EU Referendum

Global governance: independence through globalisation


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As the Daily Express resuscitates the Congdon fiction on costs of EU regulation – this time put at £170 billion a year - the flaws in his argument are illustrated by analysis of a recent report from Reuters on regulatory costs in the insurance industry. Based on a detailed analysis from the professional services firm Deloitte, it records that new regulations have cost the European insurance industry as much as €9 billion (£7.6 billion) since 2010, with each of the top 40 insurers having spent more than €200m on compliance.

Ostensibly, this £9 billion is part of the total regulatory cost about which Congdon complains, which should be saved iif we leave the EU. But, like much of the regulation which Congdon targets, by no means the entire corpus is attributable to the EU. National agencies also have a significant impact. Respondents from German, France and the UK estimate that one third (36 percent) of all regulation deemed to have a particularly large impact are national – the rest coming from the EU or international sources. 

That, of course, means that two-thirds of regulation is not national, potentially delivering savings if it was abolished once we left the EU.  But, here as elsewhere, the bulk does not originate from the EU, even if it has an EU label. 

It turns out that major instruments, such as the proposed capital requirements which go under the label "Solvency II", have international dimensions. Specifically, as we see in Directive 2009/138/EC, input from the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS), the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the International Actuarial Association (IAA).

In fact, including these three, there are twelve international agencies which have rule-making or implementation functions in the field of insurance regulation, alongside the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. At a European level, all of these work with the EU's EIOPA (European Insurance and Occupational Pension agency, based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and also with member state regulatory bodies.

Thus, leaving the EU would no afford any significant (or any) financial relief. The costs would still be incurred whether we were in the EU or not.  Removing regulation, therefore, is not an issue. Instead, to improve matters, Deloitte, in their 38-page report (registration required), offer a "strategic approach" to what they call "regulatory uncertainty in European insurance", but it is the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales which really has the strategic answer.

On its website, it retails a view from Deloitte's competitor KPMG, a staunch advocate of global rules. It argues that the global insurance industry could save up to $25 billion per year if regulation was harmonised and a consistent set of global requirements was established.

"The insurance industry has struggled to achieve the same level of global attention as the banking sector", says Rob Curtis, insurance director in KPMG's Regulatory Centre of Excellence. Currently there is no "Basel Accord equivalent" for insurers, which means there are bespoke capital, investment and governance regulations, which require different levels of financial reporting depending on each jurisdiction.

As a result, Curtis observes, a significant amount of money is being spent on possible duplication and there is no consistent measure of insurers' financial solvency. And of this, the industry is very conscious. The lack of a globally harmonised regulatory system for insurers is a key issue to overcome in order to improve supervision of the sector, said Julie Dickson, superintendent of Canada's Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) back in July 2011.

Says KPMG, a start has been made with Solvency II in Europe, which is linked with the Solvency Modernisation Initiative (SMI) in the US and recent ERM enhancements in China.

Great care has been taken, says the European Commission "to ensure that the new EU regime will be in line with the existing international guidelines in this area as agreed by the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS), as well as with the ongoing work of IAIS on a new international agreement for a solvency regime for insurers and reinsurers".

This new international agreement in the making is an ambitious framework for "internationally active insurance groups" (IAIGs), known as ComFrame (the Common Framework). Driver of this initiative is the IAIS, which is described as the international standard-setting body for the prudential supervision of the insurance industry. It is working on providing "common platforms for capital, risk, valuation and reporting".

As always we get get the alphabet soup: new Insurance Core Principles (ICPs) determined by the IAIS will come into force from October. The ICPs become the "globally accepted requirements" and provide the focus for "effective group-wide supervision" of IAIGs. They "drive uniformity and harmonisation in the supervision of capital and solvency management among global insurance firms and will impact enterprise risk management, the valuation of assets, liabilities and investments".

Beginning in 2014, field testing will begin. ComFrame will be evaluated so that it can be modified as necessary prior to formal adoption. The IAIS established a Field Testing Task Force in January 2013 to prepare for this phase and is currently scheduled formally to adopt ComFrame in 2018. Members will then implement it.

In its report, Deloitte states the obvious: regulation is here to stay. Insurance is international business so, contrary to the simplistic picture presented by Congdon, leaving the EU would not reduce our regulatory costs in this sector. But, if the IAIS has got it right, harmomising regulation at a global level would deliver significant savings. That is the place to look in the quest for reducing costs. 

Even Gabriel Bernardino, Chairman of EIOPA agrees on the need for global regulation. "The promotion of sound and stable insurance markets calls for more international cooperation", he says. Strong global regulatory and supervisory standards, "will create a level playing field for international players, foster a common language between supervisors and improve international cooperation and information exchange".

As regulation moves up a notch, though, it becomes more and more obvious that regional intermediaries such as the European Union will become redundant. We thus have a strong case for arguing that they are no longer needed. And leaving the EU, far from being a recipe for "isolation", as the europhiles aver, allows us to rejoin the world and take a greater part in the global community. 

Potentially, globablisation is our escape route from the claustrophobia of "little Europe" and our ticket to independence. But don't expect to save billions on reduced regulatory costs. That may be a result but, in the main, we expect simply to be cutting out the middle man.