Goodreturns quotes The Australian and I saw a Reuters article today on the likely buyers for two of the largest insurance businesses in New Zealand: AIA may buy Sovereign, and Zurich may buy ANZ's insurance businesses. If true, this makes good sense for both. AIA achieves scale, which it did not have in New Zealand, and valuable additional size in Australia. Sovereign may benefit from being returned to specialist insurance ownership. The same applies for Zurich, and it will be interesting to have Zurich in this market. They may become an effective competitor in the adviser market in New Zealand with the purchase. That is, if the purchases go ahead.
Although I have a convention of tagging news from Australia in the headline, this post has a great deal of relevance to our market, as it accounts for the fact that insurers representing nearly half of the market are for sale. The AFR has a detailed piece which I will make a few quotes from below, but you can find at this link, on why they think that banks owning insurance companies has become a headache - hence the rush to sell them. First, the AFR says that the news CommInsure was for sale was greeted with indifference by the market because of the 'state of the industry, which has been hammered by rising lapse rates and more lately, soaring claims'.
Obviously, the situation in Australia has been quite different for a number of insurers, to the experience of the same brands in New Zealand. Sovereign is not CommInsure, Asteron Life in New Zealand contributes well to Suncorp's group profit. Overall lapse rates and claims performance differ between the countries, in part, for structural reasons. We don't have a lot of TPD in superannuation, which appears to have caused some particular problems in Australia.
The AFR went on to list the companies sold: NAB sold to Nippon Life, Macquarie to Zurich. Then to list those for sale - they name ANZ, the life businesses of Suncorp, and quote AMP as saying it is "open-minded" - although I always felt that's the proper attitude of any business, pretty much all the time. But because these businesses are often quite closely linked behind the scenes (systems, staff, brands, reinsurance, and more). Therefore, if the Australian business is sold, it is common that the New Zealand one goes with it. Not all businesses will be sold, of course. In addition, when a business is under review sometimes a bias towards a sale can uncover an opportunity to buy. But some transactions seem likely in the coming year. If the number was two, or three, it would represent an incredible period of change.
AFR then contemplates the question - how did it come to this? You can check out their full article for details, but two issues they list are worth contrasting with the situation in New Zealand.
The first is the ASIC report that "found 37 per cent of advice on life insurance was in breach of the law and almost half failed when high upfront commissions were charged". I read that report and it has some problems, small sample sizes, and arguable definitions of what constitutes 'failing' advice. But here in New Zealand we have an advice law which barely even makes the comparison possible. Since a written record of advice is not explicitly required under our current law it may not be possible to conduct the same kind of investigation here. But the FMA has gamely tried, and by analysing five years of data they have found a strong statistical link between incentive travel offered by insurers and higher new business and lapse rates. The insurer's might say, 'well that's what we were hoping for when we offered the incentive' but that brings us back to the quality of advice.
The second is the issue of poor systems - some so poor, AFR says, that they cannot provide good information, or hamper the ability of the insurer to report, or provide effective claims service. That sounds familiar too - and some of the systems will be common across the two markets. Replacing those systems requires new capital. So even after a transaction, that will not be the end to the change in the market. It will be the beginning.
There is a good article on Bloomberg from a couple of weeks ago, about the process ANZ is going through to offer the ANZ Wealth business for sale. The article lists AIA, Metlife, and Zurich as bidders in a short-list reduced from about five. It will be interesting to see who wins and whether the New Zealand businesses in the wealth category go with them. AIA and Zurich are both present in this market, of the two, AIA already has substantial life operations. Acquiring NZ life operations would create a business for Zurich, and add substantial scale to AIA. Of course, the New Zealand business could be retained by ANZ. We look forward to the announcement with interest.
Australian Risk Adviser has this interesting article on "churn" although we think that they mean "switching rates" generally. The items that stand out are the role of insurance in superannuation and the Zurich survey.
Andy Marshall argues that with more than 40% of insurance premiums in superannuation when consumer budgets are stretched they must lapse or switch their non-super cover in order to meet budget objectives.
On the subject of commissions Marshall argues:
"Zurich’s own research has shown that unless we have commissions as a way of allowing clients to fund their financial advice, as many as 60 per cent would simply walk away and be in danger of chronic underinsurance."
Zurich answers the question 'What's the income Protection gap?'
'The income protection gap is the reduction in household income as a consequence of the death or incapacity of an adult wage earner on whom that household relies, taking all public and private sources of replacement income into account.'
Here is a video of why families fall into hardship when an unexpected event leaves a family member with a disability or even premature death.