Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Jurassic Talk - enhanced NED challenges during Solvency II preparations?

 Britain's youngest NED
Given that there won’t be a heck of a lot more briefing done on the Non-Executive Director front, I’ve given the PRA Industry Event slide pack published the other week a bit more of a going over to see if the left and right hands are pushing the Solvency II wheelie bin in the right direction. I haven’t gone as far as watching the 1h 30m video of the event yet – if I wanted to watch a room full of fidgeting old men in ill-fitting suits I’d just go to Bridge Night at the bowling club…

I can’t say I was massively enthused by the read of the slides as an individual who is frequently delivering material to the very audience the presentation was aimed at. I would highlight the following oddities;

Internal Model-specific (slides 6-12)

  • That Solvency II “sets a high bar” for model approval – that feels a little disingenuous given that the PRA has had the whip hand in the IRSG’s internal model committee for years, and has evidently driven their CAT. Fair to say that the PRA set the "high bar" on behalf of the rest of Europe.
  • From the “lessons learned” section they suggest that some IMAP/CAT firms have used assumptions which are not matching their experience. Is that not bravado bordering on criminality? Doesn’t feel like small beer, so unless the PRA are splitting hairs with that comment, I trust the protagonists had a strip torn from them.
  • Some models ignoring “Key Risks” faced by a firm – how can this be? If this is about cheeky risk selection (i.e. let’s use SF, but model Market Risk as we get a good number from it) all well and good, but to say that firms are ignoring them is not a good steer, and if they are, then how is punishment not already being dispensed?
  • For Use Test purposes, NEDS told to have “belief” but not “blind faith” – this feels like Bank Creep, given that the PRA  have been vocal (here and here) on firms blindly following models after the banks got caught with their trolleys down a few years back (nice PRA summary here). Doesn’t feel especially fair to tar insurers with exactly the same brush in advance, even if it is smart!
  • Boards need to own validation design” – just sounds meaningless when you read it back. If you want them to “do” the design (which Andrew Marshall’s later slides deriding the efforts of the validation contracting community suggest also support), then just say it.
  • The “Key Questions” slides contain some very ropey gear. “Does the output of the model give a credible answer”? “Can the firm survive on the Standard Formula”? The terms used are so flimsy that one could spend hours arguing the toss about their definition – “so what is survival – EC+, SCR+, MCR+ with recovery plan” etc.

ORSA and SoG (slides 14-18)
Starts with a bit of good news – some generic industry feedback is seemingly due within the next couple of months (pertaining to our 2014 ORSA efforts?). The slide summarising findings to date is also a useful yardstick for those who can’t wait that long.

For System of Governance, the executive world should prepare themselves for NED questions regarding whether or not they (as opposed to their underlings and contractors) are reading EIOPA's Guidelines. Let's hope they have!

On the gnarlier side;

  • Seems to be an obsession with assigning named individuals (as opposed to roles or teams)  to perform mitigating tasks relating to anything ropey uncovered during the ORSA
  • ORSA should be holistic” – at what point is that breathtakingly grim term going to be put to pasture? For a NED briefing, the use of plain English should be considered par for the course. It is followed two slides later by “top-down/bottom-up” which is equally non-specific.
  • ORSA is not a compliance exercise resulting in a report to the PRA” – I think you meant to say “not ONLY...”!

The final slides from Ian Marshall’s presentation are revealing more due to the clumsy terminology often used at the table with NEDs (“Key Drivers” and “Key Correlations” for example – if you mean “most money riding on it”, then say it!). Also, the idea that Risk Appetite is “no longer an aspiration” is worrying – I would have given the insurance industry credit that it ceased to be aspirational some time ago, and doesn’t need a 2015 ‘tick’, but then I am a trusting fellow.

Does anyone think, off the back of these slides, that their NEDs will be chomping at the bit at the next Risk Committee/Board meeting using the ammunition supplied here?

Maybe I’d better watch the video after all… 

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