Saturday, 12 September 2015

EIOPA's Bernadino with keynote speech - D'ohs and Don'ts...

Solvency II implementation
- Homer called it...
The latest pit stop on the Solvency II Last Legs tour was in the picturesque, almost-an-anagram, Slovenia, where EIOPA's gaffer joined a throng of hearty souls to deliver a keynote speech last week.

Given that the outside world is seemingly becoming more sensititve to the ensuing changes (at least from a capital adequacy perspective), it has been noticeable that EIOPA's speeches have become heavier in practical tone rather than the flabbier ethereal tones of yesteryear. In particular, conduct risks, conflicts of interest and the importance of an effective second pillar to counter the aggression and self interest of distribution arms/firms have all become prominent features of what is being touted as the Solvency II benefits package. Given what it has cost, we'd better deliver it!

Back to the speech, a few basic soundbites are littered throughout, which might benefit your training packs for the home stretch;

  • Solvency II is "EIOPA's top priority", 
  • It is a "pretty good starting point", rather than perfect, is "...a must and a true game changer", and "brings a new risk culture"
  • It is "a tool to foster a true risk culture in the organisation"
  • "It is clear that Solvency II will bring more awareness and transparency on the true risk profile of certain business models"
  • It will deliver "intelligent and effective regulation which does not stifle innovation"
A couple of open-ended questions emerge from the text itself;
  • Does Solvency II only "encourage" firms to define their risk profiles and risk appetites, as opposed to compel it?
  • Is the Solvency II take on ORSA really "best practice at international level" - seems fair, but does anyone else want a shot at the title!
  • Why is "overall solvency needs" constantly accompanied by bunny ears - if these guys aren't convinced by the term, what hope does the industry have of driving it into the glossary!
  • Is it just executives who need to know that ORSA is a "cultural change", as opposed to NEDs, non C-suite senior management and wider stakeholders. Institutional investors would surely benefit a 101 class, given their demonstrable views on what SCR coverage ratios mean for the plausibility of some firm's strategies, and while Sr. Bernadino comments that "...effort needs to be made" to explain SCR volatility on p8, a dawn chorus with Karel van Hulle on how "ridiculous" the outside world's expectations are doesn't even qualify as an hors d'ouevre.
  • That risk culture provides " appropriate balance with the natural sales driven culture" - EIOPA have alluded to this before, but never quite as explicitly as this. If the Risk function's job is predominantly to counter sales activity, can it ever be seen as value adding?
And a couple of specific themes are given special treatment for everyone's benefit;

Prudent Person Principle and the investment strategy of insurers
  • PPP emphasised as not giving insurers a freebie to hit the roulette tables with their asset book, and will be "...closely monitored".
  • Current environment encourages aggressive monitoring, with the "search for yield" quote now ubiquitous in supervisory speeches which touch on macro matters.
  • "Asset risk calibration in Solvency II should not be used to privilege or incentive any specific asset class" - not convinced on this front, given the remit of your friendly local CIO must contain an element of maximising gains within appetite, and the calibration can surely influence that.
Product availability
  • "Solvency II does not intend to unduly penalise specific products" - evidently does though, hence the sprint to the door from Ergo et al in the guaranteed interest rate product space (not unduly though to be fair, given the Teutonic pleas for transitional mercy!)
ORSA and Risk Culture
  • The section somewhat labours the point on coverage of all risks, assessment of all mitigation techniques, and the role of the Board in driving the associated cultural changes, but I guess given the geographical location of the speech, some of the nearby countries may benefit from the encore un foi approach - no names naturally...
  • "Capital will never cover up for the lack of proper governance"
  • "ORSA is based on the companies' DNA - their strategy"
  • "The key role in the implementation of ORSA belongs to the top management"
  • "It is up to the Boards to set, communicate and enforce a strong risk culture..."
Insurers and Supervisors in general
  • Talks of Risk Functions needing the correct skills to assess risks in asset classes - is there an implication here that functions will be light on quantitative skills post-2016?
  • Squares the circle of prudential and conduct risks on p7, talking of mitigating conduct risks "since inception" in one's product development, design and marketing processes.
  • That Solvency II "...requires an increased degree of supervisory judgement" in order to intervene at the right time, and the new supervisory requirements represent " upgrade in the quality of supervision". I'm sure some countries might take that as something of a slight, given the maturity of their existing processes, but probably fair for the majority.
Plenty of fuel for your respective Board and Senior Management briefing fires, so go forth and propogate!

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