The global insurance industry is undergoing significant regulatory change, with regulators in the more developed markets endeavoring to synchronize their efforts. Similar occurrences can be observed in the Asia-Pacific region, where a number of countries are reviewing and undergoing changes in their approach to insurance regulation and holistic risk management. Most notably, a number of regulators are either introducing risk-based capital (RBC) or revisiting their existing RBC frameworks. The maturing regulatory approaches in Asia-Pacific will be a significant factor in managing systematic risk and enhancing policyholder protection.
Asia-Pacific is different
While the proposed RBC framework in Asia-Pacific may have similarities with the European Solvency II standard, there is wide disparity in the level of sophistication and application. Many of the changes are being driven by local market nuances, such as characteristics of the insurance products being sold and maturity of the insurers who operate in the various jurisdictions.
For example, Australia has recently implemented its second-generation solvency regime. Singapore and Thailand are consulting with the industry on second- generation RBC frameworks, while others such as China and its Hong Kong SAR are considering moving in that direction. These moves are particularly encouraging in providing a regulatory framework that will allow for a degree of consistency, especially for those insurers that have multiple offices across the region.
In addition to the changes in reserving and solvency calculations, a number of regions are also strengthening their risk management efforts (e.g., China with C-ROSS). This exemplifies how regulators are paying more attention to embedding risk management activities in the business. They look to ensure that senior management has sufficient oversight to allow them to consider and discharge their fiduciary responsibilities. It is important that organizations have an operational infrastructure and that the risk profile is within business risk appetite levels.
What does this mean for insurers?
Advances in regulation in the Asia-Pacific region
are far-reaching. The implications are expected to improve the way businesses will operate to create long-term sustainability. These implications, in our view, will affect product offerings, investment strategy, capital utilization, risk transfer opportunities and infrastructure.
In particular, we foresee several implications:
• Robust regulatory framework will provide comfort to the overall financial soundness of the insurance industry. However, the cost of regulatory compliance is expected to increase significantly.
• Changing regulations will provide more room for innovation and incentives to enhance or change organizational metrics. Better-managed companies will potentially benefit from lower capital requirements, making their products more attractive.
• Companies traditionally focusing on new business value will have to rethink the continuing profitability of past years and will need to understand options available for in-force value management. This will be particularly crucial given that existing forms of new business may be capital-intensive.
• A better understanding of the business risk profile will be needed. This will necessitate implementing sophisticated techniques in modeling/optimizing risk- adjusted returns and outlining a more systematic process for risk appetite.
• Investment will be required to enhance the modeling and reporting systems to meet regulatory timelines.
• Convergence of regulations toward RBC will also mean that there is less disparity between local and foreign players. This will make Asia-Pacific insurance markets potentially more attractive for foreign investments. Moreover, customers may eventually benefit from new ideas and solutions from both foreign and domestic insurers. This will create a healthy competitive market place for policyholders.
Challenges and opportunities
Based on experience in more developed insurance markets, changes in regulations produce both challenges and opportunities for insurers. In the short term, it is anticipated that there will be more investment demands on insurance companies. Insurers have the prerogative to make the best use of these investments to define long-term opportunities.
In Europe, for example, some insurers have used Solvency II as a means to further enhance their risk management systems, capital allocation mechanisms and reporting infrastructure, and redefine their key performance Indicators. This, in turn, has convinced shareholders and analysts that investments because of regulatory changes should not be for mere compliance, but rather as a means of enhancing competitive advantage. We believe that insurers in Asia-Pacific should draw upon the experiences and challenges in more developed markets to establish an approach for Asia-Pacific markets that considers regulation, economic nuances and the purchasing behavior of policyholders.
There will be many changes within the industry over the next few years, and companies will need to consider the operational implications for their businesses. Based on our conversations and experience in the region, we see an increasing number of insurers making adjustments to their future business plans and investment needs. Some of these modifications are tactical, such as enhancing their existing processes, while others have the potential to have a wholesale effect on entity rationalization and strategic initiatives, such as capital optimization.
We are very engaged with the regulators, industry bodies and insurance companies in the emerging discussions and are helping insurers to consider these regulatory changes with a strategic mindset.
The China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) has adopted a factor-based solvency system similar to Europe’s Solvency I regime. It is composed of internal risk management, solvency reporting, financial analysis and supervision, regulatory intervention and bankruptcy remediation. This solvency regulation system was built from 2003 to 2007.
Over the past 30 years, the Chinese insurance market has become one of the fastest-growing in the world, and its complexity and risk have increased accordingly. The existing static solvency system no longer properly reflects asset and liability risks facing insurance companies. Therefore, it has limitations in providing good guidance for insurers to improve risk management quality and capabilities.
Globally, there is a trend toward more risk-oriented regulation and governance, such as Europe’s Solvency II, the US NAIC’s solvency modernization initiative and Singapore’s RBC 2.
Developing a new solvency system for mainland China would not only meet local market needs but could also provide pragmatic and invaluable experience for other emerging markets, as well as the international insurance community.
Australia has two primary supervisory authorities, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Both bodies have authority over the entire retail financial sector, comprising deposit-taking institutions, life and non-life insurance companies, friendly societies and superannuation schemes. APRA is responsible for the licensing and prudential regulation of financial institutions, while ASIC deals with consumer protection issues.
