This blog post is part of an ongoing series of blog posts on capital efficiency. To see past posts in this series, please click here.
In recent months, we have seen the emergence of lapse risk reinsurance following the introduction of Solvency II. Lapse risk is one of the key risks that life insurers, and particularly unit-linked life insurers, are exposed to and it is a key component of the Solvency II Solvency Capital Requirement (SCR) for many life insurers. One of the benefits of lapse risk reinsurance is that it can be used to reduce the life underwriting risk capital charge, in addition to reducing the undertaking’s exposure to lapse risk. Many reinsurers are active in this area, and as undertakings begin to consider Solvency II capital efficiency in more detail, it may be an area where we will see further growth during 2017.
The nature of lapse risk transfer will depend on the most material lapse risk exposure of the cedant—either mass lapse, lapse up, or lapse down.
The mass lapse scenario under Solvency II is calibrated as an instantaneous loss of 40% of the in-force business (for retail business). While the actual occurrences of mass lapse scenarios are difficult to predict, the risk of lapses exceeding 20% to 30% in a given period may be low based on historical data. Reinsurers can therefore offer treaties that cover losses caused by lapses in excess of 20% to 30% in a given period, often setting a maximum threshold of 45% to 50%. In reinsurance parlance, the reinsurance treaty attaches at a level of 20% or 30% and detaches at 45% or 50%. The relevant period would be defined in the reinsurance treaty. The cedant would retain the risk exposure to lapses below the attachment point and above the detachment point.
We are also aware of some reinsurers considering lapse up and lapse down reinsurance. However, there may be significant practical challenges associated with lapse reinsurance of this nature, in particular with regard to defining when an increase or decrease from the long-term average, or best estimate, lapse rates has occurred.
There are a number of general considerations in respect of lapse risk reinsurance (as well as other potential considerations, depending on the specific terms of an individual treaty). First of all, there is the premium charged by the reinsurer for transferring lapse risk. The cost is generally set with reference to the reduction in SCR achieved by the transaction. We understand that costs generally vary between around 2% to 3% per annum of the reduction in the lapse risk SCR, depending on the type of deal and the availability of data.
Buy-in from the regulators will be key for these contracts to be effective. There is likely to be a concern that reinsurance could be used to reduce the SCR without a real reduction in the underlying risk. It is difficult to argue that there is no reduction in lapse risk exposure in the example attachment points outlined above. However, it may be more difficult to justify real risk transfer where the treaty is set up in such a way as to only indemnify insurers when a mass lapse of exactly 40% occurs.
Other considerations include the following:
• The interaction between the different lapse risk components of the SCR needs to be considered. If the risk exposure to mass lapse is reduced through the use of reinsurance, the lapse up or lapse down risk module may bite instead. Therefore, the impact of mass lapse reinsurance will be limited to the margin over which the mass lapse SCR capital charge exceeds the next-highest lapse risk capital charge. Understanding this interaction will be an important factor in determining the optimal attachment point for a mass lapse reinsurance treaty.
• Reinsurance introduces additional risks to the balance sheet such as counterparty risk, which is also considered in the Solvency II SCR calculation.
• The impact of such a transaction on the financial statements or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) balance sheet should also be considered.
• If the reinsurance contracts are short-term in nature, there may be a risk associated with getting renewal terms on the same basis.
Insurance-linked securities offer an alternative approach to transferring risk compared with traditional reinsurance. Under these transactions, insurance risk is effectively securitised and bought by capital investors through an investment fund. We are aware of a number of insurance-linked security firms that are active in transferring lapse risk.
The solutions can be structured in a similar way to traditional reinsurance deals in terms of attachment and detachment points, although the deals tend to be longer in term than traditional reinsurance contracts (circa three to five years, as opposed to 12 to 18 months). This provides additional benefits in terms of impact on the Solvency II risk margin and also may be more preferable to regulators than short-term contracts. However, this results in slightly higher costs compared with traditional reinsurance deals.
One disadvantage is that insurance-linked security firms generally do not have credit ratings, which can result in a high capital charge for counterparty risk under Solvency II. However, it is possible to reduce this through the use of collateral.