Thursday, 14 March 2013

FSA and cost of Solvency II in the UK - two tunnels or half a tunnel?

Andrew Bailey, incoming head of the PRA in the UK, was widely quoted yesterday as saying that the spiralling costs of Solvency II could ultimately cost "twice as much" as London's new £15bn choo-choo tunnel Crossrail. This was at a parliamentary select committee, which for non-UK readers is where second tier politicians jump on the latest bandwagons, so that fact that Solvency II is getting some air-time is telling in itself.

Not entirely certain what expenses are included in this £30bn mega-bill, but the number is surely as inconceivable as a 2014 start date unless we add FSA costs, industry costs and slap on some arbitrary figure for "additional capital the industry will probably need to hold" - which is of course what was contained in the Cost Benefit Analysis commissioned by the FSA published back in 2011. With much of that based on QIS5 standard formula results (but at least in the same ball park as £30bn), I guess we can swallow £30bn, albeit with a pint, rather than a pinch, of salt.

"But wait a second" keen readers of the FT cry, "this time last month a prominent CEO said the cost was supposed to be HALF that of Crossrail,". Has someone in the fact sheet-preparing department at the Wharf got their wires more crossed that a breakdancing electrician, and sold their boss a dud here? Has one of the journos at the Telegraph or FT misquoted someone? Either way, there's probably a salient lesson in there somewhere around looking before you leap, it just remains to be seen who's left with the proverbial, errr, mucky shoes.

Incidentally, the full text from a separate questionnaire which the UK Parliament's Treasury Select Committee asked Mr Bailey to respond to is available here - this is separate to the interrogation transcript where the "twice as much" quote was obtained from, but contains some insight into where prudential regulation is going as of next month when the PRA take the reigns, including some good news on the regulatory levy front;

"For the next year, we intend to levy just £0.1mn [for Solvency II]. The difference [from last year's £15m] reflects cut backs that we have applied to Solvency 2 preparation costs. Although it is hard to be sure of the final cost of Solvency 2 preparations given the uncertainty on timing and substance, I expect the overall cost to be considerably lower than previously estimated. This will be a saving for insurers."

However, when one reads that, in his own words, the new head of Prudential regulation in the UK is " comparison new to insurance, but [he takes] it very seriously", you truly hope if the £30bn faux pas is attributable to him, that it can be put right - with all the Solvency II scaremongering and doom-mongering, we could probably use a little realism-mongering...

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