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The Effects of a Low Interest Rate Environment on Life Insurers

Source:
The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance: Issues and Practice, Vol. 40, pp. 385-415
Year:
2015
Authors:
Elia Berdin,
Helmut Gründl
Reseach Area:
Financial Institutions
Abstract:

Low interest rates are becoming a threat to the stability of the life insurance industry, especially in countries such as Germany, where products with relatively high guaranteed returns sold in the past still represent a prominent share of the total portfolio. This contribution aims to assess and quantify the effects of the current low interest rate phase on the balance sheet of a representative German life insurer, given the current asset allocation and the outstanding liabilities. To do this, we generate a stochastic term structure of interest rates as well as stock market returns to simulate investment returns of a stylised life insurance business portfolio in a multi-period setting. On the basis of empirically calibrated parameters, we can observe the evolution of the life insurers’ balance sheet over time with a special focus on their solvency situation. To account for different scenarios and in order to check the robustness of our findings, we calibrate different capital market settings and different initial situations of capital endowment. Our results suggest that a prolonged period of low interest rates would markedly affect the solvency situation of life insurers, leading to a relatively high cumulative probability of default, especially for less capitalised companies. In addition, the new reform of the German life insurance regulation has a beneficial effect on the cumulative probability of default, as a direct consequence of the reduction of payouts to policyholders.

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