Do politicians really understand how the insurance sector works? If so, why do they insist on calling the banking crisis a financial crisis?
Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson complains that the fans of his vampire films could damage his hearing with their screams.
I know how he feels. Well, sort of. I am not saying that, as Biba’s chief executive, I am pursued by feverish females baying for my blood (I wish), but noise can be a problem, particularly when a general election is looming.
I am talking about the hubbub from the many groups vying to get their messages across. Everybody seems to be publishing manifestos, climbing on soap boxes, shaking hands, tweeting, blogging and generally mugging up to the media. The process moved up a gear with the chancellors’ live TV debate, and soon it will be the turn of the three leaders to appear on the small screen in a style of electioneering that feels more American than British.
We also had the recent Insurance Times Hustings, where pre-set questions were put to the three parties. The final question was on which party would be best for the general insurance sector. Needless to say, the answers generated soundbites but little focus on the specifics.
In today’s electronic age information, rather than being helpful, can result in overload and a loss of focus. At Biba, the team is used to operating amid a clamour, listening, filtering out issues that are unimportant, and focusing on those that are relevant – all the while ensuring that our members’ voice is heard by the right people .
The chancellors’ TV debate showed continuing antagonism towards the banks. And it is frustrating for us that the politicians are still talking about the crisis as a financial crisis, when it was a banking crisis.
Whatever the outcome of the election, we must ensure that the insurance sector is not just a spectator in this game of financial football. We are not banks, and insurance intermediary firms definitely do not create systemic risk to global financial systems. I also believe that the activities of insurers and reinsurers do not pose systemic risks because of the sector’s specific features.
Insurers are funded by payments of advance premiums unlike the banks, which rely chiefly on short-term deposits or short-term credit funding. Differences between the business models of financial sectors must be taken into account. Politicians please take note.
Biba has long argued that the cost and style of supervision for general insurance intermediaries is way out of line with what is happening elsewhere. We want to see the future government develop a more cost-effective, appropriate and proportionate regulatory regime that reflects
the low-risk nature of the activities of general insurance intermediaries. Ideally, we would like the sector to come under one regulatory body, a specialised insurance regulator. This would be more appropriate than a central financial regulator that supposedly does it all.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that we all need to fight for our profession – we need to fight to make the public understand all the good that it does in supporting lives and jobs, making things happen, allowing investment, building and rebuilding nations. The sector needs to make its collective voice heard. And by collective voice, I do not just mean the views of intermediaries but of insurers, too.
Biba has done a great deal to cut through the noise, but we must show unity. If we are not speaking as one, we will have less chance of influencing the politicians and policymakers. IT