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IAIS proposes plan for first ever global capital standard

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The International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) told the insurance world today it would be developing a first-ever risk based global insurance capital standard by 2016. 

Full implementation will begin in 2019 after two years of testing, and it will be included as part of ComFrame, applying to internationally active insurance groups (IAIGs), both property and life insurers, although some in the industry worry about a bleed over effect into all shapes and sizes of insurers.

Such a directive was anticipated, but it was not clear whether it would be developed within the ComFrame project or not. The ComFrame project, begun in 2010, applies to IAIGs. 

The IAIS was instructed in a broad insurance supervisory policy directive by the G-20’s Financial Stability Board (FSB) to develop “a work plan to develop a comprehensive, group-wide supervisory and regulatory framework for Internationally Active Insurance Groups (IAIGs), including a quantitative capital standard” by the end of the year.

The IAIS release today did not mention the word “quantitative.”

The standard is not necessarily a feared high-level capital requirement and leaves open room for jurisdictions to allow insurers to develop their own solvency management systems and models governing under certain rules, possibly with some minimum capital floor.

However, the process will be fortified by discussions of the requirements for insurers and reinsures that have been or will be deemed to be systemically important globally.

Starting in 2014, the IAIS will also develop backstop capital requirements for global systemically important insurers (G-SIIs), whose designees include AIG, MetLife and Prudential Financial domestically, and Axa, Allianz, Aviva, Prudential plc in the U.K., Ping and Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. The backstop capital requirements will apply to the G-SIIs by year-end 2014.

These backstop requirements would serve as the foundation for higher loss absorbency requirements, coming in 2019, for the G-SIIs. The IAIS anticipates that this development and testing will also be used for development of the capital standards for the IAIGs. 

An IAIG, according to the IAIS, is not quite a G-SII. The insurer must have premiums written in not fewer than three jurisdictions, with not less than 10 percent of the group’s total gross written premium in foreign countries and must have total assets of not less than $50 billion and gross written premiums of $10 billion. The IAIS expects that approximately 50 IAIGs will be identified by supervisory colleges.

The IAIS says that IAIGs need tailored and more coordinated supervision across jurisdictions due to their complexity and international activity. This requires a specific framework and coordination of supervisory activities under the aegis of a group-wide supervisor, the IAS has said.

Fundamentally, ComFrame is intended to be a comprehensive, well-balanced framework that focuses equally on both quantitative and qualitative elements. The IAIS emphasized in its original documents “that ComFrame is not intended to be a collection of overly prescriptive, narrowly defined approaches. On the contrary, ComFrame will be outcome-focused and, whilst it will not be rules-based, its requirements will be accompanied with specific parameters and specifications.”

The IAIS says that ComFrame has always included a capital component within its solvency assessment. This component, which is being finalized in concept, will be used as a starting point for development of the capital standard. 

“From the financial crisis, we learned that our global financial regulatory regime should be more robust and comprehensive in scope, and jurisdictions should share a commitment to global standards,” stated Michael T. McRaith, chair of the IAIS Technical Committee and director of the Federal Insurance Office under the U.S. Treasury. 

“The IAIS – with its mission to promote effective and globally consistent supervision of the insurance industry and to contribute to global financial stability – has an essential role in fulfilling these objectives,” McRaith said.

The industry and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) are taking guarded position at this time, but hope to work with IAIS on the specifics, which could range from a minimum capital standard with company specific capital standard flexibility to something more prescriptive, depending on what is worked out and what is finally approved by the FSB.

The U.S. states can adopt these standards state by state, but if they do not there will be a lot of places where the IAIS and other countries can apply pressure, including in the reviews of the U.S. regulatory system, such as the Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP), which provides in-depth examinations of countries’ financial sectors and in trade negotiations. A federal legislative approach is not out of the question. At any rate, the FIO, the NAIC, the Federal Reserve as it gains IAIS membership, and IAIS observers are all expected to work together on these standards.

