The industry is in for some trying times, says Frank Keating, president and chief executive officer of the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington.

Keating offered his observations on the challenges that the industry faces during ReFocus 2008, a gathering of over 300 top executives sponsored by the ACLI and the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Ill. “There are a lot of black storm clouds, challenges to the industry,” Keating said.

Keating renewed the ACLI’s call for an optional federal charter, stating that while enabling legislation may not pass this year, there is a chance it will pass in 2009. There are strong financial reasons for supporting an OFC, he said, citing recent studies suggesting that an OFC would save $5.7 billion by shifting insurers into federal regulation and saving the brokerage community another $337 million.

ACLI has “not stiffed the NAIC” (National Association of Insurance Commissioners) by supporting a federal charter but rather continues to work with state insurance regulators, Keating insisted. These efforts include work on the Interstate Insurance Product Regulatory Commission, Washington, which is a single point of product filings for life insurers. But the commission addresses speed-to-market issues and not market conduct or producer licensing.

“It is 1 leg of a 3-legged stool,” he argued.

Even so, he said that both the NAIC and the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, Troy, N.Y., are “our allies.”

Keating also expressed concern over the current Solvency II effort in Europe. There is an attempt to “penalize the U.S. because of a lack of movement by the NAIC” to back Solvency II, he said. If a company is forced to raise capital levels because the U.S. does not have compatible standards with the European Union, he wondered how many would move their headquarters to Europe, to be under the jurisdiction of the regulator with more principles-based regulatory requirements.

Another concern he raised was the government’s need for money in light of a $1 trillion deficit, a $150 billion tax rebate scheme, the call for universal health care and the expense of waging a war campaign in Iraq.

“We live in a world that needs money and are an industry that must show that the products we offer are for public policy reasons,” Keating said.