Take ratings with grain of salt: Neilson
Advisers and policy holders are being warned to look at more than just the letters behind a company’s name as life insurers are compelled to reveal their financial strength ratings from this month.
Friday, October 19th 2012, 11:04AM 4 Comments
The Insurance Prudential Supervision Act requires the companies to have and display a rating from an approved ratings firm such as Standard and Poors or AM Best.
Previously, insurers would often only have been given a rating when they wanted to raise capital or were publicly listed.
Financial Services Council chief executive Peter Neilson said New Zealand life insurance firms tended to be quite conservative by nature. He said life insurance had a long gestation period so it was only serious errors in calculation that could land a company in major problems.
He said the ratings requirement was unlikely to have a big impact on companies, although it could create pressure on businesses that went through an unprofitable period. Now, they may need to raise capital to maintain their rankings. Previously that would have been unnecessary.
He said a credit rating was more of a concern for large investors, the capital owners in the company, than the life insurance customers themselves. “Losing money as an investor is not the same thing for policy holders.”
Neilson said what was more important was the rating of a reinsurer, because risk was shared between the insurance firm that sold the policy and the reinsurer. In some cases, the reinsurer might have a much higher rating. “You need to look at both if you want to assess your exposure as a policy holder.”
Adviser Matt Phillips, of Top Half Financial Services, said Fidelity Life was a good example of that. “They might only have a A- but they have a high level of reinsurance so would not be so effect by a big event like the Christchurch earthquakes.”
Neilson says ratings should be taken with a grain of salt. “Many that went under in the global financial crisis had good credit right up until the last minute. It’s not a guarantee.”
Professional Advisers Association president Peter Leitch agrees. “AIA used to be the only AAA rated insurer in the country until they were bailed out by the Government.”
He said insurers’ retention levels were also important when considering their ability to pay claims.
Phillips said his firm took into account financial strength of insurance providers and their reinsurance treaties when deciding on preferred providers. “Advisers should clearly display the financial rating of any company in their recommendations and take it into account. But it is not the entire picture.”
Leitch said he doubted ratings would change advisers’ behaviour unless any rating was a significant surprise. “Most New Zealand insurers will have a strong rating, anyway.”
The RBNZ points out that despite being periodically reviewed, ratings do not respond to specific events or market volatility.
Pinnacle Life has one of the lowest ratings. In awarding it a B, AM Best said: “Direct distribution expenses, such as advertising, have been considerable. Pinnacle's expense ratio exceeded 100% over the past five years. Management is aware of the need to control expenses."
It said a lot of its expenses were advertising and would be reduced.
|« Southern Cross launches online policy picker||Practical approaches to commission management »|
Comments from our readers
Add your comment:
|Printable version||Email to a friend|