Capacity, Consumer Protections Isolate Risk in Insurance

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 16, 2009) - Testifying today on behalf of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), Illinois Insurance Director Michael McRaith addressed the role of systemic risk in insurance. His testimony focused on the inherently compatible role of state regulation in any sound approach to systemic risk regulation.

"Insurance companies are more often the conduits or receivers of risk rather than the creators since the assumption of risk, after all, is fundamental to the insurance business," McRaith told members of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises. "With respect to systemic risk, insurers also do not originate risk, but most often receive risk - a fact that provides ample motivation to close regulatory gaps and encourage greater financial stability."

McRaith highlighted the fact that insurers' exposure to systemic risk typically flows from linkages to the capital markets. Citing AIG as an example, McRaith noted that AIG's unregulated credit default swap (CDS) transactions impaired the holding company, resulting in a downgrade that threatened policyholders' confidence in the otherwise stable insurance subsidiaries. He also pointed out that AIG's insurance companies were directly exposed to systemic risk through securities lending partnerships with other financial institutions.

Noting that the insurance industry has fared better than its banking and securities counterparts in the current economic crisis, McRaith testified, "Insurers' high capitalization requirements and low leverage have kept them from incurring the steep losses faced by other financial institutions." He cited the state guaranty fund system as an essential backstop to protect insurance policyholders in the event an insurance company were to fail.

"The state-based insurance regulatory system is one of critical checks and balances, without the perils of a single point of failure and omnipotent decision making," McRaith emphasized. "States have a long history of consumer protection and market stability - the two pillars on which any system of financial stability regulation can, and must, be built."

Click HERE for full text of McRaith's testimony.

About the NAIC

Formed in 1871, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is a voluntary organization of the chief insurance regulatory officials of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. The NAIC has three offices: Executive Office, Washington, D.C.; Central Office, Kansas City, Mo.; and Securities Valuation Office, New York City. The NAIC serves the needs of consumers and the industry, with an overriding objective of supporting state insurance regulators as they protect consumers and maintain the financial stability of the insurance marketplace. For more information, visit

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