Tag Archives: interest rates

How to Take a Bold Approach to Growth

In today’s insurance environment, victory belongs to the bold. Margins are under pressure, and competition is heating up; insurers can no longer afford to sit on businesses that are under-performing or sub-scale.

By taking a portfolio approach to their businesses, insurers can start to assess the value and performance of their assets to make bold decisions on whether to grow or go (build or leave the business).

Time for bold decisions

Facing continued low interest rates, growing rate pressures in the property and casualty (P&C) sector and high levels of competition in both the P&C and life sectors, insurers will see margins under pressure for the near future.

Not surprisingly, most have already undertaken massive cost-reduction initiatives. Now, with little room left to cut, some are starting to take a more critical and strategic view of their business as a whole.

Our experience suggests that insurers need to take bold action and make difficult decisions now if they hope to create shareholder value and grow their business. The reality is that too many insurers are carrying businesses that are sub-scale, underperforming or simply distracting for management.

See Also: What is Your 2016 Playbook for Growth?

To help organizations assess their businesses and local operations, we have developed a diagnostic tool that segments businesses in the following way:

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.49.06 PM

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.49.34 PM

Taking a portfolio view

We firmly believe that there are significant opportunities to help insurers enhance shareholder value by taking a portfolio view of their assets. And, in doing so, insurance organizations should be able to make clear decisions about whether to go (i.e., leave those markets and businesses that do not meet the strategic objectives of the organization) or grow (i.e., committing to targeted investment to drive transformational change and improvement initiatives
that will allow the business to compete effectively).

Indeed, by looking at non-core businesses as a portfolio of assets, insurance executives should be able to properly assess each businesses’ strategic fit, performance and synergies, which, in turn, will enable them to identify opportunities to improve the business through portfolio realignment.

Taking a portfolio view will also provide insurance executives with the insight needed to prepare a fix, close or sell strategy that drives a clear approach for non-core assets and then move through to a robust execution plan with appropriate governance.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.53.58 PM

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.54.24 PM

GO: A bespoke approach to divestment

In those cases where the assessment process leads to the decision to go, insurance executives will need to develop a smart divestment strategy for the business. Interestingly, our experience suggests that the divestment process has evolved considerably over the past decade.

Whereas in the past, the normal approach to selling a business involved rigid auction processes based on standard checklists and documents such as information memoranda and vendor due diligence reports, most now recognize that this approach may not maximize value.

Instead, insurers are now taking a more bespoke and focused approach to divestment that is largely influenced by four key factors:

— economic conditions
— sellers taking control
— wider buyer populations
— business model changes

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.55.19 PM

GROW: More than just scale

Insurers need to have sufficient optionality and diversification
to respond to a rapidly changing business environment. And while not all divisions and local operations need to be market-leading, they do need to demonstrate how they can make a contribution to the overall strategic ambitions of the organization.

For some, the answer will come in the form of inorganic growth within their sub-scale businesses. For others, targeted investments to support product growth initiatives or new distribution arrangements offer a lower-risk solution.

However, while many deals have been driven recently by organizations with a (fully understandable) strong focus on costs and efficiency, we often find that scale, in itself, is not a good enough reason to support a deal. Indeed, we believe that acquisitions must also bring complementary capabilities (such as new expertise in specific product lines, increased geographical reach or new distribution models) to create a sustainable platform for future growth.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.56.02 PM

GROW: Responding to a changing environment

New technologies, changing customer demands, new ways of doing business and the threat of innovators disrupting the traditional business model are all changing the way that insurers view their portfolio of assets and businesses.

See Also: The Formula for Getting Growth Results

Clearly, understanding and capturing the benefits of innovation is a critical imperative, and there are major opportunities available for companies willing to invest in new technologies. Recognizing this, many insurers are now starting to develop new models and ways of working with the financial technology (FinTech) community.

Key takeaway: Be bold

Regardless of whether the decision is to grow or go, insurers need to start facing up to the difficult decisions that must be made about their underperforming assets.

Interestingly, our experience suggests that — in this rapidly evolving space — outright acquisition may not always be the right answer. As our recent report, The Power of Alliances, demonstrates, many insurers are now exploring the value that could be generated by investing in partnerships, alliances and innovation hubs to broaden their exposure to innovations and technology solutions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.57.05 PM

Simply put, insurers can no longer afford to sit on businesses that are not delivering value; they must make bold decisions and then execute on them to win in this environment.

