topic, Mr Adams highlighted three issues:

Use of Leverage – such as:

  • engaging in stock lending in order to invest proceeds in higher yielding (and therefore higher risk) paper; or
  • facilitating borrowing by non-insurance group members on the strength of an insurance business;

Asset Transformation – such as the sale of long-term investment products by life insurance companies; or

Assumption of Credit Risk – such as:

  • the securitisation of corporate paper; or
  • the funding of annuity liabilities through exposure to subordinated corporate debt.

If the answer to any one of these questions, alone or in combination, is positive then the FSA would “consider carefully” whether the firm in question was systemically significant.

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