Insurance accounting must reflect economic reality, says IASB Chairman

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Sep 08, 2016

On September 8, 2016, the International Accounting Standards Board Chairman Hans Hoogervorst reported on the progress of the upcoming insurance contracts standard.

Here are some excerpts from his remarks:

"We finished our deliberations recently and our staff are very busy drafting the Standard.

We have been working on the new insurance Standard for many years and its publication will not come a day too soon. Our current insurance Standard, IFRS 4, is a holding standard which has grandfathered an array of highly diverse national accounting standards. As a result, there is little comparability between insurance companies around the world.

Moreover, there is variety in the measurement of the insurance liability. Some insurers use discount rates that are based on the expected return of assets, others use risk-free discount rates; others still use historical rates based on interest rates at the date of inception.

As a result, the devastating impact of the current low-interest-rate environment on long-term obligations is not nearly as visible in the insurance industry as it is in the defined benefit pension schemes of many companies. Clearly, discounting an insurance liability that was incurred 15 years ago at a historical interest rate of 5-6 per cent does not give relevant information in a time when interest rates are close to—or even below—zero.

In some cases, minimum-return guarantees and other complex features are typically reflected in the insurance liability only when they become worth exercising and even then typically only at an amount that does not reflect their true economic value. For a bank, such treatment of complex financial liabilities would be unthinkable.

As a result, there is not only a lack of comparability among insurance companies, but there is also a great lack of comparability between insurance and other parts of the financial industry, such as banks."

Please click to access the full text of Mr. Hooger­vorst's speech on the IASB's Web site.

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