An NAIC response came from CEO Ben Nelson who stated that “although U.S. state insurance regulators continue to have serious concerns about the timing, necessity and complexity of developing a global capital standard given regulatory differences around the globe, we intend to remain fully engaged in the process to ensure that any development augments the strong legal entity capital standards in the U.S. that have provided proven and tested security for U.S. policyholders and stable insurance markets for consumers and industry.”

NAIC staffer Elise Liebers, who now heads the IAIS Financial Stability Committee, stated that “a risk-based capital standard for global insurance groups has been established as a priority for the IAIS as part of its work to promote financial stability.” The NAIC has railed against FSB directives recently, worrying it is guiding the IAIS into the banking supervisory realm. Two state insurance commissioners – Kevin McCarty of Florida and Tom Leonardi of Connecticut – are on the IAIS executive committee. This plan was approved by the Executive Committee, which is composed of 24 members, including McRaith.

“It is undeniable that the business of insurance is global, and global issues demand global responses,” said Peter Braumüller, chair of the IAIS Executive Committee.

A spokesman for the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., said the agency would not comment on the IAIS initiative at this time. 

At the same time, a spokesman for Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, chairman of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, pointed to comments he made at a hearing on the issue held by his subcommittee in June.

At the hearing, Neugebauer voiced concerns that a bank-like model for insurance regulation favored by the IAIS “could disproportionately impact U.S. insurance policyholders and insurers.”

Neugebauer pointed to the IAIS proposal and said it confirmed that adoption would “create a one-size-fits-all regulatory regime for global insurers,” including group-wide capital assessments and prescriptive credential standards. “Given the uniqueness of our regulatory model, this proposal has a potential to increase the cost for U.S. insurers which would be borne by the policyholders themselves,” Neugebauer said.

The June hearing predates the FSB mid-July announcement that IAIS should develop a “quantitative capital standard” by year-end.

The industry was by turns, both circumspect and a little defiant. 

The life insurance industry under the aegis of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) said that the “U.S. insurance regulatory system has strong and vibrant solvency and capital requirements. We look forward to participating in discussions with the IAIS.”

John H. Fitzpatrick, secretary general of The Geneva Association and AIG board member, stated that while the association of global insurers remain committed to working with standard setters such as the IAIS on important initiatives, “it is clear that there will be significant challenges to the creation of a global capital standard for insurers, particularly within the timeframe proposed.” Fitzpatrick went on to say, “We acknowledge that the IAIS may need to take incremental steps towards achieving this overall goal.”

Dave Snyder, international supervisory vice president with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), questioned the very foundation of this project as he said there was no evidence that this direction is needed, and no benefit to consumers has been shown. 

Snyder said if the wrong standards are implemented, they could lead to systemic risk within the industry “that does not now exist within our sector,” by creating one model that does away with the “diversity of our regulation and diversity of our business models,” which acts to spread risk.

Stef Zielezienski, general counsel for the American Insurance Association (AIA), said the development of a global insurance capital standard should “take a well-reasoned and risk-focused approach to capital assessment that can be applied consistently to internationally active groups without compromising their ability to compete.” Zielezienski  added that, “We will be anxious to see how an insurance capital standard evolves and how it aligns (or does not align) with [other ComFrame ]workstreams…Any standard should be workable for insurance companies and not result in additional regulatory layers.”

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) recoiled at the news.
 “The mere notion of a global group capital standard appears to be both inconsistent with current US insurer capital requirements, and unnecessary considering how well the property/casualty insurance sector fared in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008.  NAMIC member companies feel strongly that the current US solvency regulatory system is the gold standard when compared to other countries, and we should not be pressured into accepting a regime that neither fits our circumstances or exceeds what we already have in place,” stated Neil Alldredge, NAMIC svp of  state and policy affairs.

The news comes as the IAIS is scheduled to meet starting next week in Taipei with committee meetings Oct. 14-16 and the annual conference and general meeting Oct. 16-19. The  U.S. government  budgetary shut down if it continues might effect some U.S. government members’ attendance. 


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