The Consequences of Opening Up

What does this mean for crime and D&O insurance?

As the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel comes into view, what can we expect when we return to the office? Unfortunately, times of uncertainty tend to also be the times of higher fraud and also times of blame.

To look to the closest analogy, we have in recent times, the 2008 financial crisis is the nearest we have to an unprecedented event such as the Covid-19 crisis. When times were good mistakes and irregularities tended to be overlooked especially in the banking sector. As the liquidity crisis started to hit home it required everyone to open their books and see what their real position was. What they saw was often a mess of poor control and lax lending / borrowing. In the good times, controls had dropped – we need only look to USA where the practice of NINJA (No Income, No Job or Assets) or Self Certified loans was running rampant leading to systematic fraud and the collapse of several famous banks in the country. In UK there was a thriving industry in defrauding banks on Buy to Let loans which also brought down some venerable old names. Generally loan fraud was running rampant in the Western banking system.

The rise of crime and D&O policies for banks in CEE

In my own experience of dealing with banks in Central and Eastern Europe this was a time of increased claims on the Crime polices of the banks, a lot of things that would be overlooked in the past were now being looked at more closely and the number of fraud claims tripled in just one year. The amounts were relatively large and showed that there had been lip service paid to lending controls and controls around accounts of wealthy clients.

There was also the first real increase in litigation against banks and commercial entities as lenders and shareholders looked for somebody to blame. When money is lost there is always someone whose fault it is, particularly when investment companies are involved. This led to the start of the interest in Directors and Officers insurance on a large scale in CEE.

So what can we expect in the coming year as the economies open up?

Given past events we would expect to see the discovery of more frauds. The average timeline of a major fraud in a bank is around 18 months, so if we look at July as being a realistic time for most controls to be released then this will mean that the whole of the Crisis from the first lockdown onwards will almost exactly match this timeline. The lack of supervision whilst working from home will have tempted some to try to defraud their employer (statistically around 0.2-0.5% of employees are committing fraud at any given time, mostly petty), combine this with the uncertainty around whether there will be jobs to return to and you have a potent mix for crime to flourish. We can also add to this the fact that desperate businesses may have been susceptible to paying ‘gratuities’ to helpful loan officers – a very common form of employee infidelity.

As businesses survey the wreckage of the past 18 months they will also have a battle for survival. Investors will try to minimize their losses and are likely to resort to litigation when there is no other option. This will likely take the form of looking into decisions made by the boards in the run up to and during the lockdowns (Did they close too early? Were they too cautious? Did they not move quickly enough to take advantage of the new normal?). It should also be remembered that Liquidators see a Directors and Officers policy as an asset of the company.

More frauds to be discovered after the Covid-19 crisis

In conclusion, if we see a similar trend as in 2008, then we will expect an increase in events which can be covered by Crime and D&O insurance. There is no reason to doubt that this will be the case as the underlying issues are similar in that a strong worldwide economy was moving towards recession and a devastating event pushed it over the edge. The liquidity crisis of 2007 onwards came from a lack of trust forming as recession started to appear on the horizon, Covid-19 struck just as the fundamentals were turning as well. Policies in boom times by their nature are more lax than desirable as we move for growth.

As Warren Buffett said: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

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Brian Alexander

Group Practice Leader Financial Institutions

T +43 5 04 04 342

Safe through troublesome times

Investment policy of the insurance industry

After banks, the insurance sector is the second largest asset manager in Europe. The assets consist to a large extent of the funds paid in by the insured in the life insurance, on the other hand they serve to secure the obligations arising from the insurance contracts for the payment of claims. The asset strategy is checked by the supervisory authorities in each country and its principles must correspond to the provisions of EU law Solvency II. A management report from the supervisory authority provides information on the status and development of the investments (see: EIOPA Data and Figures Financial Stability Report: Investment split).

Traditional and new investment forms

The most important instrument for long-term security of the invested assets and regular income are bonds, which make up around 60% of all investments. These are divided into government bonds, corporate bonds and bond funds. The distribution between these forms differs from country to country and depends on the bid of the respective state or the private bond issues. As with all other investments, the decline in interest rates is noticeable, but insurers are reacting to this by taking out bonds with ever longer terms. In life insurance in particular, remaining terms of around 10 years can be found in the existing portfolios in Germany and Austria, while terms in other countries are still 5 to 6 years. In the next few years, however, there will be a major shift in this part of the assets when bonds expire and can only be replaced by those with a lower yield. So that the level of interest rates does not fall too sharply, there is a tendency towards bonds from issuers with lower credit ratings, but these still make up a very small part of the portfolio. In terms of issuers, insurers concentrate on European countries and companies in addition to their home countries, with a focus on the large industrialized nations of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Investing in shares, apart from strategic investments and the establishment of own corporations, has lost a lot of importance after the crises at the beginning of the new millennium. The possible volatility is difficult to reconcile with the insurance business model and with the new regulations. In Austria, the share of equity investments fell to 1.2% in 2018, in other countries it is slightly higher, but without reaching the former proportions (e.g. 20 to 30% in Switzerland).

In search of an interesting total return, real estate investment has received a new boost. This form of investment is historically important for insurers because it also makes a reliable contribution to stable values and regular income. The construction boom of recent years, both in residential construction and in the construction of commercial properties with the corresponding financing requirements, has also given the insurance sector new impetus. In Austria, the total investment in real estate on the market has grown to over 10%; with individual companies, real estate is already the second major pillar of all investments with a share of around 40%. This development is similar across Europe, with local differences that result from the economic development of the respective country.

The construction sector is also an opportunity for other investments by insurers: there is an increasing willingness to invest in infrastructure projects and to participate in private-public partnerships in order to make an interesting contribution to total returns (search-for-yield policy). In recent years, the share of this type of investment has tripled due to the great demand. The investment of the insurer is rounded off by individual loans, mortgages and cash deposits at banks, which make up a maximum of 10% of the total portfolio.

Which influencing factors can be expected that can determine the success of the investment policy?

In recent years, the positive factors (very good international economic situation with steady growth, increase in the volume of insurance premiums, investments in large infrastructure projects) have been countered by the pronounced low interest rate phase as the most important negative parameter. Uncertainty factors in both directions included climate change, Brexit, demographic changes, increasing digitization and the beginning of a trade dispute between the great powers.

Then the global economy was surprised by Covid-19. The economic consequences of the pandemic and the countermeasures that have a direct negative impact on the economy cannot yet be assessed today. The insurance business model will have to accept certain losses both in the core area (receipt of premiums to finance claims and pensions) and in the investment field. The long-term nature of the business in both areas and the investment in countries and companies with very good credit ratings (75% of all bonds relate to the three best credit ratings) suggest that the insurance industry will also master this crisis very well.

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Andreas Krebs

Andreas Krebs

Head of Insurance Mediation Services

T +43 5 0404 229