Liquidity risk is one of those risks we often don’t pause to think that much about, but it’s one that can wreak havoc on a business if not kept constantly in check. It is also a risk that has become heightened in recent times, because of a combination of regulatory and macroeconomic developments. Companies can often grow complacent about liquidity risk, especially if they have tended to generate cash on a consistent basis through ongoing operating performance. However, certain activities, such as mergers and acquisitions (M&A), a new product launch, or perhaps regulatory development, can give rise to new exposures. It’s worth reminding ourselves of some of the key drivers of exposure to liquidity risk, and what we can do to manage and mitigate this risk.
In Europe, the ability to recognise negative best estimate liabilities on the solvency balance sheet, effectively capitalising estimated future profits on books of in-force business, and considering these profits to be immediately available to absorb losses in the business, requires companies to be extra vigilant. In reality, such assets may be far from liquid, unless they can be repackaged through value-in-force (VIF) monetisation, or used to secure reinsurance financing of some sort. The same may be said of the likes of deferred tax assets, except that these assets may be even less liquid unless they can be sold on to other entities within a group structure.
Other aspects of the liability side of the balance sheet can also pose liquidity challenges. Take, for example, a company with a range of unit-linked funds operating on a t+1 basis (i.e. settlement occurs one day after the transaction date), with a further range of funds operating on a t+2 basis. Policyholder fund switches out of the t+2 funds and into the t+1 funds can leave companies needing to provide liquidity for transaction settlements upon purchase of the t+1 assets, before payment is received from the sale of the t+2 assets. Depending on the volume of transactions, which could be significant, firms may struggle to provide such financing on an ongoing basis. More severe examples of firms struggling to cope with fund switch activity have included suspension of redemptions from property funds, albeit more because of the underlying lack of liquidity of the assets than the nature of the pricing basis, though ultimately leading to similar problems. Funds that permit a mix of both individual and corporate investors may be particularly susceptible, as the latter potentially have the ability to move vast sums of money very quickly, and before redemptions are suspended, precipitating the lack of liquidity for individuals.