IAIS release initial analysis of systemic risk and the insurance sector
Based on the very wide working definition of systemic risk used by the IMF/FSB/BIS and
because of the integral role that insurance plays in the economy, it has to be examined
whether and under what circumstances insurance activities or insurers may generate or
amplify systemic risk.
Systemic risk may arise in the insurance sector when insurance market capacity declines
or disappears. It could be caused by, for example, the failure of one or more insurers or
by the withdrawal of insurance or reinsurance cover (as has occurred, for example, with
terrorism cover). In most cases, quick substitution is observed through new capacity
becoming available (e.g. catastrophe insurance) but there can also be situations where
that does not occur.
Insurers are also subject to direct counterparty risk that could cause the failure of related
financial institutions by way of immediate contagion effects. If an insurer, an insurance
group or a conglomerate is engaged in activities directly related to banking, capital
markets or other financial business (e.g. financial guarantee activities), it is more likely to
pose systemic risk of an immediate nature. However, an insurer is more likely to be the
recipient or the amplifier of systemic risk of an immediate nature emanating from other
economic agents rather than being the source of such risk.
As the insurance sector is typically among the largest investors, a sudden decrease in
the value of investments or movements of interest rates may adversely affect the portfolio
of an insurance company and its liquidity. A severe decline in asset prices may even lead
to fire sales of assets and affect the entire market, especially if policyholders lose
confidence and seek to surrender their policies in large numbers.
purchasing financial instruments issued by banks may further lead to a contraction of
credit products available in the real economy. Hence, in the area of investment activity,
the insurance industry can act as an amplifier of systemic risk.
These different potential sources of risk could emerge individually but could also be
combined and therefore compound a systemic problem.
Returning to the issue of capacity reduction, there are several reasons why an insurer
might fail or cease to provide capacity for some classes of business. One important
source of an insurance failure or malfunction is related to core insurance functions of
underwriting and provisioning. Underwriting risk arises when insured risks are misjudged
or mis-estimated. Hence, technical provisions and related assets will be assessed as
A further source of an insurance failure could be via reinsurance
exposure. A sudden failure of a reinsurer may cause direct insurers to lose protection for
lines of direct insurance and thus come under financial stress.
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