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EIOPA: Low interest rate environment and coping with the disrupting technological progress are the main challenges for insurers

The European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) published its December 2016 Financial Stability Report in the (re)insurance and occupational pensions sectors of the European Economic Area. The report presents the evidence that the European macroeconomic environment remains fragile, while insurers and pension funds are challenged by prolonged low interest rates and by a number of geopolitical risks.

"This year is an important milestone for the European insurance sector. The new regulatory regime increases risk-based awareness. Today, EIOPA is presenting its first Financial Stability Report employing Solvency II data gradually enhancing our analysis of financial stability risks in the European insurance and pensions sector," Gabriel BERNARDINO, Chairman of EIOPA, said.

Here are the main findings of the report:

With Solvency II starting in January 2016 insurance undertakings are subject to a risk-based supervisory regime. The low interest rate environment affects both balance sheet figures and business models. On the latter, there is a trend for the evolution of business models towards unit-linked investments. On the portfolio side, maturing assets have to be reinvested in the current yield environment in order to match the cash flow profiles of outstanding liabilities. In the current environment, insurers are exposed to reinvestment risk. Furthermore, the insurance sector is exposed to risks originating in the European banking sector. As digitalisation becomes more prominent, cyber risks increasingly emerge and challenge companies, but also offer opportunities for insurers to develop new products

In the reinsurance sector, the demand is still subdued, whereas the reinsurance capacity continues to increase. The combination of the continuing capital-inflow into the reinsurance market, benign catastrophe activity and increasingly low investment returns due to the ongoing challenging economic environment increases the profitability pressure in the reinsurance business.

The European occupational pensions sector continues to face the challenging macroeconomic environment with low interest rates exerting pressure on IORP liabilities. Total assets significantly increased in 2015. Investment allocation remained broadly unchanged and the average rate of return decreased but remained positive across the sample. The average cover ratios for defined benefit schemes decreased over 2015 compared to 2014 and remain a concern for a number of countries in the European Union.

EIOPA's Financial Stability Report December 2016 is available via EIOPA's Website.

Author: Daniela GHETU on 15.12.2016

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