Lawmakers to Lew: why treat insurers differently in FSOC risk review?

Two days before the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) is due to discuss, at minimum, insurance company systemic risk designations, a group of seven Congressmen led by Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., wrote to Secretary Treasury Jacob Lew with concerns that the Council is not giving insurers a fair shake.

 1839 Kollner ink and ink wash landscape of Capitol Hill,  before the dome had been added to the Capitol. Courtesy, LOC.

1839 Kollner ink and ink wash over graphite landscape of Capitol Hill, before the dome had been added to the Capitol itself. Courtesy LOC.


The treatment of the insurance industry didn’t get the public analytical effort that the asset management industry did in the FSOCs “rush” to designate firms as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs), leading to disparate treatment of insurers, the Congressmen charged in the Sept. 2 letter.

Treasury has said before it does a very through review of the companies it reviews. metLife has been under consideration as a potential SIFI for over a year-the deliberations have not been made public nor has Treasury ever acknowledged that this company was under review.

The Council has devoted far less effort to empirical analysis, stakeholder outreach, and transparency in its consideration of insurance companies for designation than it has for asset management firms,” the Congressmen alleged.

The preliminary agenda of the Sept. 4 closed FSOC meeting includes a discussion of nonbank financial company designations as well as consideration of the Council’s fiscal year 2015 budget, and discussion of the Council’s work on asset management, according to a notice from the Treasury Department.

Joining Garrett, chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises, were GOP Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., Sean Duffy, R-Wis., Dennis Ross, R-Fla., Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., Steve Stivers, R-OH, and Mick Mulvaney, R-SC.

They asked Lew for the rationale behind the approaches to the insurance industry in its consideration of potential SIFIs, including MetLife, which may or may not go to a Council vote tomorrow for proposed SIFI designation, depending on how ready Council members are.

The Office of Financial Research (OFR), which provides research for FSOC, published a report on the asset management industry in September 13. Although the quality of the report was roundly criticized by the Congressmen and some in the industry, they used it as a point of comparison in contrast with lack of such a report for the insurance industry. The lawmakers also noted that the FSOC held a public conference on asset management back in May but questioned why a similar exercise was conducted before designating insurers as SIFIs.

Some prominent lawmakers have been busy this year sending letters to Lew and otherwise passing legislation along party line votes through committee to attempt to gain some insight control over the FSOC process, either through efforts to make it more transparent to the public or at least certain Congressional members, or to get concrete feedback on the decision-making process for nonbank SIFIs.

Garrett himself, who introduced the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 4387), was barred from a March 2014 FSOC meting he tried to attend.

Thus far, non bank SIFIS are AIG, GE Capital and Prudential. No asset managers have yet been named. Two insurers are under consideration, MetLife, which underwent Stage 3 analysis and has had its books formally “closed by the FSOC and another company in Stage 2, according to the minutes, which is perhaps Berkshire Hathaway, as a reinsurer, but which could be another big life insurance company, as well.

If  MetLife is designated, it would be subject to enhanced prudential supervision from the Federal Reserve Board, with a host of accompanying  holding company oversight and capital standards, a yet to be worked out by the Fed. A vote by the 10-member Council would not mean a proposed SIFI designation is official until MetLife is given a chance to respond, which may mean it decides to appeal or does nothing until the time-frame to respond elapses.

IAIS proposing removing ‘observer’ groups, adding public forum and phone time

UPDATE with NAIC consumer rep comment

July 31, Washington—In a move that had been anticipated by some for awhile, the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) told members and observers that it is proposing the elimination of “observer” status. If this proposal becomes policy, it would go into effect January 2015.
Comments on the proposal, which is expected to become public Aug. 4, will be due on Sept. 2.
The IAIS, which did not confirm this action or timeline. It has been developing and weighing new processes for participation by interested parties for some time and will continue to do so.
Some groups have in the past been vocal about their  criticism of the move toward what they feel has been a trend at the IAIS toward less transparency and more closed meetings. Observers say the policy will definitely change the dynamics  of interaction with the IAIS at a critical time.

A global insurance capital standard is in the works by 2016 for globally active insurance groups, with implementation by 2019, alongside the continued development of capital standards for global systemically important insurers (G-SIIs) and possibly for global reinsurers.

