Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Insurance Industry Facing Uncertain Regulatory Environment, Competitive Shake-Up, Says PricewaterhouseCoopers Report

/PRNewswire/ -- The insurance industry may not see a return to relative stability and certainty for a few years as it reacts to the effects of regulatory reform, increased government intervention and potential tax law changes in the aftermath of the financial crisis, said PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in a report released today. Within five years, the industry landscape could look markedly different, and Americans may find their insurance policies underwritten by a handful of large, well-capitalized firms that can demonstrate financial strength and economies of scale.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report, entitled "Emerging from the Storm: The Day After Tomorrow for Insurance," outlines nine key developments that are expected to reshape the insurance industry and their strategic implications during the next five years. The most significant of these developments for U.S. insurers will likely be sweeping regulatory changes resulting from proposed legislation to reform health insurance and increase federal oversight of insurance and financial industries.

The majority of regulation of insurance firms in the U.S. occurs at the state level, but there is political pressure to expand federal oversight. Creation of a Federal Insurance Office could provide federal policymakers with the information and resources to better respond to crises, mitigate systemic risks and help ensure a well-functioning financial system, but it could also lead to dual regulation at both the state and federal levels.

"Insurers are in the business of managing risk and measuring probability. They don't like uncertainty, yet they are facing two massive reform initiatives, the outcomes of which are unknown but could alter their destiny," said Bill Chrnelich, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers' insurance sector. "Some insurers are taking a cautious, wait and see approach, while others see this period as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape their future."

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the insurers most likely to succeed once regulatory changes are enacted are those that closely monitor developments and create business strategies that anticipate the most likely possibilities for reform. In addition, they will carefully factor the following considerations into their business decisions:

-- Insurance Industry consolidation: The U.S. insurance market remains
highly fragmented, and the strong underlying rationale for
consolidation and restructuring means that merger and acquisition
activity may be set to accelerate rapidly, particularly as larger,
better-capitalized firms consume smaller firms. Consolidation is
expected to help to deliver the capital stability and economies of
scale that will be important in attracting customers and demonstrating
financial strength not only to ratings agencies but also to
third-party distributors whose "ownership of the customer" makes them
a key determinant of an insurers' fate.

-- The end of innocence for retail investors: The faith of investors, who
had become accustomed to high yields but were unaware of the related
risks, appears to have given way to shock, disillusionment and
caution. The pursuit of innovation appears to have been displaced by
a focus on stability, risk management and demand for simpler, more
straightforward and transparent policies and investment products such
as index-linked investments. An example of this is the recent
resurgence in demand for whole life insurance. The apparent desire
for guarantees, however, could create dilemmas for insurance companies
that want to scale back such products as they seek to limit risk.
Potentially higher costs of risk and guarantees, along with what may
be higher commission payments to distributors, could change product
economics, and insurers will need to better understand component
costs, pricing and profit profiles.

-- Mounting uncertainty over tax: As debts and fiscal deficits mount,
governments are looking for ways to increase their tax revenues. They
will look closely at insurance companies, as the industry is a major
source of potential tax receipts and has moved significant business
capacity to other jurisdictions in recent years. Accordingly,
insurers can expect renewed scrutiny of their tax planning techniques,
as well as more stringent requirements for transparency and
information exchange relating to clients.

-- Organic restructuring: As a result of the financial crisis, many
insurers have been forced to raise prices, restrict the pursuit of new
business or withdraw from high risk and peripheral markets. As
insurers withdraw from some of their geographic markets and scale back
particular lines of business, the market shares and opportunities for
those that remain could sharply increase, leading to a significant
reconfiguration in the list of leading players. Companies with a
better understanding of their risks are likely to be in a stronger
position to capitalize on potential openings that less-informed and
less-assured competitors may miss.

-- Rethinking insurance financial reporting: Many insurance executives
justifiably complain that their share prices fail to reflect the true
level of value being created within their business. Without an
industry consensus on a genuinely relevant, intelligible, and
comparable basis of accounting and disclosure, insurers may find it
increasingly difficult to compete for capital. With funds
constrained, many portfolio investors could simply choose to put their
money elsewhere, leaving the insurance industry with major challenges.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, it seems imperative that the
industry come together to develop a basis of relevant disclosures that
reflect the nuances of their business and satisfy analyst and investor

-- Blurring the lines between the public and private sector: The
relationship between the public and private sectors could change as
the government exerts a stronger influence over the insurance market
as a result of bailouts, regulatory reform, and greater control over
pensions, healthcare, trade credit and mortgage support.

-- Greater scrutiny of executive compensation: Two concerns raised by the
financial crisis were the lack of understanding of risk at the board
of directors' level and compensation for senior executives. With
appointment of the Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation, in
the United States, insurers are likely to base much more of their
performance-related pay on risk-adjusted measures, aligned to their
business strategy. They also are expected to face tougher regulation
over how compensation is governed.

-- Challenging prospects for reinsurers: While demand for reinsurance is
likely to increase within emerging markets, this is unlikely to offset
the decline in reinsurance buying in developed markets and may force
many reinsurers to rethink how they sustain profitability and growth.
The trend toward higher retention of straightforward risks could
accelerate. As companies become more risk-aware through advances in
enterprise risk management, they will be better able to choose what
risks to retain and which to reinsure.

"There is only one certainty for the insurance industry: change is coming and, as a result, the competitive landscape will be very different in five years from what exists today," added Chrnelich. "This will jeopardize some insurers' business, but it should also enable those who are better prepared to excel in a new environment. Success will likely depend on close monitoring of developments and the ability to quickly capitalize on opportunities as reforms and changes within the industry become clearer."

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