Archive for June 2014

ORSA ==> AC – ST > RCS

June 30, 2014

The Own Risk and Solvency Assessment (or Forward Looking Assessment of Own Risks based on ORSA principles) initially seems daunting.  But the simple formula in the title of this post provides a guide to what is really going on.

  1. To preform an ORSA, an insurer must first decide upon its own Risk Capital Standard.
  2. The insurer needs to develop the capacity to project the financial and risk exposure statistics forward for several years under a range of specified conditions.
  3. Included in the projection capacity is the ability to determine (a) the amount of capital required under their own risk capital standard and (b) the projected amount of capital available.
  4. The insurer needs to select a range of Stress Tests that will be used for the projections.
  5. If, under a projection based upon a Stress Test, the available capital exceeds the Risk Capital Standard, then that Stress Test is a pass.                   AC – ST >RCS
  6. If, under a projection based upon a Stress Test, the available capital is less than the Risk Capital Standard, then that Stress Test is a fail and requires an explanation of intended management actions.                            AC – ST < RCS  ==> MA

RISKVIEWS suggests that Stress Tests should be chosen so that the company can demonstrate that they can pass (AC – ST >RCS) the tests under a wide range of scenarios AND in addition, that one or several of the Stress Tests are severe enough to produce a fail (AC – ST < RCS  ==> MA) condition so that they can demonstrate that management has conceptualized the actions that would be needed in extreme loss situations.

RISKVIEWS also guesses that an insurer that picks a low Risk Capital Standard and Normal Volatility Stress Tests will get push back from the regulators reviewing the ORSA.

RISKVIEWS also guesses that an insurer that picks a high Risk Capital Standard will fail some or all of the more severe Stress Tests.

Furthermore, RISKVIEWS predicts that many insurers will fail the real Future Worst Case Stress Tests.  Only firms that hold themselves to a Robust Risk Capital Standard are likely to have sufficient capital to potentially maintain solvency.  In RISKVIEWS opinion, these Future Worst Case Stress Tests are useful mainly as the starting point for a Reverse Stress Test process.  In financial markets, we have experienced a real life worst case stress with the 2008 Financial Crisis and the following events.  Imaging insurance worst case scenarios that are as adverse as those events seems useful to promoting insurer survival.  Imagining events that are much worse than those – which is what is meant by the Future Worst Case Scenario idea – seems to be overkill.  But, in fact,  the history of adverse events in the recent past seems to indicate that each new major loss is at least twice the previous record.

A Reverse Stress Test is a process under which an insurer would determine the adverse scenario that drives the insurer to insolvency.  Under the NAIC ORSA, Reverse Stress Tests are required, but it is not specified whether those tests should be based upon a condition of failing to meet the insurer’s own Risk Capital Standard or the regulators solvency standard.  RISKVIEWS would recommend both types of tests be performed.

This discussion is the heart of the ORSA.  The full ORSA requires many other elements.  See the recent post INSTRUCTIONS FOR A 17 STEP ORSA PROCESS for the full discussion.

What kind of Stress Test?

June 25, 2014

What kind of future were you thinking of when you constructed your stress tests?  Here are six different visions of the stressed future that have been the basis for stress tests.

  • Historical Worst Case – Worst experience in the past 20 – 25 years
  • Normal Variability – Stress falls within expected range for a normal five year period
  • Adverse Environment Variability – Stress falls within expected range for a five year period that includes general deterioration such as recession or major weather/climate deviation
  • Future Realistic Disaster – Worst experience that is reasonably expected in the future (even if it has never happened)
  • Adverse Environment Disaster – Worst experience that is reasonably expected in the future if the future is significantly worse than the past
  • Future Worst Case – Maximum plausible loss that could occur even if you believe that likelihood is extremely remote

Here are a long list of stress scenarios that comes from the exposure draft of the NAIC document for ORSA reviewers:

1. Credit

• Counterparty exposure (loss of specified amount to reinsurer, derivatives party, supplier)
• Equity securities (40%/50% drop, no growth in stocks in 3 years)
• General widening of credit spreads (increase in defaults)
• Other risk assets