Reprinted from (Regulatory Challenges Facing the Insurance Industry in 2016,) Copyright: 2016 KPMG LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership and the U.S. member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss entity. All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A. The KPMG name and logo are registered trademarks or trademarks of KPMG International.

All information provided is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the facts of a particular situation.

For additional news and information, please access KPMG’s global website.

What Does 2016 Have in Store for Us?

It’s the time of the year when we look back fondly at the year just gone and look forward with trepidation and excitement at the year ahead. 2015 was, all in all, a good year for most, with a number of significant events that saw a good end to the year. Weather, on the whole, was mild, with the UK floods over Christmas being responded to well by all. Regardless of the news/political agendas, we are still investing £2.3 billion into flood defenses over the coming years.

As we look forward, here are my thoughts on how we start 2016. What do you think? As always, I look forward to your feedback!

1. FinTech and InsurTech. 2015 will be remembered as the year of the zone, loft, garage and accelerator. This trend will continue with a new level of maturity and focus. We will see the emergence of the first three to four successful candidates from accelerators, as well as more failures (we need more to help hone the focus). Either way, this trend will continue upward as we look for the next unicorn and existing carriers worry about FOMO (fear of missing out).

We will see more acquisition in this space, too, where existing carriers acquire to improve or extend their value chain and reach — for example, as we did last year with Generali and MyDrive.

2. Evolution of IoT. The Internet of Things buzz has reached a fever pitch. (I’ve even written about it myself.) 2016 will be the year we all realize it’s just another data/automated question set, from connected homes, cars and fridges to the connected self. Focus will move to strong use cases and business cases, but anything here on its own will not survive. It needs a partner – or three.

3. Digital and data. 2016 will continue to be a big area of growth for both, and I’ve bundled them as I believe they are intrinsically linked. That said, if you haven’t done anything here yet, you are very late to an already crowded party. Both will continue with huge levels of interest and hype, but both need to move into genuine execution of the plans made last year. Ultimately, the only thing that matters here is the customer. Don’t just have a plan because others are doing it. It needs to be right for you and your particular customer segment.

4. M&A will continue but will slow. 2015 saw a record-breaking year for M&A in the insurance world. As the economic climate changes and we see interest rates rise in 2016, I see this slowing down, while the current set of newly combined companies focuses on bringing together the multiple new units into a cohesive, efficient, fighting machine.

5. Will the CDO survive? (By CDO, I mean either the chief digital officer or the chief data officer.) As with my first point, the focus and drive in these areas has been great; there has been the right effect and a wake-up call. However, for organizations that implemented these “change agents” and “purposeful” disruptive roles, I suspect we will see a move back to a focus on the chief customer officer.

6. New business models. To take advantage of all this data, technology, customer intent and more, we need to find and be clear on what the new business model will– and needs to– be.

7. What we buy and sell. We need to move away from a product mindset and become more relevant and more convenient – my two favorite terms when it comes to insurance. Rick Huckstep did a good piece on engagement insurance, which, to me, sums up how we better embed ourselves into daily life, rather than once a year or in the current cycle. This is where organizations such as Trov will come into play. Trov and others will be more integrated into our everyday lives, becoming more convenient, seamless and relevant to us, driving more engagement. From a convenience perspective, companies such as Cuvva made the news last year. This is just the start of things to come. The key questions are whether they can scale and whether they will make money. Peer-to-peer also made lots of noise; however, I think the same questions here apply.

I still feel we will move away from the current product mindset we have today to just buying complete cover for the individual and anything she does, regardless of where she is. I previously called this the “rise of the personal SME.” I expect to have insurance rather than five to 10 products.

8. Cyber is the new digital. While the last few years have focused heavily on digital transformation and data, this year will see a big shift in focus to cyber, both on the buy and sell side, with organizations moving quickly to not be the next headline for the wrong reasons. So, each organization needs to have the right measures in place, followed by the right cover. For carriers, this means new products and opportuniti,es with specialists including ACE, XL Catlin and Beazley already making strong moves.

We started 2015 by saying that the risk was simply too big to cover and finished it with calls for a government-backed reinsurance scheme for cyber, as we have already created for floods. Is it a real need or a political agenda? My view is that it’s a real need, regardless of the politics.

9. Partnerships and bundling. Like many of the points above, on their own, partnerships and bundling are significant issues and opportunities but perhaps don’t answer the key questions around relevance, engagement, etc. For this, I see a big rise in the partnerships between insurers and third parties or the orchestration/bundling of services that just happens to include insurance. Insurers could become the systems integrator for lifestyle services, by default increasing relevance and engagement.

