Insurance Asset Growth Lags
Global insurance assets under management are growing — but not nearly as much as they could be, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
One key problem, though not the only one, is that insurers tend to under-invest in information technology, securities processing and other operations integral to asset management, according to BCG.
Insurance company assets comprise nearly 20 percent of the $68.7 trillion in total global assets under management, as recorded by BCG last year.
Insurers’ total assets under management (AUM) reached $13 trillion in 2013. Yet, their AUM growth of 7 percent in 2013 was far lower than the overall average 13 percent increase in global AUM.
The fact that global insurers have lagged behind their asset-management peers in operations and information technology capabilities is something of a Catch-22, said Achim Schwetlick, a BCG partner and managing director in New York.
“The lower growth has likely contributed to the under-investment, not the other way around,” he said.
But clearly, this is an area that needs to be addressed, he said.
Between 2012 and 2013, insurance asset managers reduced their operations and IT spending by 4 percent per unit of AUM, said Schwetlick, who is a member of BCG’s insurance practice. In contrast, the broader asset-management industry increased that spending by 3 percent.
The serious expense reductions required by the “meager years” during and after the financial crisis prevented increased investments, he said.
“Now that we’re getting into growth territory again and expense pressure has mitigated, we think this is a good time to break that pattern,” Schwetlick said.
In addition, whereas most insurers have outsourced asset management in alternative asset classes, the vast majority of insurers still manage most of their assets in-house, he said.
The newly released BCG report, entitled “Steering the Course To Growth,”also pointed to the “large proportion of fixed-income assets” held in insurance company portfolios as a reason they “did not benefit as much from the global surge in equity markets.”
Insurers’ “exposure to high-growth specialties was similarly limited,” it said.
Regulatory and Organizational Inefficiencies
That may be difficult to overcome, said Schwetlick, given regulatory constraints preventing insurance companies from investing more aggressively.
This is particularly true in the United States, he said, although even European insurers tend to have no more than 10 percent of their assets invested in equities. In the U.S., equity investment is closer to 1 percent, said Schwetlick.
Organizational impediments have helped to sustain inefficiencies related to asset management, according to the BCG report.
The inefficiencies include regional fragmentation of assets, so that the asset managers of most insurers operate in regional silos as well as asset class silos, exacerbating fragmentation and complexity.
Insurers should move to a more global model to address those issues, said Schwetlick.
“You really want to have processes that are similar across the globe,” he said, that are related to both investment management and access to information about insurance company loss exposure.
Third-Party Management Benefits
The good news, finally, is that many insurers have benefited from third-party asset management over the past several years.
“While insurers’ asset managers have not historically focused on profitability and growth, they are tempted by the high returns on equity of third-party management,” according to the BCG report.
“Some managers have built this business to more than a third of their activity, and, in doing so, have invested and grown stronger commercially,” the report stated.
“As a result, they have achieved higher revenue margins and profits — averaging 25 basis points of revenues and 39 percent profitability, compared with 12 basis points and 26 percent, respectively, for mostly captive managers that focus predominantly on the insurer’s general account.
Leaders in this area include Allianz, AXA, and Prudential, said Schwetlick.
Underwriting Reassessments Drive Long-Term-Care Reform
After years of public scorn for massive premium increases and internal wrangling over mispriced contracts, new forms of long-term care (LTC) coverage are seeing a notable uptick in sales.
Professional and public organizations are digging deeply into the underwriting and actuarial assumptions that were behind traditional LTC policies in hopes of avoiding the same mistakes for the newer hybrid or combination contracts that are based on annuities or permanent life insurance with riders for LTC and disability.
There is, however, not yet any good answer for what to do with the traditional policies that remain in force.
“The cost has never really been a low as people wanted it to be, and carriers were never able to capture the [younger and healthier] people looking ahead.” — Robert Kerzner, president and CEO, Limra, Loma and LL Global
Robert Kerzner, president and CEO of Life Insurance Marketing & Research Association (Limra), Life Office Management Association (Loma), and LL Global, said that traditional LTC coverage was caught between multiple mandates.
“The cost has never really been a low as people wanted it to be, and carriers were never able to capture the [younger and healthier] people looking ahead,” he said.
“The LTC contracts sold were primarily to those close to the age where they would use them. So the business never really got off the ground. There were never a lot of carriers and also not a lot of distribution.”
External factors exacerbated the struggles of traditional LTC coverage. Two in particular were killers: low lapse rates and low interest rates.
“What were the lessons learned?” Kerzner asked rhetorically. “The industry did not have a lot of historical data. We all want to be innovative. I push the industry to innovate. But consumer behavior is not always logical. Another factor was medical breakthroughs. Those changed the game.”
The ideas for LTC 2.0 — hybrid or combination contracts — came from research as sales and premiums for traditional policies shriveled.
“People don’t like paying for insurance and getting nothing back,” said Kerzner. While one of the criticisms of traditional coverage was that they were too complicated, he said, the riders and options on combination contracts are seen as adding value.
Bruce Stahl is vice-chair of the LTC Reform Subcommittee of the American Academy of Actuaries, which expects to publish its analysis and recommendations of LTC by the end of the year.
He is frank about the value of what amounts to forensic underwriting in LTC. “It is helpful to understand the assumptions of the ’80s and ’90s. People made assumptions that were at the time reasonable estimates. The assumptions being made now on newer contracts are more conservative,” especially regarding interest and lapse rates.
