Shifting toward a principles-based reserving (PBR) approach could lead to a modest increase in reserve requirements for universal life (UL) policies with secondary guarantees and big decreases in reserve requirements for term life policies.

Towers Watson & Company, New York (NYSE:TW), makes those predictions in a preliminary version of a long-awaited analysis of the possible impact of shifting to a PBR system for life products.

The Life Actuarial Task Force at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., has posted a copy of the analysis on its section of the NAIC website.

The NAIC has been working on PBR projects for years.

A shift to a PBR approach would involve a move away from reliance on unchanging financial safety formulas, toward analyses based on modern statistical forecasting techniques and actuarial judgment.

Advocates of the PBR approach say it would force insurers to think more carefully about their finances, and, in some cases, free them from the need to keep unnecessarily large reserves to satisfy the demands of unrealistically conservative formulas.

Critics say some insurers could use PBR flexibility as an excuse to reduce reserves to unsafe levels, and that conducting high-quality statistical analyses could be too difficult for smaller companies.

The actuarial task force picked Towers Watson to look at the possible effects of VM-20, a section of a draft valuation manual that deals with PBR issues.

Towers Watson had hoped to complete the study by March, but it had to postpone the release date because it had trouble getting data, and the current version of the analysis includes data on just a few

dozen products.

Towers Watson analysts looked at data for direct business and business net of reinsurance, and they included data for products such as whole life, UL policies with secondary guarantees, and term life policies with terms of 10, 20 or 30 years.

Towers Watson also looked at the impact on 1 year of business and 5 years of business.

In the section for 5 years of business net of reinsurance, a PBR approach could cut reserving requirements for the term policies studied in half, and it could increase reserving requirements for UL policies with secondary guarantees about 7%, the analysts estimate.

For direct business excluding the effects of reinsurance, reserve requirements for UL policies with secondary guarantees could increase about 20%, and requirements for the term products could fall about 40%.

Reserving requirements for whole life and variable universal life policies might not change much, the analysts say.

The analysts also comment on the use of the VM-20 manual draft.

“With help, companies have been able to work their way through VM-20 and calculate a number,” the analysts say. “However, this required hundreds of questions and much clarification. Plus, results took longer than expected — often due to constraints on resources, but not always.”

Other VM-20 coverage from National Underwriter Life & Health: