Note on risk factors
General impact of adverse market conditions
The recent temporary federal government shutdown in the United States and politicised discussions over increasing the U.S. debt limit, the market reaction to prospects of a tapering of the Federal Reserve’s asset purchase programme, and recent pessimistic global growth forecasts by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Monetary Fund, among others, highlight the continued uncertainties around the post-crisis recovery and the risks that the world economy continues to face. In the European Union, it remains unclear whether proposals for a single resolution mechanism and other components of a banking union, as well as actions of the European Central Bank or the outcome of the upcoming European parliament elections, will create the conditions necessary for increased bank lending and greater economic growth. The volatility in the financial and credit markets could increase the severity and duration of economic recession, cause more economic turmoil in the near term, cause further disruptions in the global financial markets and impact foreign currency exchange rates. These uncertainties could be exacerbated by the uncertainty over the pace and extent of future economic growth in emerging markets. These developments in turn could have an adverse impact on the investment results of Swiss Re Ltd (“Swiss Re”) and its direct or indirect subsidiaries (collectively, the “Group” or the “Swiss Re Group”), the Group’s ability to access the capital markets and the bank funding market, the ability of counterparties to meet their obligations to the Group and the short-term outlook for the life insurance industry, particularly in North America and Europe, with a corresponding negative impact on the Group’s Life & Health business.
The foregoing developments could have material adverse effects on the Group’s industry and on the Group.
Swiss Re and its subsidiaries are subject to Group supervision, and some of its subsidiaries are regulated in a number of jurisdictions in which they conduct business. New legislation as well as changes to existing legislation have been proposed and/or recently adopted in a number of jurisdictions that are expected to alter, in a variety of ways, the manner in which the financial services industry is regulated. Although it is difficult to predict which proposals will become law and when and how new legislation ultimately will be implemented by regulators (including in respect of the extraterritorial effect of reforms), it is likely that significant aspects of existing regulatory regimes governing financial services will change. These include changes as to which governmental bodies regulate financial institutions, changes in the way financial institutions generally are regulated, enhanced governmental authority to take control over operations of financial institutions, restrictions on the conduct of certain lines of business, changes in the way financial institutions account for transactions and securities positions, changes in disclosure obligations and changes in the way rating agencies rate the creditworthiness and financial strength of financial institutions.
Although early regulatory efforts were focused primarily on banking institutions, there is a noticeable trend to extend the scope of proposals beyond banks to cover insurance and reinsurance operations. Legislative initiatives directly impacting the Group’s industry include the establishment of a pan-European regulator for insurance companies, the European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority (the “EIOPA”), which has the power to overrule national regulators in certain circumstances. In addition, Swiss Re as a Group is subject to the Swiss Solvency Test, and will be subject to Solvency II, which is expected to enter into force 1 January 2016. In the United States, as a possible step towards federal oversight of insurance, the US Congress created the Federal Insurance Office within the Department of Treasury and, more recently, as a result of the Solvency Modernization Initiative of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, we are experiencing greater US scrutiny of our global operations and more extensive reporting obligations. In addition, provisions of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, as well as provisions in the proposed European Market Infrastructure Regulation and proposed changes to the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), in respect of derivatives could have a significant impact on the Group.
Other changes remain focused principally on banking institutions, but some could have direct applicability to insurance or reinsurance operations and others could have a general impact on the regulatory landscape for financial institutions, which might indirectly impact our capital requirements and/or required reserve levels or have other direct or indirect effects on the Group. Changes are particularly likely to impact financial institutions designated as “systemically important”, a designation which is expected to result in enhanced regulatory supervision and heightened capital, liquidity and diversification requirements under evolving reforms. There is an emerging focus on classifying certain insurance companies as systemically important as well. The Group could be designated as a global systemically important financial institution. Separately, the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, an international body that represents insurance regulators and supervisors, published a methodology for identifying global systemically important insurers (G-SIIs) and a framework for supervision of internationally active insurance groups. Initial designation of insurers as G-SIIs took place in July 2013, and initial designation of reinsurers as G-SIIs is expected in July 2014. The Group could be subject to one or both of the resulting regimes, once implemented. In particular, the Group believes that there is a reasonable likelihood that it will be designated as a G-SII when the initial reinsurer designations are issued.
Significant policy decisions on a range of regulatory changes that could affect us and our operations remain undecided. The Group cannot predict which legislative and regulatory initiatives ultimately will be enacted or promulgated, what the scope and content of these initiatives ultimately will be, when they will be effective and what the implications will be for the industry, in general, and for the Group, in particular. Certain of these initiatives could have a material impact on the Group’s business.
In addition, regulatory changes could occur in areas of broader application, such as competition policy and tax laws. Changes in tax laws, for example, could increase the taxes the Group pays, the attractiveness of products offered by the Group, the Group’s investment activities and the value of deferred tax assets. Any number of these changes could apply to the Group and its operations. These changes, or inconsistencies between the various regimes that apply or will apply to the Group, could increase the costs of doing business, reduce access to liquidity, limit the scope of business or affect the competitive balance, or could make reinsurance less attractive to primary insurers.