“In the early ’90s, the assumption was that lapse rates for LTC coverage was going to behave like Medicare supplement policies, which were about 6 percent at the time. Actual lapse rates for traditional LTC contracts have been less than 1 percent. That has had a strong effect because of more benefits paid out.”
“Insurance companies are designed to be profitable. If traditional LTC is not profitable, it won’t be offered.” — Jesse Slome, executive director, American Association for Long Term Care Insurance
Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long Term Care Insurance, said that it is difficult to document the traction that hybrid LTC contracts are gaining because they are so new, and also because they are spread among permanent life and annuities.
“No one is really tallying the data, but at the Limra-Loma Conference in New Orleans [where he was chair of a panel discussion in September], I was told by carriers that on something between 50 percent and 80 percent of their new life policies, the insured checks the option to get an LTC payout.”
Slome is forthright about the future of the line. “Insurance companies are designed to be profitable. If traditional LTC is not profitable, it won’t be offered. If hybrids are, they will be offered.”
That still leaves the question of what becomes of the early adopters from the ’80s and ’90s, the ones who thought they were being economical and responsible and are clinging to their traditional contracts at the confounding lapse rate of less than 1 percent.
For years, the financial press has been full of horror stories of premium increases of 50 percent, 60 percent and in some cases more than 100 percent. Carriers have been bombarded with outraged complaints, as have regulators and even Slome’s organization.
“What to do about old policies?” asked Slome. “I don’t know. But I suspect the few carriers remaining in that market are counting on state regulators continuing to approve premium increases, and also counting on interest rates rising. Shares of Genworth [the largest issuer of traditional LTC contracts] have become in effect a type of interest-rate play.”
Hot Hacks That Leave You Cold
Thousands of dollars lost at the blink of an eye, and systems shut down for weeks. It might sound like something out of a movie, but it’s becoming more and more of a reality thanks to modern hackers. As technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so do the occurrence of cyber breaches.
“The more we rely on technology, the more everything becomes interconnected,” said Jackie Lee, associate vice president, Cyber Liability at Nationwide. “We are in an age where our car is a giant computer, and we can turn on our air conditioners with our phones. Everyone holds data. It’s everywhere.”
Phishing Out Fraud
According to Lee, phishing is on the rise as one of the most common forms of cyber attacks. What used to be easy to identify as fraudulent has become harder to distinguish. Gone are the days of the emails from the Nigerian prince, which have been replaced with much more sophisticated—and tricky—techniques that could extort millions.
“A typical phishing email is much more legitimate and plausible,” Lee said. “It could be an email appearing to be from human resources at annual benefits enrollment or it could be a seemingly authentic message from the CFO asking to release an invoice.”
According to Lee, the root of phishing is behavior and analytics. “Hackers can pick out so much from a person’s behavior, whether it’s a key word in an engagement survey or certain times when they are logging onto VPN.”
On the flip side, behavior also helps determine the best course of action to prevent phishing.
“When we send an exercise email to test how associates respond to phishing, we monitor who has clicked the first round, then a second round,” she said. “We look at repeat offenders and also determine if there is one exercise that is more susceptible. Once we understand that, we can take the right steps to make sure employees are trained to be more aware and recognize a potentially fraudulent email.”
Lee stressed that phishing can affect employees at all levels.
“When the exercise is sent out, we find that 20 percent of the opens are from employees at the executive level,” she said. “It’s just as important they are taking the right steps to ensure they are practicing what they are preaching.”
Locking Down Ransomware
Another hot hacking ploy is ransomware, a type of property-related cyber attack that prevents or limits users from accessing their system unless a ransom is paid. The average ransom request for a business is around $10,000. According to the FBI, there were 2,400 ransomware complaints in 2015, resulting in total estimated losses of more than $24 million. These threats are expected to increase by 300% this year alone.
“These events are happening, and businesses aren’t reporting them,” Lee said.
In the last five years, government entities saw the largest amount of ransomware attacks. Lee added that another popular target is hospitals.
After a recent cyber attack, a hospital in Los Angeles was without its crucial computer programs until it paid the hackers $17,000 to restore its systems.
Lee said there is beginning to be more industry-wide awareness around ransomware, and many healthcare organizations are starting to buy cyber insurance and are taking steps to safeguard their electronic files.
“A hospital holds an enormous amount of data, but there is so much more at stake than just the computer systems,” Lee said. “All their medical systems are technology-based. To lose those would be catastrophic.”
And though not all situations are life-or-death, Lee does emphasize that any kind of property loss could be crippling. “On a granular scale, you look at everything from your car to your security system. All data storage points could be controlled and compromised at some point.”
The Future of Cyber Liability
According to Lee, the Cyber product, which is still in its infancy, is poised to affect every line of business. She foresees underwriting offering more expertise in crime and becoming more segmented into areas of engineering, property, and automotive to address ongoing growing concerns.”
“Cyber coverage will become more than a one-dimensional product,” she said. “I see a large gap in coverage. Consistency is evolving, and as technology evolves, we are beginning to touch other lines. It’s no longer about if a breach will happen. It’s when.”
About Nationwide’s Cyber Solutions
Nationwide’s cyber liability coverage includes a service-based solution that helps mitigate losses. Whether it’s loss prevention resources, breach response and remediation expertise, or an experienced claim team, Nationwide’s comprehensive package of services will complement and enhance an organization’s cyber risk profile.
Nationwide currently offers up to $15 million in limits for Network Security, Data Privacy, Technology E&O, and First Party Business Interruption.
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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Nationwide. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.