Shifting Insurer Risk to Policyholders

The Journal reports that state regulators are considering lowering the reserve requirements for life-insurance companies to ease the financial pressures on them. But that just transfers risk to the consumers the policies are supposed to be covering.

Ms. Voss says NAIC’s leadership generally agrees with the American Council of Life Insurers, which submitted the proposals this week, that the conservative accounting used for regulatory purposes contains reserve redundancies, and some could be eliminated without hurting policyholders.

“This isn’t a change in the rules in the middle of the game” but “carburetor adjustments” needed because of the market collapse and which would be “prudent from a regulatory standpoint,” said ACLI Senior Vice President Bruce Ferguson.

Scott Robinson, a senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, estimated that insurers in the U.S. may need “in excess of $10 billion” in additional capital if they aim to maintain current risk-based-capital levels, a key measure of financial stability, though the total depends on market levels and other variables.

If the industry’s capital requirements were good enough when times were good, they ought to be good enough when times are bad.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.