WASHINGTON — The reserve requirements for universal life insurance with secondary guarantees and term life insurance products will shift to a more flexible evaluation system under a recent decision made by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
The new, so-called “principles-based reserving system” marks the most significant change in regulating life insurers since before World War II, according to Scott Harrison, executive director of the Affordable Life Insurance Alliance.
This group, based in Washington, D.C., has been working on the issue since 2005, Harrison said. The Alliance has three members: Lincoln Financial, Pacific Life and John Hancock. “There was huge skepticism that this could be accomplished,” Harrison said.
The final decision was made Friday by the NAIC based on a recommendation from the PBR Implementation Task Force. The Task Force has been dealing with the issue since 2013. NAIC approval was triggered after laws supporting the use of PBR were approved by 45 states, representing nearly 80 percent of the U.S life insurance market.
The only current major holdout is New York; California commissioner Dave Jones agreed to support it through legislation passed by the state last winter after the state’s insurers agreed to fund the state’s costs of having adequate actuaries monitor insurers’ books.
For life insurers, the implementation of PBR will provide certainty around reserving and may reduce requirements for some, according to Deloitte’s annual report on life insurance regulatory issues.
The change also has the support of industry rating agencies. Deep Banerjee, a director at S&P Global Ratings in New York, said it will have no impact on ratings.
That’s because over the last several years, rating agencies have shifted to evaluating reserves on an economic level. “The whole idea is that the statutory reserving system used by the states does not capture the true economics of these products,” Banerjee said.
Under statutory accounting principles (SAP), Banerjee said, insurers had to maintain a relatively high amount of reserves on these products. Now, with PBR, insurers can hold onto those liabilities without having to send them off to captive reinsurers, he said.
In most cases, insurers will now have to use captives to reduce their capital costs, he said. Thus, as a result of PBR, S&P believes use of captives will be reduced, Banerjee said.
He added that there will be some transition by insurers, i.e., some growing pains, “But, we believe the industry will be able to move through this pretty quickly,” Banerjee said. He added that this is also a move toward more use of GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles), because GAAP uses more of a principles-based methodology of evaluating reserves,” Banerjee said.