Articles - Study reveals European insurers ill-prepared for Solvency II

New study reveals European insurers are ill-prepared for Solvency II operating environment and may be unable to earn their cost of capital

Germany and UK Life Insurers Face Tough Road; Italian P&C Insurers Have
Greatest Challenges

 Few insurers across Europe are currently able to earntheir cost of capital according to a new Bain & Company and Towers Watsonstudy ("Solvency II: A Strategic and Cultural Challenge").  The study covered the repercussions of Solvency II for major insurers in Germany, France, Italy and the UK operating in the life, health and property/casualtysectors.  Many will continue to be ill-prepared for the new environment even if Solvency II is postponed until 2014 unless aggressive action is taken to manage scarce capital.
 "Our analysis exposes considerable weaknesses in the solvency ratios and risk-adjusted profitability of European insurers under Solvency II", statesDr. Gunther Schwarz, Partner at Bain & Company and head of the insurancepractice group for Europe.
 The proprietary simulation model, which uses publicly-accessible data, analysed the solvency and risk-adjusted profitability ratios, and found thatthe underlying core problems for European insurers go beyond the resultsreported by the European Commission's QIS5 (Quantitative Impact Study 5) published in April 2011.
 Key country-by-country findings include:
  •   Twenty five percent of German and 21 percent of British companieshave a solvency ratio based on QIS5 of less than 100 percent, largely due to the higher share of long-term annuity insurances in Germany and the UK. Today, every fourth German life insurance product is an annuity, and the trend is heading higher-the equivalent rate in France and Italy is less than 10 percent.
  •   Compared with other European countries, a high discrepancy exists in Germany between the periods of the insurance treaties and the invested assets; in terms of the German HGB-based accounting system, a great many companies are still applying short duration strategies.  In France, Italy and the UK, by contrast, the duration mismatch is generally not an issue because the liabilities have far shorter durations and longer life liabilities are covered by corresponding long maturity assets.
  •   In the property and casualty market, German and British insurers measure up comparatively well.  Eight percent of the simulated insurers in the UK and no simulated German insurers revealed QIS5 solvency ratios of less than 100 percent despite the fact that throughout Europe the capital requirements in this segment are due to rise by more than 200 percent compared to Solvency I.
  •   Conversely, the analysis shows half of Italy's non-life insurers to have solvency ratios of less than 100 percent due to an unfavourable product mix.  In Italy the share of motor insurance in the property/casualty segment is considerably higher (some 50 percent) than in the other European markets. And the ratio of total costs to premiums in this fiercely competitive nsurance segment in Italy is nearly 110 percent - burdening equity capital and, by extension, solvency.
 Additional findings: 
  •   Many insurers do not earn their cost of capital.  The model reveals that considerable differences exist between traditional and unit-linked life insurance products.  On average across Europe, the traditional products show a slightly negative risk-adjusted profitability of negative one percent, while the unit-linked lines can boast of, in some cases, double-digit returns.  From a profitability viewpoint, term life insurance is even more attractive, with the simulation revealing returns here of an average 17 percent.  If, however, life insurers are thinking of restricting themselves in future to these two product lines, they are clearly not thinking far enough ahead. Indeed, there is an opportunity for product innovation with new guarantee concepts which are capital light while at the same time being clearly distinguishable from those of banks or investment companies.
  •   The model confirms a wide-spread belief that property/casualty insurers see no money to be earned on third party motor insurance.  The European average of risk-adjusted profitability lies at negative three percent.  With the exception of the UK, this ratio is also negative for property and building insurance.  Lastly, attractive returns can be generated on other insurance lines, such as third party insurance in some
 European markets.
 "Companies will have to carry out extensive groundwork to optimise their capital and risk before the new EU regulations are in play," added Dr.Schwarz.  "Insurers will also have to realign their corporate strategy,organisation and culture to these new conditions which is a Herculean task."
 Dr. Schwarz also sees new doors opening particularly for companies strong on capital and profits: "The entire insurance market is in a process of transformation.  This is an ideal opportunity for sector leaders to further
 expand their market positions."
 According to Naren Persad, Director at Towers Watson, insurers must now take on the new strategic challenges. He said: "Solvency II is not just about calculating new ratios.  The new regulations call for companies to conduct a widespread business review and in some cases to implement completely new
 processes.  The reporting process will have to be industrialised."
 Persad cautions against putting off this work any longer.  "Due to the complexity of the new process, even medium-sized companies will need a good two years to implement the changes.  And realigning a business model within this period would still be an ambitious task even if the introduction were postponed to 2014."

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