Tag Archives: chief financial officer

Insurers Are Turning to Dubious Securities

The latest California Department of Insurance market share report said that workers’ compensation carriers combined to write $11.43 billion in premium in 2014, up 11% from 2013, the fourth consecutive double-digit increase. Premium growth lately is more a reflection of increasing payrolls rather than rates, as those have held rather steady in the last few years. But there is another, more insidious reason for premium growth lately: low interest rates. Chief financial officers are able to lock in only pathetic returns using traditionally safe investments because of the moribund interest rate environment.

So they are looking to alternative investment vehicles — and history doesn’t look kindly to that kind of activity involving dubious securities. The last time “interesting” financial assistance came into the California (and subsequently national) market was in the mid-1990s, when the Unicover/Craigwood reinsurance scheme was being pitched to minimize carrier risk … and dozens of carriers folded.

Now we have a new investment vehicle that is picking up steam, and I think it portends trouble if not kept in check. It’s called ILS.

In aviation, ILS is Instrument Landing System – a way for aircraft to find the runway under a layer of clouds and fog. In insurance, ILS is insurance-linked securities.

The most common ILS, and what brought this alternative to note, are CAT bonds. Catastrophe bonds are risk-linked securities that transfer a specified set of risks to investors. They were first used in the mid-1990s in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and the Northridge earthquake.

Wikipedia has a good explanation: “An insurance company issues bonds through an investment bank, which are then sold to investors. These bonds are inherently risky … and usually have maturities less than three years. If no catastrophe occurred, the insurance company would pay a coupon to the investors, who made a healthy return. On the contrary, if a catastrophe did occur, then the principal would be forgiven, and the insurance company would use this money to pay their claim-holders. Investors include hedge funds, catastrophe-oriented funds and asset managers.”

At least one insurance investment observer indicates alarm at the “convergence” of the insurance and capital markets. Michael Moody, MBA, ARM, in the April edition of Rough Notes magazine writes about “Capital Market Convergence” and describes how the money behind the capital structure of the insurance industry is increasingly being collateralized and sold off to investors with the single intent of increasing yield on capital invested: “With interest rates continuing at historically low levels, most institutional investors are looking for better yields. Currently, many of the ILS products are producing results that are 5% to 6% higher than traditional investments.”

Here’s the issue: There will be many investment people who know nothing about the insurance product providing the capital. Financial instruments such as credit default swaps (CDS) and collateral debt obligations (CDOs) and others created by Wall Street will move capital out of the insurance industry to the detriment of the insured public, and this includes workers’ compensation.

Moody understatedly writes: “Agents and brokers who have accounts that utilize significant amounts of reinsurance need to be aware of the advancements that are being made in the ILS market. The old days of competing on price are disappearing. Capital market professionals believe it is only a matter of time before reinsurance and ILS will be used in the same manner that reinsurance is purchased in layers today. It will not be uncommon to find excess limit programs that are made up of a combination of reinsurance and ILS. The genie is out of the bottle, and the capital markets appear to be willing to embrace the convergence with the insurance/reinsurance concept. As a result, agents and brokers who are interested in a long-term view of the insurance industry would be well advised to monitor this situation closely, as it will remain extremely fluid for some time.”

Certainly, departments of insurance will protect us from dubious securities, right? After all it is their job to regulate the insurance market and ensure a safe, healthy industry.

Well, that didn’t happen when Unicover/Craigwood came around, and there’s no reason to believe that any regulating agency is going to be proactive; traditionally, regulators are reactive. By the time they are alerted and take action, it’s too late – carriers disappear, guarantee associations are swamped and state funds take up the slack (as in 2000, when the State Fund covered 50% of the California market).

California, and the nation’s work comp market, is one bad ILS away from disaster. Carriers won’t be looking for the runway under the clouds – rather, they’ll be looking for insolvency relief.

Getting to 2020: the Finance Function

Even as economies recover, the insurance sector continues to face many competitive pressures and regulatory challenges. Yet a new drive for growth is emerging. The 2014 EY Global Insurance CFO Survey captures the priorities and challenges for finance and actuarial teams as they seek to support business growth strategies while addressing regulatory and cost pressures.

Delivering more value to the business through performance measurement and improved decision support is the top priority for the finance function through 2020. Among senior finance professionals participating in the survey, 71% indicated that “being a better business partner” ranked among their top three priorities, with 35% placing this as number one.

As insurance companies around the world continue to invest in data management and analytics capabilities, the role of finance and actuarial functions has become even more critical. The processes and systems supporting these functions are key to developing deep insights into business performance, as well as customer needs, preferences and behavior. In response, finance leaders have been increasing their efforts to improve the capabilities of their organizations to meet the new demands. In the survey, 89% of respondents stated that they have either begun a change program or are in the planning stage.

However, the drive to better insights is not without challenges. Among the issues is the impact of continuing regulatory compliance demands. According to 35% of those surveyed, implementing new regulatory and financial reporting requirements was the highest priority for finance and actuarial organizations; 56% ranked this among their top three. As a result, the ability for these organizations to strike a balance between delivering value to the business and meeting daily operational demands will continue to be a challenge.