Finally, let’s not take our eye off the here-and-now. Organizations will continue to need to run the ship, BAU is still BAU (business as usual). We must aim to reduce internal costs and inefficiency. Not one organization I have spoken to over the last year is not riddled with legacy and has clear ambitions to reduce costs and improve efficiency – all to further drive support for the year of the customer.

However we look at things, 2016 is looking like it will be an exciting year. I look forward to sharing it with you!

Bonds Away: Market Faces Major Shift

As we are sure you are aware, the financial markets have had a bit of a tough time going anywhere this year. The S&P 500 has been caught in a 6% trading band all year, capped on the upside by a 3% gain and on the downside by a 3% loss. It has been a back-and-forth flurry. We’ve seen a bit of the same in the bond market. After rising 3.5% in the first month of the year, the 10-year Treasury bond has given away its entire year-to-date gain and then some as of mid-June. 2015 stands in relative contrast to largely upward stock and bond market movement over the past three years. What’s different this year, and what are the risks to investment outcomes ahead?

As we have discussed in recent notes, the probabilities are very high that the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. We have suggested that the markets are attempting to “price in” the first interest rate increase in close to a decade. We believe this is part of the story in why markets have acted as they have in 2015.

But there is a much larger longer-term issue facing investors lurking well beyond the short-term Fed interest rate increase to come. Bond yields (interest rates) rest at generational lows and prices at generational highs — levels never seen before by today’s investors. Let’s set the stage a bit, because the origins of this secular issue reach back more than three decades.

It may seem hard to remember, but in September 981, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond hit a monthly peak of 15.32%. At the time, Fed Chairman Paul Volcker was conquering long-simmering inflationary pressures in the U.S. economy by raising interest rates to levels no one had ever seen. Thirty-one years later, in July 2012, that same yield on 10-year Treasury bonds stood at 1.53%, a 90% decline in coupon yield, as Fed Chairman Bernanke was attempting to slay the perception of deflation with the lowest level of interest rates investors had ever experienced. This 1981-present period encompasses one of the greatest bond bull markets in U.S. history, and certainly over our lifetimes. Prices of existing bonds rise when interest rates fall, and vice versa. So from 1981 through the present, bond investors have been rewarded with coupon yield (continuing cash flow) and rising prices (price appreciation via continually lower interest rates). Remember, this is what has already happened.

As always, what is important to investors is not what happened yesterday, but rather what they believe will happen tomorrow. And although this is not about to occur instantaneously, the longer-term direction of interest rates globally has only one road to travel – up. The key questions ultimately being, how fast and how high?

This is important for a number of reasons. First, for decades bond investments have been a “safe haven” destination for investors during periods of equity market and general economic turmoil. That may no longer be the case as we look ahead. In fact, with interest rates at generational lows and prices at all-time highs, forward bond market price risk has never been higher. An asset class that has always been considered safe is no longer, regardless of what happens to stock prices.

We need to remember that so much of what has occurred in the current market cycle has been built on “confidence” in central bankers globally. Central bankers control very short-term interest rates (think money market fund rates). Yes, quantitative easing allowed these central banks to print money and buy longer-maturity bonds, influencing longer-term yields for a time. That’s over for now in the U.S., although it is still occurring in Japan and Europe. So it is very important to note that, over the last five months, we have witnessed the 10-year U.S. Treasury yields move from 1.67% to close to 2.4%, and the Fed has not lifted a finger. In Germany, the yield on a 10-year German Government Bund was roughly .05% a month ago. As of this writing, it has risen to 1%. That’s a 20-fold increase in the 10-year interest rate inside of a month’s time.

For a global market that has risen at least in part on the back of confidence in central bankers, this type of volatility we have seen in longer-term global bond yields as of late implies investors may be concerned central bankers are starting to “lose control” of their respective bond markets. Put another way? Investors may be starting to lose confidence in central bank policies being supportive of bond investments — not a positive in a cycle where this buildup of confidence has been such a meaningful support to financial asset prices.

You may remember that what caused then-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker to drive interest rates up in the late 1970s was embedded inflationary expectations on the part of investors and the public at large. Volcker needed to break that inflationary mindset. Once inflationary expectations take hold in any system, they are very hard to reverse. A huge advantage for central bankers being able to “print money” in very large magnitude in the current cycle has been that inflationary expectations have remained subdued. In fact, consumer price indexes (CPI) as measured by government statistics have been very low in recent years.