The IAIS is also developing basic capital requirements (BCRs), which are planned to be finalized this year for implementation by global systemically important insurers (G-SIIs.) BCRs will serve as the foundation for higher loss absorbency (HLA) requirements for G-SIIs, and it is anticipated that their development and testing will also inform development of the ICS, the IAIS stated last year.

“You are talking about very complex issues here –the idea that  they are decided in closed sessions is absurd….Corporate governance now being thrown out the window–they spend 10 years opening up these meetings, and now with the flick of a switch they are going to close them,” one industry executive noted.  “Why is it that the public that is most effected by this have little time…less than a month… to comment?”

Also, recently, there are some key observers who just got their ‘wings.” The latest inductees into the observer ranks had strongly pushed for inclusion–namely, consumer groups and the independent insurance member of the U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC.)

Peter Kochenburger, one of six National Association of Insurance Commissioners  (NAIC) consumer representatives designated for IAIS observer participation was worried about the effect of any new policy after consumers had just gotten their foot in the door.

Unlike big insurance  companies, the consumer advocates are less well known and could have really benefitted from face-time with their counterparts from different countries as well as from having an audience with international regulators, he noted. He expressed concern that  eliminating observer status will reduce the effectiveness of consumers’ participation although that is not the intent of the new proposal.

Kochenburger, a University of Connecticut law professor and executive director of the law school’s insurance law center, says he thinks communicating only via e-mail, conferences calls and the like does not enhance understanding and developing trust (if not agreement) between the parties.  However, he noted, consumer groups will always be very strapped for paying for travel (despite funding up to a point by NAIC) and always vastly outnumbered by the industry in public live meetings so the proposed this emphasis on written communication/comments could help level the playing field a bit.  He also supported the IAIS intention of setting out specific processes and timelines for stakeholder participation, and welcomed written participation.

 

Roy Woodall, the appointed independent insurance expert and insurance voting member at FSOC, gained observer status this winter after trying for more than a year and half to become part of the proceedings. Woodall had publicly expressed strong concern in Congressional hearings about not having access to important regulatory discussions on financial stability of insurers in the FSOC’s wheelhouse when associates at NGOs and other service-oriented organizations could join the top-level discussions.

The Federal Reserve Board, also an FSOC member, was approved for membership –more than observer status-in the fall of 2013. The Federal Insurance Office is also a member.
Observers pay a flat fee of $19,000 Swiss Frances (CHF). A 2013 IAIS list denotes 144 observers for a possible total of 2.736 million CHF which is over $3 million US dollars.
Members pay quite a bit more. Total such fees for 2013 were 3,848,900 CHF or $4.237 million converted today. The NAIC pays a hefty 317,000 CHF, or almost $350,000, dwarfing the fees of any other member. They also bring more people to the table.
The Federal Insurance Office fee is $14,100 CHF and the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Bermuda have a membership fee of 67,000 CHF, the top fee among most other global jurisdictions.
It is thought that the Financial Stability Board (FSB) could help fund the difference if and when Observers are dropped from membership, although no one is publicly discussing options.
IAIS observers include in the United States as of 2013:  ACE, INA Holdings Inc .,  ACORD
AFLAC, AM Best, American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI,) American Insurance Association(AIA), AIG, Assured Guaranty Municipal Corp., Barnert Global Ltd., Cigna International Corp. CNA Insurance, Deloitte LLP, DLA Piper, LLP, Duane Morris LLP, Examination Resources LLC, Genworth Financial, Liberty Mutual Group, MassMutual Financial Group, MetLife, New York Life International, Northwestern Mutual, Promontory Financial Group, LLC, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), Prudential Financial Inc, Reinsurance Association of America USA, Starr International USA Inc., The Chubb Corp., Transatlantic Reinsurance Co., Travelers Companies, Inc., Treliant Risk Advisers, United Health Group and XL Group.

The NAIC consumer representatives, as noted,  and international organizations such as the International Actuarial Association, the World Federation of Insurance Intermediaries and Insurance Europe are also observers.

New York Life to take on insurance capital standards policy in Washington

Expect New York Life to become an engaged and active player, even a leader, on insurance capital standard discussions in the nation’s capital.

