The Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) will have a busy day Tuesday, June 24, as it meets in a closed, executive session and as Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified before the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) on a hearing entitled “The Annual Report of the Financial Stability Oversight Council.” Lew will be the only witness.
Although insurance is a subset of FSOC’s realm and of its annual report, there may be questions from lawmakers on the prudential regulation by the Federal Reserve of large insurers and asset managers, discussion on the application of domestic and proposed international capital standards and on FSOC’s internal business. HFSC passed measures last week on party line voting, to try and put the brakes on FSOC’s designation process and open it up to more federal officials and Congress.
MetLife is still in stage 3 of its potential designation as a nonbank systemically important financial institution (SIFI.) However, according to a readout of the March 27 FSOC meeting, which was closed, there was a discussion in late March on not only a stage potential designee but also a stage 2 financial company.
MetLife has already acknowledged it is in stage 3 and discussions are likely to continue Tuesday. Of interest, the company, now stage 2 analysis, is perhaps an insurer or reinsurer.
Although the minutes did not disclose the sector, presentations on the unidentified company were given by John Nolan, deputy director for Financial Stability in the Federal Insurance Office (FIO), who provided an update on the status of the ongoing analysis of the company. Randall Dodd, senior policy advisor at FIO, Todd Cohen, policy advisor at Treasury; and Scott Alvarez, General Counsel of the Federal Reserve, were available to answer questions on the company. However, the minutes do not reflect any presentation made by the office of the FSOC voting member with Insurance Expertise, so it could be FIO’s and the Fed’s take on an asset manager with insurance holdings, or perhaps a large reinsurer.
The Financial Stability Board, in concert with the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) is coming out with its reinsurance global systemically important insurers (G-SIIs) around November of this year. As far as domestics, Berkshire Hathaway could possibly be among them because of its size, although the percentage of insurance as part of Berkshire Hathaway may not meet specific FSOC threshold material for insurance companies.
The annual report for 2014 again discussed again interest rate risk for insurance companies:
“Despite a significant rise in longer-term interest rates this past year, the insurance industry continued to report investment margins that were below historic averages,” the annual report of FSOC stated.
“If historically low interest rates persist, insurance companies could face a challenge generating investment returns that are sufficient to meet the cash flow demands of liabilities,” the report continued. Interest rates remained well below historical averages and continued to weigh on life insurance investment yields.
Legacy products in particular (including annuities, long-term care, and universal life insurance with secondary guarantees) have been less profitable in the current interest rate environment, as they were originally priced and sold under differing market conditions, as insurers have found out, the report noted.
The current low interest rate environment also may affect the use of captive reinsurance: the low rates affect the present value of insurers’ contract obligations (increasing the present values
of future obligations), and therefore may encourage use of reinsurance for insurance products with liability valuations that are interest-rate-sensitive
FSOC recommends that the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) and state insurance regulators continue to monitor and assess interest rate risk resulting from severe interest rate shocks.
FSOC also reported that Life insurance revenue from insurance and annuity products decreased to $583 billion in 2013 from the record $645 billion set in 2012.
Although Expanded product distribution channels and a more favorable interest rate environment led to higher fixed annuity sales, a number of one- time transactions and increased reinsurance cession overcame the improved fixed annuity sales and led to the decrease in total revenues.
Life insurers’ average portfolio yields continued to decline in 2013, but at a slower rate than in 2012, the report stated. Nonetheless, the life insurance sector’s net income rose 6.8% to $41 billion, a record high, benefitting from rising equity markets.
FSOC also delved into concerns regarding captive reinsurance. It pointed out that regulators and rating agencies have noted that the broad use of captive reinsurance by life insurers may result in regulatory capital ratios that potentially understate risk.
During times of financial market volatility when reserve and capital levels for some products should increase, an insurance company that uses captive reinsurance may not be required to hold higher reserves and capital. This could become a financial stability concern if a large, complex insurance organization were to experience financial distress,” the annual report stated.
The concerns have some offsets: The implementation of principles-based reserving (PBR) by the states may eliminate the need to use captive reinsurance for the purpose of reducing reserves that are significantly higher than expected losses, according to the report.
The Federal Reserve issued a “Supervision and Regulation Letter” (SRL) in December 2013 concerning the effects of risk transfer activities on capital adequacy, which would apply to captive reinsurance risk transfer transactions for insurance companies it supervises when they become subject to the Federal Reserve’s risk-based capital framework.
The FIO is still monitoring both the role and impact of captives in the sector and the potential for regulatory improvements at the state level, as well.
Property/Casualty sector revenue from insurance products increased 3.9% to $544 billion in 2013, a record high.
Rates charged by insurers to policyholders increased moderately in most commercial lines of P/C business led by strong sales of workers’ compensation and demand for personal auto insurance. Net income increased to a record level of $70 billion, or an increase of 91.5% from 2012, as expenses and losses paid on claims declined and there were no major storms during the hurricane season in 2013, the annual report stated.