In this Newstalk ZB report Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister, has called for a new government-owned, New Zealand Insurer. Peters is talking about a general insurance company, but before you consider the wider question - life insurance - Gerry Brownlee has points out that, in effect, NZ already has one: AMI, as a result of the bailout required after the Christchurch earthquakes.
If you apply the same logic to life insurance, the state already owns at least one of those: Kiwi Insurance Limited, part of the Kiwibank group of companies, is already state owned. Plus, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund owns a substantial stake in Fidelity Life Assurance Company.
There could be many directions of argument on the idea of a new general insurer, owned by the state. Although there strong strand of economic nationalism behind what Peters has said he might find that there are others that worry about the high levels of concentration of insurance brands under two large Australian-owned insurers. Those voices might welcome a new insurer joining the field. Still others might reflect that like-it-or-not government is always, kind of, the insurer of last resort, (for example - supporting AMI, running ACC and EQC) so acquiring still more risk might not be such a bright idea. The first step is to be clear about whether there really is a problem with general insurancee in New Zealand - what evidence of actual market failure is there?
Meanwhile, since we're on the subject of general insurance, the New Zealand Initiative has an excellent report on the insurance system following the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes. You can find the report at this link, but here are three summary recommendations as they apply to private insurers:
- Government should follow through with proposed changes to insurance that make private insurers the first port of call for claimants in major events, but strengthen audit procedures appropriately;
- Government should quickly seek declaratory judgments in key test cases arising after a major disaster; and
- Government should consider mechanisms like the Reserve Bank’s OBR for failed insurers.