Insurance Asset Growth Lags
Global insurance assets under management are growing — but not nearly as much as they could be, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
One key problem, though not the only one, is that insurers tend to under-invest in information technology, securities processing and other operations integral to asset management, according to BCG.
Insurance company assets comprise nearly 20 percent of the $68.7 trillion in total global assets under management, as recorded by BCG last year.
Insurers’ total assets under management (AUM) reached $13 trillion in 2013. Yet, their AUM growth of 7 percent in 2013 was far lower than the overall average 13 percent increase in global AUM.
The fact that global insurers have lagged behind their asset-management peers in operations and information technology capabilities is something of a Catch-22, said Achim Schwetlick, a BCG partner and managing director in New York.
“The lower growth has likely contributed to the under-investment, not the other way around,” he said.
But clearly, this is an area that needs to be addressed, he said.
Between 2012 and 2013, insurance asset managers reduced their operations and IT spending by 4 percent per unit of AUM, said Schwetlick, who is a member of BCG’s insurance practice. In contrast, the broader asset-management industry increased that spending by 3 percent.
The serious expense reductions required by the “meager years” during and after the financial crisis prevented increased investments, he said.
“Now that we’re getting into growth territory again and expense pressure has mitigated, we think this is a good time to break that pattern,” Schwetlick said.
In addition, whereas most insurers have outsourced asset management in alternative asset classes, the vast majority of insurers still manage most of their assets in-house, he said.
The newly released BCG report, entitled “Steering the Course To Growth,”also pointed to the “large proportion of fixed-income assets” held in insurance company portfolios as a reason they “did not benefit as much from the global surge in equity markets.”
Insurers’ “exposure to high-growth specialties was similarly limited,” it said.
Regulatory and Organizational Inefficiencies
That may be difficult to overcome, said Schwetlick, given regulatory constraints preventing insurance companies from investing more aggressively.
This is particularly true in the United States, he said, although even European insurers tend to have no more than 10 percent of their assets invested in equities. In the U.S., equity investment is closer to 1 percent, said Schwetlick.
Organizational impediments have helped to sustain inefficiencies related to asset management, according to the BCG report.
The inefficiencies include regional fragmentation of assets, so that the asset managers of most insurers operate in regional silos as well as asset class silos, exacerbating fragmentation and complexity.
Insurers should move to a more global model to address those issues, said Schwetlick.
“You really want to have processes that are similar across the globe,” he said, that are related to both investment management and access to information about insurance company loss exposure.
Third-Party Management Benefits
The good news, finally, is that many insurers have benefited from third-party asset management over the past several years.
“While insurers’ asset managers have not historically focused on profitability and growth, they are tempted by the high returns on equity of third-party management,” according to the BCG report.
“Some managers have built this business to more than a third of their activity, and, in doing so, have invested and grown stronger commercially,” the report stated.
“As a result, they have achieved higher revenue margins and profits — averaging 25 basis points of revenues and 39 percent profitability, compared with 12 basis points and 26 percent, respectively, for mostly captive managers that focus predominantly on the insurer’s general account.
Leaders in this area include Allianz, AXA, and Prudential, said Schwetlick.