What can we learn from PricewaterhouseCoopers' (PWC) report into the fall of Chester Street? On first reading, very little of real use has been discovered. The chief criticisms of Chester Street's demise earlier this year have been defused.
Angry creditors reckoned Chester Street's subsidiary Iron Trades was sold for a knock-down price of £175m, when an internal report valued the company at £220m. But, according to PWC, there was a £54m tax liability with Iron Trades that needs to be factored into the price. So, it seems, the price was fair.
The second criticism was that senior board members received large bonuses when the company could ill-afford them. But liquidator Dan Schwarzmann says the only way to motivate people when they know they are heading for redundancy is to incentivise them with bonuses.
A deeper look at the report reveals a worrying trend. The reserves of Chester Street were approved by actuary Watson Wyatt. The same actuary that assessed the reserves of Independent and is the focus of action by Class Law.
It is unfair to criticise Watson Wyatt specifically, because lots of actuaries have failed to assess the right level of reserves in relation to asbestos-related claims.
The key question to ask then is: how sure are actuaries about their predictions? We know the FSA takes predictions with a pinch of salt as it keeps its own list of companies and their reserve levels.
So if the FSA keeps its own records of reserves and stability, where does that leave the rest of us? The ratings agencies are useful, but could not predict pastcollapses.
Actuaries are in a difficult position. How can they predict the effects the US courts' relaxed attitude to asbestos-related claims will have? It is a question that regulators, actuaries and insurers need to ask.