2. Market

• 300 basis point pop up in interest rates
• Prolonged low interest rates (10 year treasury of 1%)
• Material drop in GDP & related impacts
• Stock market crash or specific extreme condition (Great Depression)
• Eurozone collapse
• U.S. Treasury collapse
• Foreign currency shocks (e.g. percentages)
• Municipal bond market collapse
• Prolonged multiple market downturn (e.g. 2008/2009 crisis/or 1987 stock market drop-or 50% drop in equities, 150bp of realized credit losses)

3. Pricing/Underwriting

• Significant drop in sales/premiums due to varying reasons
• Impact of 20% reduction in mortality rates on annuities
• Material product demonstrates specific losses (e.g. 1 in 20 year events)
• Severe pandemic (e.g. Avian bird flu based upon World Health Organization mortality assumption)
• California and New Madrid earthquakes, biological, chemical or nuclear terrorist attacks in locations of heaviest coverage (consider a specified level of industry losses)
• Atlantic hurricane (consider a specified level of industry losses previously unseen/may consider specified levels per different lines of coverage) in different areas (far northeast, northeast, southeast, etc.)
• U.S. tornado over major metropolitan area with largest exposure
• Japanese typhoon/earthquake (consider a specified level of industry losses previously unseen)
• Major aviation/marine collision
• Dirty bomb attack
• Drop in rating to BB

4. Reserving

• Specified level of adverse development (e.g. 30%)
• Regulatory policy change requires additional reserves (e.g. 30%)

5. Liquidity • Catastrophe results in material immediate claims of 3X normalized amounts
• Call on any existing debt
• Material spike in lapses (e.g. 3X normal rates)
• Drop in rating to BB

6. Operational

• Loss of systems for 30 days
• Terrorist act
• Cybercrime
• Loss of key personnel
• Specified level of fraud within claims

7. Legal

• Material adverse finding on pending claim
• Worst historical 10 year loss is multiplied at varying levels

8. Strategic

• Product distribution breakup

9. Reputational

• PR crisis
• Drop in rating to BB

These seem to RISKVIEWS to fall into all six of the categories.  Many of these scenarios would fall into the “Normal Volatility” category for some companies and into the worst historical for others.  A few are in the area of “Future Worst Case” – such as the Treasury Collapse.

RISKVIEWS suggests that when doing Stress Testing, you should decide what sort of Stress you are intending.  You may not agree with RISKVIEWS categories, but you should have your own categories.  It might be a big help to the reader of your Stress Test report to know which sort of stress you think that you are testing.  They may or may not agree with you on which category that your Stress Scenario falls into, and that would be a valuable revealing discussion.

Risk Capital Standard

June 23, 2014

Insurers in the US and Canada are required to state their own internal Risk Capital Standard in their ORSA Summary Report. From RISKVIEWS observations over the years of actual insurer actions, insurers have actually operated  with four levels of Risk Capital Standards:

  • Solvency – enough capital to avoid take-over by regulators
  • Viable – enough capital to avoid reaching Solvency level with “normal” volatility
  • Secure – enough capital to satisfy sophisticated commercial buyers that you will pay claims in most situations
  • Robust – enough capital to maintain a Secure level of capital after a major loss

In many cases, this is not necessarily a clear conscious decision, but insurers do seem to pick one of those four levels and stick with it.

Insurers operating at the Solvency levels are usually in constant contact with their regulator.  They are almost always very small insurers who are operating on the verge of regulatory takeover.  They operate in markets where there is no concern on the part of their customers for the security of their insurer.  Sometimes these insurers are government sponsored and are permitted to operate at this level for as long as they are able because the government is unwilling to provide enough capital and the company is not able to charge enough premiums to build up additional capital, possibly because of government restrictions to rates.  This group of insurers is very small in most times.  Any adverse experience will mean the end of the line for these companies.

