State insurance regulators and certain members of Congress are implying that the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) is playing footsie with European regulators over international capital standards. That is disturbing and self-defeating.
The allegations center on a belief that federal trade negotiators are caving in to demands by European regulators to require U.S. insurers doing business overseas to comply with “bank-centric” capital standards.
However, if we think about it, for what reason would U.S. representatives want to undermine U.S. institutions? And, would any bureaucrat be allowed to get away with such a thing?
Insurers fear that among other things, they will be required to mark their long-term assets, such as bonds and mortgages, to market, as banks are required to do in most instances. Currently, U.S. insurers are allowed to carry their assets at cost.
This has helped insurers deal easily with market downturns or periods where interest rates are volatile. For example, in the early 1980s, interest rates soared as the Federal Reserve Board acted to bring commodity prices under control, substantively reducing the market value of municipal bonds owned by property and casualty insurers. And, in the early 1990s, the commercial real estate market soured because of an economic slowdown and overbuilding, hurting life insurers.
Insurers were able to deal with the problem better than banks because they didn’t have to mark down their long-term assets, as banks are required to do.
Pressure on FIO comes from such state officials as Ben Nelson, NAIC CEO. He recently warned of the implications for life insurers if the FIO doesn’t “stand up” for life insurers in these international talks. And, on cue from state regulators, 49 members of the House signed a letter demanding legislative and report language in the appropriation bill for Treasury that requires federal officials “to halt” negotiating European-centric, bank-like capital standards for internationally active U.S. insurers.