The European life insurance market: On its last legs?
By National Underwriter
By Emily Holbrook
For years now, the life insurance market here in the U.S. has been suffering from diminished returns due to low interest rates. The effect is, according to some, much worse across the pond, however.
Recent news from Linklaters, a global law firm with an insurance specialization, says that the "current climate has produced a perfect storm for the life insurance industry," with 70 percent of Europe's largest insurers confirming that profitability has suffered significantly as a result of low yields.
Even more frightening, the report claims that there is no end in sight. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed by Linklaters predict that the low yield environment will persist over the next three years.
"With the economic situation in Europe still uncertain and historically low yields likely to persist in the medium-term, European life insurers are feeling the pain," said Victoria Sander, global insurance sector co-leader at Linklaters. "We are already seeing firms looking outside Europe's established markets for profitability -- seeking higher returns in Turkey, Asia, Africa and Latin America. This could leave a hole in the market closer to home."
More findings from the report include:
- 48 percent of life insurers indicate that the low interest rate environmet is currently driving business decisions
- 56 percent suggest that unless yeilds increase, they will need to radically overhaul their business model in order to protect performance and profitability
- 64 percent of life insurers admit that there is pressure on their business to "over-reach" for yields as they seek to enhance returns and profits
- 46 percent say that low yields will lead them to pursue riskier investment strategies
- 74 percent of life insurers will change their products to reduce benefits to policyholders if the low yield environment persists over the next three to five years
- 62 percent are currently redesigning their product terms and will continue to do so over the next 12 months
- 43 percent of life insurers will lower guarantees by up to 1 percent
- 18 percent will lower them by more than 1 percent
- 24 percent will continue to reduce guarantee levels over the next 12 months
"The European life insurance industry has so far proved to be resilient, with no significant failures, despite the extreme challenges of the financial crisis and its aftermath," said Wolfgang Krauel, global insurance sector co-leader at Linklaters. "The current environment presents an excellent opportunity for life insurers both to plug the gaps left by banks with alternative investments -- for example, in infrastructure -- and also to provide liquidity to banks via liquidity swaps."
Only time will tell if the LifeHealthPro.com