Many insurers operate at the Viable level.  These insurers are usually operating in one or several personal/individual insurance lines where their customers are not aware of or are not sensitive to security concerns.  Most often these insurers write short term coverages such as health insurance, auto insurance or term insurance.  These insurers can operate in this manner for decades or until they experience a major loss event.  They do not have capital for such an event so their are three possible outcomes:  insolvency and breakup of the company, continued operation at the Solvency level of capital with or without gradual recovery of capital to the Viable level.

The vast bulk of the insurance industry operates at the Secure level of capital.  Companies with a Secure capital level are able to operate in commercial/group lines of business, reinsurance or the large amount individual products where there is a somewhat knowledgeable assessment of security as a part of the due diligence process of the insurance buyer.   With capital generally at the level of a major loss plus the Viable capital level, these companies can usually withstand a major loss event on paper, but if their business model is dependent upon those products and niches where high security is required, a major loss will likely put them out of business because of a loss of confidence of their customer base.  After a large loss, some insurers have been able to shift to operating with a Viable capital level and gradually rebuild their capital to regain the Secure position and re-engage with their original markets.  But most commonly, a major loss causes these insurers to allow themselves to be acquired so that they can get value for the infrastructure that supports their high end business model.

A few insurers and reinsurers have the goal of retaining their ability to operate in their high end markets in the event of a major loss by targeting a Robust capital level.  These insurers are holding capital that is at least as much as a major loss plus the Secure capital level.  In some cases, these groups are the reinsurers who provide risk relief to other Robust insurers and to the more cautious insurers at the Secure level.  Other firms in this groups include larger old mutual insurers who are under no market pressure to shed excess capital to improve Return on Capital.  These firms are easily able to absorb moderate losses without significant damage to their level of security and can usually retain at least the Secure level of capital after a major loss event.  If that major loss event is a systematic loss, they are able to retain their market leading position.  However, if they sustain a major loss that is less broadly shared, they might end up losing their most security conscious customers.  Risk management strategy for these firms should focus on avoiding such an idiosyncratic loss.  However, higher profits are often hoped for from concentrated, unique (re)insurance deals which is usually the temptation that leads to these firms falling from grace.

One of the goals of Solvency II in Europe has been to outlaw operating an insurer at the Solvency or Viable levels of capital.  This choice presents two problems:

  • It has led to the problem regarding the standard capital formula.  As noted above, the Solvency level is where most insurers would choose to operate.  Making this the regulatory minimum capital means that the standard formula must be near perfectly correct, a daunting task even without the political pressures on the project.  Regulators tendency would be to make all approximations rounding up.  That is likely to raise the cost of the lines of insurance that are most effected by the rounding.
  • It is likely to send many insurers into the arms of the regulators for resolution in the event of a significant systematic loss event.  Since there is not ever going to be regulatory capacity to deal with resolution of a large fraction of the industry, nor is resolution likely to be needed (since many insurers have been operating in Europe just fine with a Viable level of capital for many years).  It is therefore likely that the response to such an event will be to adjust the minimum capital requirement in one way or another, perhaps allowing several years for insurers to regain the “minimum” capital requirement.  Such actions will undermine the degree to which insurers who operate in markets that have traditionally accepted a Viable capital level will take the capital requirement completely seriously.

It is RISKVIEWS impression that the Canadian regulatory minimum capital is closer to the Viable level. While the US RBC action level is at the Solvency level.

It is yet to be seen whether the US eventually raises the RBC requirement to the Viable level or if Canada raises its MCCSR to the Secure level because of pressure to comply with the European experiment.

If asked, RISKVIEWS would suggest that the US and Canada waits until (a) the Europeans actually implement Solvency II (which is not expected to be fully inforce for many years after initial implementation due to phase in rules) and (b) the European industry experiences a systematic loss event.  RISKVIEWS is not likely to be asked, however.

It is RISKVIEWS prediction that the highly theoretical ideas that drive Solvency II will need major adjustment and that those adjustments will need to be made at that time when there is a major systematic loss event.  So the ultimate nature of Solvency II will remain a complete mystery until then.

Risk Appetite is the Boundary

June 18, 2014

Actually, it is two boundaries.