New York Life Chairman and CEO Ted Mathas galvanized a panel discussion on capital standards for insurers globally and domestically at the NAIC international forum by warning regulators that if standards aren’t properly developed, it might damage insurers’ ability to do some good in the marketplace.

Mathas said New York Life, a proud mutual insurance giant with assets under management of $425 billion in 2013 and a surplus and asset valuation reserve of $21.1 billion, an all-time high, said the company does not expect to be named systemically important either globally or by the Treasury-led Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC).

However, Mathas said the capital standards under development for internationally active insurers and the systemically risky or important global and domestic insurers will get worked into a broad part of the industry and possibly bleed into rating agency reviews and more broadly affect the role of insurance in society.

If assets are treated as short-term under accounting or capital rules, then insurers will not be there to buffer the risk they have taken on with huge pension plans, Mathas said, referencing Prudential Insurance and its pioneering of pension risk transfer mega-deals.

Prudential Vice Chair Mark Grier, who sat beside Mathas on the panel platform, slightly nodded. Grier already has been very active in talking to the Federal Reserve Board and other Washington officials given Prudential status as a global systemically important insurer (G-SII) and a U.S.  systemically important financial institution (SIFI).

If assets are treated as short term and there is a one size fits all market consistent methodology, you take away the value added benefits of the insurance industry, Mathas argued.

Mathas is currently making the rounds in Washington and plans to work with other parties to come up with a unified industry statement, or at least one for the company, in response to industry requests and an internal company decision to become engaged in the capital standards debate.

Yoshi Kawai, secretary-general of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) was just as excited to talk about the pursuit of capital standards.

“I cannot stop the feeling of excitement when I talk about capital,” Kawai offered.

Kawai did acknowledge that the market valuation issues are still open to debate and no decision has been made, although it was argued from the  audience that this market valuation debate has persisted for a decade or more and continually creeps into any discussion of global accounting standards.

“When we are regulators, we cannot communicate with the same number, we have to change. We have to change now. Otherwise, it is too late,” Kawai said. There is progress in supervisory colleges but when we compare numbers and discuss them, we do not have the same amount, Kawai lamented.

Kawai and those he works with are seeing an appetite and need for capital standards as European, U.S. and Japanese insurers press further into emerging markets for company growth. Developing markets are hungry for a capital standard too, Kawai noted. Kawai, also a member of the FSB, paid acute attention to a keynote presentation on market trends from Manuel Aguilera-Verduzco, president of the National Insurance and Sureties Commission, MexicoAguilera-Verduzco was chairman of the IAIS between 2001 and 2004.

But Mathas tossed aside Kawai’s analogy on comparability which he made based on temperatures measured in Fahrenheit while landing in the United States on a particularly hot May day  when he is more familiar the lower Celsius number readings.

Mathas response to this was to put on a jacket or sport short-sleeves depending on how warm one’s body feels, respecting regional differences as one already does with climate differences.

Mathas’ solution, which may be difficult to implement with the Collins Amendment in Dodd Frank as a barrier, is to have the Fed utilize stress tests on its insurance stable of companies. Just take prescribed scenarios and run them across cash flows of a asituation and see how they do, Mathas said.

Barring a loose or liberal interpretation of the Collins Amendment (Section 171 of Dodd-Frank) by Fed officials, who many agree are not inclined to monkey with the statute, or the industry-proposed legislative fixes awaiting action in Congress, such a simple or even elegant solution is going to have a very difficult path ahead.

Industry and regulators did agree there is a sense of urgency now with the capital standards under development at the IAIS  at the behest of the G-20‘s Financial Stability Board (FSB)and at the Fed.

Missouri Insurance Director John Huff, the non-voting NAIC appointee to the FSOC, described the capital standards a “bullet train coming down the track.”

Everyone knows the drill. BCR or backstop capital requirements are due this year, perhaps by this July, HLA or higher loss absorbency for global systemically important insurers net year, or 2015, ICS capital standards for  all internationally active insurance groups to be developed in 2016  and applicable in 2019, standards  Huff and others in the U.S. view as having “wide-ranging implications” coupled with unprecedented data collection.

“Someone needs to give the Fed flexibility administratively or legislatively,” Grier said.  “And then there has to be  convergence so we don’t have four different capital standards coming from G-SII, SIFI, ComFrame and the NAIC,” Grier added.