FSOC to Vote Tues. on 'Systemically Significant' Criteria

NU Online News Service, March 2, 2:50 p.m. EDT

The Financial Stability Oversight Council will vote Tuesday on the factors it will use in determining whether an insurer is “systemically significant,” a regulatory process that has been underway since the fall of 2010.

A proposal was first published for comment in January 2011, but re-proposed last Sept. 11 under intense pressure from the insurance industry as well as members of Congress.

If designated a systemically important financial institution (SIFI), an insurer would be subject to regulation by the Federal Reserve Board as well as state-insurance regulators.

In a proposal last December the Fed suggested a wide range of measures it would address in regulating a non-bank SIFI, including capital, liquidity, credit exposure, stress testing, risk management, and early-remediation requirements.

Industry officials were guarded in their comments. However, one industry official acknowledged that insurers were caught “off guard” by the announcement of Tuesday’s meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m.

The industry contends that the initial FSOC proposal did not take into account the differences between banks—the primary concern of the FSOC—and non-bank financial providers such as insurers.

Moreover, the industry and its congressional supporters wanted the regulation to be more specific in disclosing the qualitative and quantitative standards that will be used in determining whether an institution is systemically significant.

J. Stephen Zielezienski, American Insurance Association general counsel, says the trade group hopes that the final rule provides further clarity to all stakeholders and is based solely on a company’s potential to be a source of systemic risk.

Zielezienski notes that in its latest comments   in December, the AIA made several recommendations for revisions to the rule, including incorporating the guidance into the final rule, modifying the metrics used to evaluate companies in the first stage, and utilizing qualitative measures such as degree of regulation, substitutability, and an orderly resolution system as a way to screen companies out of the SIFI process.

“As we have stressed all along, AIA believes that if members of the FSOC correctly incorporate and apply risk-related factors in the final rule, they will conclude that regulated property-casualty insurers present little, if any, danger toU.S.financial stability.”

Jimi Grande, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies’ senior vice president, federal and political affairs, adds, “As the process for SIFI designation has taken shape, it’s become increasingly clear that the FSOC recognizes that property and casualty insurance companies should not be the focus of any new systemic-risk regime. We believe the final rule will reflect this.”

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America declined comment. But in a comment letter last December, Robert Woody, senior counsel, policy, says, “It is vitally important that the FSOC establish mechanisms that will allow it to focus on those companies that are truly capable of posing systemic risk.”

Analysts are also weighing in.

In a investment note late last year, John Nadel of Sterne Agee said that if the proposal doesn’t address the differences between banks and insurers, measuring the risks and appropriate capital levels for life insurers using bank-regulatory capital standards “would essentially ignore the business models and create a completely uneven competitive environment within the life-insurance industry for those designated nonbank covered companies and those excluded from the Fed's purview.”

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