Not surprisingly, the current data and technology footprint will require significant change to meet the challenges of the finance function of the future. Across the finance operating model, survey participants scored data as the least developed capability on average, while technology recorded the greatest gap between current and required future state.

Other Key Findings

  • Top three business drivers: #1 growth, #2 managing costs and #3 regulatory changes
  • Two-thirds of respondents rank data and technology issues among the top three challenges facing finance and actuarial functions; participants on average score data as their least developed capability
  • By 2020, the most significant shifts in maturity levels by operating model will be in data management and technology capabilities
  • Respondents expect onshore shared services to support transaction processing functions, with outsourcing selectively used for payroll and internal audits
  • Decision support and controls are expected to account for a larger share of finance and actuarial headcount by 2020

What insurers must do

We see three key areas where insurers can take action:

  • Modify current reporting processes by developing an efficient reporting solution architecture.
  • Deliver timely and relevant management information and link strategic objectives to performance indicators.
  • Improve finance and actuarial operational performance by using the right skills and processes to strike a balance between effectiveness and efficiency.

For the full survey from which this excerpt was taken, click here.

10 Building Blocks for Risk Leaders (Part 3)

Important things in life are not easily reduced to 10 easy steps. Nevertheless, this series provides a list of 10 building blocks to achieving long-term success in risk management from someone who has spent more than 25 years striving to carve out the most satisfying career possible, while never losing sight of the attributes attached to the bigger picture. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here. This is Part 3 in the series:

5. Racking Up Points with Senior Managers

The points that risk managers offer up are not always creditable “points” in the eyes of senior managers. To be so, they should be tied to the things that matter most to the organization and that can be traced, at least indirectly, to mission accomplishment. In other words, what matters most is contributing to the success of the enterprise—not just reducing the cost of risk, which is the longstanding focus of many traditional risk managers. That is not to say that reducing the cost of risk is not important or that it doesn’t contribute to organizational success. It does, especially where the total cost of risk (TCOR) is a material factor in total expense. Yet, to be recognized as making a significant contribution to the success of the enterprise, risk management practitioners must find a way to connect more directly to the successful delivery of strategic priorities, by supporting the objectives that underlie them. It’s about putting the right points on the board and, as a result, being seen as more relevant to strategic imperatives.

This is often easier said than done. Among the challenges are questions about whether the risk management employee has the qualifications and expertise to successfully contribute. The risk management employee often faces retorts like these: “Don’t we already account for risk (often called business challenges by planners) when we set the plans?” “This risk input is not translatable for purposes of plan development and is therefore not helpful.” “There is no time to conduct the assessments and measurements of relevant risks that would allow risk inputs to be properly considered.” “Our C-Suite sees no substantive reason to open the process up to more contributors when time is often of the essence and the dialogue is reserved for only the true strategists in the enterprise.”

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The chart above, from The Global CFO Study 2008: Balancing Risk and Performance Within an Integrated Finance Organization, reflects that risk managers, even chief risk officers, are perceived by chief financial officers as more tactical in mindset than strategic.

Never fear: Perceptions can be changed .

This article is not intended to provide all the answers to barriers to entry and success in collaborating with planning. However, it is intended to emphasize the importance of this collaboration and the critical need for all risk leaders who aspire to true relevance and influence to spend the political capital necessary to knock these barriers down or at least minimize them. The bottom line is that the only reason corporate goals and objectives are not met is that one or more risks have not been properly identified and managed. That makes risk management a critical component of organizational success.

6. Establishing Yourself as Essential to Others’ Success

Risk management stakeholders can’t succeed without the right risk strategy and, most particularly, the right risk leader who understands their priorities and knows how to build relationships of mutual benefit. And, risk leaders can’t succeed without successful stakeholders. Unfortunately, relationship-building has not generally been a strong suit of many risk managers, myself included (early in my career). Risk employees who move out of their comfort zone will discover this is the key tactic to use in building these relationships. Staying in traditional roles is ultimately a strategy doomed to keep you in a rut.

Even when dealing with hazard or traditional risks, it is no longer possible to do the job with excellence while staying in that comfort zone. All the many forces of culture and the challenges of the business will eventually shine a bright light on risk management personnel and their contributions, or lack thereof, to the organiza- tion’s success.

While reducing the cost of risk and bringing home expense reductions is important to most competitive enterprises, it is less important for those that are flush with profits and cash. So, it is important not to get myopic about the cost of risk as a key measure of success. Consider what others things define and drive organizational success, and figure out how to connect to them.

It is only through collaborating with risk stakeholders and showing them the value that risk leaders bring to the table that long-term success will be achieved. Spend the time to reach out to stakeholders, learn their exposures and gain sufficient knowledge about how they manage these exposures and their priorities. That way, risk leaders learn when to challenge an assessment that doesn’t look quite right and can do so with the risk intelligence and personal gravitas necessary to earn confidence. By helping owners effectively manage the risks that directly affect their own success, risk personnel will be welcomed to the team as their “street cred” is established and acknowledged.