Europe's insurers found to be 'robust'

La Defense in Paris
Image caption The French insurance industry owns some 9bn euros in Greek debts

A stress test of Europe's biggest insurers has found them to be "robust" despite exposure to Greek debt.

More than 90% of the 221 firms examined met minimum solvency standards even in the most adverse scenario considered.

However, the exercise identified key vulnerabilities, including exposure to sovereign debts, such as Greece's, and natural catastrophes.

The tests were done by a newly-created regulator, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority.

None of the insurance companies - which comprise at least 50% of the market in each country - was identified.


Insurance companies have large exposures to Greek and other troubled European government debt.

Not only have the firms invested in Greek bonds, they are also thought to have written insurance on Greek credit risk in the form of credit derivatives.

French insurers own some 9bn euros (£8bn, $13bn) in Greek government debt.

Meanwhile, German insurers have been asked by their government to participate in a plan to relend Greek debts coming due in the next two years, with Allianz having agreed to provide 300m euros.

Image caption German insurer Allianz has offered to contribute 300m euros towards a new bail-out of Greece

Besides sovereign debt exposure, the risks facing the insurance industry included:

  • big losses on shares and other investments
  • a sharp rise in interest rates
  • a sharp rise in inflation, meaning the value of insurance claims outstrips premium payments
  • major natural disasters
  • a failure of the reinsurance market, which insurers rely on to share losses

It is second such set of stress tests for insurance companies, which shadow a similar exercise being carried out on the big banks by the European Banking Authority.

However, unlike the banks being tested, insurers that fail the test will not yet be formally required to top up the capital they hold to absorb future losses.

The latest tests for insurers come at a time when they are still fleshing out a new set of Europe-wide rules for the industry.

The Association of British Insurers has called the stress tests a "distraction from vital regulatory change".

"The UK insurance industry is currently under great pressure to implement an enormously complex regulatory framework," said the ABI's Peter Vipond.

"Rather than demand stress tests on the basis of a yet to be agreed framework, it would be better to focus on finalising the proposed rules and helping the industry put the infrastructure in place to make them work by 2013," he said.

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