When central bankers started to print money, many were worried this currency debasement would lead to rampant inflation. Again, that has not happened. We have studied historical inflationary cycles and have not been surprised at outcomes in the current cycle in the least. For the heightened levels of inflation to sustainably take hold, wage inflation must be present. Of course, in the current cycle, continued labor market pressures have resulted in the lowest wage growth of any cycle in recent memory. But is this about to change at the margin? The chart below shows us wage growth may be on the cusp of rising to levels we have not yet seen in the current cycle on the upside. Good for the economy, but not so good for keeping inflationary pressures as subdued as has been the case since 2009.

g1

You may be old enough to remember that bond investments suffered meaningfully in the late 1970s as inflationary pressures rose unabated. We are not expecting a replay of that environment, but the potential for rising inflationary expectations in a generational low-interest-rate environment is not a positive for what many consider “safe” bond investments. Quite the opposite.

As we have discussed previously, total debt outstanding globally has grown very meaningfully since 2009. In this cycle, it is the governments that have been the credit expansion provocateurs via the issuance of bonds. In the U.S. alone, government debt has more than doubled from $8 trillion to more than $18.5 trillion since 2009. We have seen like circumstances in Japan, China and part of Europe. Globally, government debt has grown close to $40 trillion since 2009. It is investors and in part central banks that have purchased these bonds. What has allowed this to occur without consequence so far has been the fact that central banks have held interest rates at artificially low levels.

Although debt levels have surged, interest cost in 2014 was not much higher than we saw in 2007, 2008 and 2011. Of course, this was accomplished by the U.S. Fed dropping interest rates to zero. The U.S. has been able to issue one-year Treasury bonds at a cost of 0.1% for a number of years. 0% interest rates in many global markets have allowed governments to borrow more both to pay off old loans and finance continued expanding deficits. In late 2007, the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries was 4-5%. In mid-2012, it briefly dropped below 1.5%.

So here is the issue to be faced in the U.S., and we can assure you that conceptually identical circumstances exist in Japan, China and Europe. At the moment, the total cost of U.S. Government debt outstanding is approximately 2.2%. This number comes directly from the U.S. Treasury website and is documented monthly. At that level of debt cost, the U.S. paid approximately $500 billion in interest last year. In a rising-interest-rate environment, this number goes up. At just 4%, our interest costs alone would approach $1 trillion — at 6%, probably $1.4 trillion in interest-only costs. It’s no wonder the Fed has been so reluctant to raise rates. Conceptually, as interest rates move higher, government balance sheets globally will deteriorate in quality (higher interest costs). Bond investors need to be fully aware of and monitoring this set of circumstances. Remember, we have not even discussed the enormity of off-balance-sheet government liabilities/commitments such as Social Security costs and exponential Medicare funding to come. Again, governments globally face very similar debt and social cost spirals. The “quality” of their balance sheets will be tested somewhere ahead.

Our final issue of current consideration for bond investors is one of global investment concentration risk. Just what has happened to all of the debt issued by governments and corporations (using the proceeds to repurchase stock) in the current cycle? It has ended up in bond investment pools. It has been purchased by investment funds, pension funds, the retail public, etc. Don Coxe of Coxe Advisors (long-tenured on Wall Street and an analyst we respect) recently reported that 70% of total bonds outstanding on planet Earth are held by 20 investment companies. Think the very large bond houses like PIMCO, Blackrock, etc. These pools are incredibly large in terms of dollar magnitude. You can see the punchline coming, can’t you?

If these large pools ever needed to (or were instructed to by their investors) sell to preserve capital, sell to whom becomes the question? These are behemoth holders that need a behemoth buyer. And as is typical of human behavior, it’s a very high probability a number of these funds would be looking to sell or lighten up at exactly the same time. Wall Street runs in herds. The massive concentration risk in global bond holdings is a key watch point for bond investors that we believe is underappreciated.

Is the world coming to an end for bond investors? Not at all. What is most important is to understand that, in the current market cycle, bonds are not the safe haven investments they have traditionally been in cycles of the last three-plus decades. Quite the opposite. Investment risk in current bond investments is real and must be managed. Most investors in today’s market have no experience in managing through a bond bear market. That will change before the current cycle has ended. As always, having a plan of action for anticipated market outcomes (whether they ever materialize) is the key to overall investment risk management.