First, it is the boundary between Management and the Board with regard to risk.

  • If risk taking is within the risk appetite, then Management can tell the board about that activity after the fact.
  • If risk taking is outside the risk appetite, then Management needs to talk to the board in advance and get agreement with the risk taking plans.  (We say outside, rather than above, because for firms in the risk taking business, risk appetite should involve a minimum AND a maximum.)


Second, it is the boundary between everyday risk mitigation practices and extraordinary mitigations.

  • Everyday mitigations are the rules for accepting risk (underwriting) and the rules for trimming risk (ALM, hedging and reinsurance)
  • Extraordinary mitigations are those special actions that are taken when risk is seen to be out of acceptable bounds (stopping or limiting new risk taking, bulk divestitures or acquisitions of risks, capital raising, etc.)

Firms that struggle with naming their risk appetite might try to think of where these two boundaries lie.  And set their risk appetite to be near or even at those boundaries.

Just Stop IT! Right Now. And Don’t Do IT again.

June 16, 2014

IT is a medieval, or possibly pre-medieval practice for evaluating risks.  That is the assignment of a single Frequency and Severity pair to each risk and calling that a risk evaluation.

In the mid 1700’s Daniel Bernoulli wrote:

EVER SINCE mathematicians first began to study the measurement of risk there has been general agreement on the following proposition: Expected values are computed by multiplying each possible gain by the number of ways in which it can occur, and then dividing the sum of these products by the total number of possible cases where, in this theory, the consideration of cases which are all of the same probability is insisted upon. If this rule be accepted, what remains to be done within the framework of this theory amounts to the enumeration of all alternatives, their breakdown into equi-probable cases and, finally, their insertion into corresponding classifications.

Many modern writers attribute this process to Bernoulli but this is the very first sentence of his “Exposition of a New Theory for Measuring Risk” published in 1738.  He suggests that the idea is so common in his time that he does not cite an original author.  His work is not to prove that this basic idea is correct, but to propose a new methodology for implementing.

It is hard to say how the single pair idea (i.e. that a risk can be represented by a sing frequency/severity pair of values) has crept into basic modern risk assessment practice, but it has. And it is firmly established.  But in 1738, Bernoulli knew that each risk has many possible gain amounts.  NOT A SINGLE PAIR.

But let me ask you this…

How did you pick the particular pair of values that you use to characterize any of your risks?

You see, as far as RISKVIEWS can tell, Bernoulli was correct – each and every risk has an infinite number of such pairs that are valid.  So how did you pick the one that you use?

Take for an example, the risk of a fire.  There are an infinite number of possible fires that could happen.  Some more likely and some less likely.  Some would do lots of damage some only a little.  The likelihood of a fire is not actually always related to the damage.  Some highly unlikely fires might be very small and low damage.  Hopefully, you do not have the situation of a likely high damage fire.  But all by itself, you could make up a frequency severity heat map for any single risk with many points on the chart.


So RISKVIEWS asks again, how do you pick which point from that chart to be the one single point for your main risk report and heat map?

And those heat maps that you are so fond of…

Do you realize that the points on the heat map are not rationally comparable?  That is because there is no single criteria that most risk managers use to pick the pairs that they use.  To compare values they need to have been selected by applying the same exact criteria.  But usually the actual criteria for choosing the pairs is not clearly articulated.

So here you stand, you have a risk register that is populated with these bogus statistics.  What can you do to move away towards a more rational view of your risks?

You can start to reveal to people that you are aware that your risks are NOT fully measured by that single statistic.  Try revealing some additional statistics about each risk on your risk register:

  • The Likelihood of zero (or an inconsequential low amount) loss from each risk in any one year
  • The Likelihood of a loss of 1% of earnings or more
  • The expected loss at a 1% likelihood (or 1 in 100 year expected loss)

Try plotting those values and show how the risks on your risk register compare.  Create a heat map that plots likelihood of zero loss against expected loss at a 1% likelihood.

Those values are then comparable.

So stop IT.  Stop misinforming everyone about your risks.  Stop using frequency severity pairs to represent your risks.


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