The most significant recent enhancement to the regulatory regime is the capital adequacy framework and draft conglomerate supervision. This is supplemented by a corporate governance regime.
The insurance industry in the Hong Kong SAR has witnessed considerable growth in the past decade. As of Oct. 14, 2014, there were 155 authorized insurers in Hong Kong, including
44 long-term insurers, 92 general business or non-life insurance companies and 19 composite insurers (i.e., life and non-life insurers).
In Hong Kong, the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) is the Insurance Authority (IA) under the Insurance Companies Ordinance (ICO) and oversees the financial conditions and operations of authorized insurers. The OCI is part of the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau of the Hong Kong Government.
The Indian life insurance industry has witnessed a phenomenal change in the last 14 years since it was opened to private players. It experienced strong growth (a CAGR of 30%) for almost a decade, until a wave of regulatory changes capped charges for unit-linked products. This compelled insurers to shift focus from unit-linked investments to traditional protection products, significantly slowing industry growth. With reduced shareholder margins on unit-linked plans, sales of traditional products have increased and now constitute at least half of new life insurance business, whereas unit-linked plans are facing negative growth.
General insurers have seen growth of 16% CAGR over the past decade. This is attributed to the evolving regulatory environment, new private companies entering the market, changing demographics, greater disposable income and business development in the corporate sector. In fact, growth was significantly higher in the financial year 2012–13 — up 24%, primarily as a result of policies sold and rate adjustments.
Against the backdrop of a relatively underpenetrated market, there is a significant potential for sustainable long-term growth. Currently, there are 24 life insurance and 28 general insurance companies in the market. A few mergers and acquisitions are in the pipeline.
The industry today is in a state of flux. Surrounded by political uncertainty, slower economic growth, regulatory changes and increased competition, insurance companies are looking to increase profitability, manage expenses and improve persistency.
Indonesia is one of Southeast Asia’s largest economies and presents a huge untapped market for the insurance industry. An expanding middle class and the young demographics of the population is creating a vast platform for savings and investment products, and as life insurance continues to show exponential growth, the microinsurance market is gaining traction with low- income consumers.
Against this backdrop, the Indonesian insurance industry is being shaped by changing regulations and stricter capital requirements that are aimed at introducing greater transparency and stability. In this transformed regulatory landscape, there are more new entrants to the market and greater opportunities for mergers, acquisitions and joint partnerships.
Malaysia has a well-developed, stable economy that continues to attract insurers. The GDP is growing at nearly 6%, and unemployment and inflation are relatively low. Demographics and strong economic growth have helped to develop a strong market for takaful insurance and bancassurance. In recent years, the country has undertaken wide-ranging reforms aimed at improving regulatory efficiency and opening the door to greater competition in financial services.
The Malaysian insurance industry, like others in the Asia-Pacific region, is struggling with depressed investment returns, higher volatility in capital markets and increased pressure on the cost of capital. Against this business landscape, the industry appears to welcome regulatory changes. However, there are also concerns that some of these changes are diverting attention from key issues, such as improving portfolio returns and new business.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore is finalizing the risk calibration and features of the RBC framework, with implementation expected from Jan. 1, 2017.
The RBC framework for insurers was first introduced in Singapore in 2004. It adopts a risk-focused approach to assessing capital adequacy and seeks to reflect most of the relevant risks that insurers face. The minimum capital prescribed under the framework serves as a buffer to absorb losses. The framework also facilitates an early intervention by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), if necessary.
While the RBC framework has served the Singapore insurance industry well, MAS has embarked on a review of the framework (coined “RBC 2 review”) in light of evolving market practices and global regulatory developments. The first industry consultation was conducted in June 2012, in which the MAS proposed a number of changes and an RBC 2 roadmap for implementation.
The regulatory authority for the Korean financial services industry, the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS), introduced RBC in April 2009. In replacing the Solvency I requirement, the RBC scheme aims to strengthen the soundness and stability of the overall insurance industry.
In the rapidly changing insurance market, FSS has to review the RBC regime continuously to ensure that it serves the intended purpose. This effort included some changes in 2012, such as subdividing capital classes and categorizing risk factors in accordance to the types of risks transferred to insurance companies. Moreover, FSS enhanced the RBC calculation methodology by adding reverse margin risk as part of interest rate risk in 2013 and by raising the confidence level of risk factors for insurance risk early in 2014.
In light of the recent enhancements, some insurance companies’ solvency margin ratio has fallen below the FSS’s recommended ratio of 150%. As a result, these insurers have had to raise capital through alternative options such as issuing subordinated bonds.
The Office of Insurance Commission (OIC) implemented a risk- based capital (RBC) framework and gross premium valuation (GPV) regime in Thailand in September 2011.
The OIC rolled out two phases of parallel tests before the actual implementation of the RBC framework to gauge the impact on insurers and to gather industry response. The solvency requirement was also increased from 125% at the initial implementation to 140%. This became effective Jan. 1, 2013, to give insurers more time to respond to the changes.
In 2011, the Thai regulator granted temporary RBC exemptions and relaxed some of the restrictions. This was an effort to help local general insurers overcome financial difficulty caused by flood losses that occurred that year, as the floods coincided with implementation of the RBC framework.
The OIC rolled out two phases of parallel tests before the actual implementation of the RBC framework to gauge the impact on insurers and to gather industry response.