Volatility and disruption in the global financial markets can expose the Group to significant financial and capital markets risk, including changes in interest rates, credit spreads, equity prices and foreign currency exchange rates, which may adversely impact the Group’s financial condition, results of operations, liquidity and capital position. The Group’s exposure to interest rate risk is primarily related to the market price and cash flow variability associated with changes in interest rates. Exposure to credit spreads primarily relates to market price and cash flow variability associated with changes in credit spreads. When credit spreads widen, the net unrealised loss position of the Group’s investment portfolio can increase, as could other-than-temporary impairments. With respect to equity prices, the Group is exposed to changes in the level and volatility of equity prices, as they affect the value of equity securities themselves as well as the value of securities or instruments that derive their value from a particular equity security, a basket of equity securities or a stock index. The Group is also subject to equity price risk to the extent that the values of life-related benefits under certain products and life contracts, most notably variable annuity business, are tied to financial market values; to the extent market values fall, the financial exposure on guarantees related to these contracts would increase to the extent this exposure is not hedged. While the Group has discontinued writing new variable annuity business and has in place an extensive hedging programme covering its existing variable annuity business that it believes is sufficient, certain risks cannot be hedged, including actuarial risks, basis risk and correlation risk. Exposure to foreign exchange risk arises from exposures to changes in spot prices and forward prices as well as to volatile movements in exchange rates.
These risks can have a significant effect on investment returns and market values of securities positions, which in turn may affect both the Group’s results of operations and financial condition. The Group continues to focus on asset-liability management for its investment portfolio, but pursuing even this strategy has its risks – including possible mismatch – that in turn can lead to reinvestment risk. The Group seeks to manage the risks inherent in its investment portfolio by repositioning the portfolio from time to time, as needed, and to reduce risk and fluctuations through the use of hedges and other risk management tools.
If the credit markets were again to deteriorate and further asset classes were to be impacted, the Group could experience further losses. Changes in the market value of the underlying securities and other factors impacting their price could give rise to market value losses. If the credit markets were to deteriorate again, the Group could also face further write-downs in other areas of its portfolio, including other structured instruments, and the Group and its counterparties could once again face difficulties in valuing credit-related instruments. Differences in opinion with respect to valuations of credit-related instruments could result in legal disputes among the Group and its counterparties as to their respective obligations, the outcomes of which are difficult to predict and could be material.
The Group’s business requires, and its clients expect, that it has sufficient capital and sufficient liquidity to meet its reinsurance obligations, and that this would continue to be the case following the occurrence of any foreseeable event or series of events, including extreme catastrophes, that would trigger insurance or reinsurance coverage obligations. The Group’s uses of funds include obligations arising in its reinsurance business (including claims and other payments as well as insurance provision repayments due to portfolio transfers, securitisations and commutations), which may include large and unpredictable claims (including catastrophe claims), funding of capital requirements and operating costs, payment of principal and interest on outstanding indebtedness and funding of acquisitions. The Group also has unfunded capital commitments in its private equity and hedge fund investments, which could result in funding obligations at a time when it is subject to liquidity constraints. In addition, the Group has potential collateral requirements in connection with a number of reinsurance arrangements, the amounts of which may be material and the meeting of which could require the Group to liquidate cash equivalents or other securities. The Group manages liquidity and funding risks by focusing on the liquidity stress that is likely to result from extreme capital markets scenarios or from extreme loss events, or combinations of the two. Generally, the ability to meet liquidity needs could be adversely impacted by factors that the Group cannot control, such as market dislocations or interruptions, adverse economic conditions, severe disruption in the financial and worldwide credit markets and the related increased constraints on the availability of credit; changes in interest rates, foreign exchange rates and credit spreads; or by perceptions among market participants of the extent of the Group’s liquidity needs.
The Group may not be able to secure new sources of liquidity or funding, should projected or actual liquidity fall below levels it requires. The ability to meet liquidity needs through asset sales may be constrained by market conditions and the related stress on valuations, and through third-party funding may be limited by constraints on the general availability of credit and willingness of lenders to lend. In addition, the Group’s ability to meet liquidity needs may also be constrained by regulatory requirements that require regulated entities to maintain or increase regulatory capital, or that restrict intra-group transactions, the timing of dividend payments from subsidiaries or the fact that certain assets may be encumbered or otherwise non-tradable. Failure to meet covenants in lending arrangements could give rise to collateral-posting or defaults, and further constrain access to liquidity. Finally, any adverse ratings action could trigger a need for further liquidity (for example, by triggering termination provisions or collateral delivery requirements in contracts to which the Group is a party) at a time when the Group’s ability to obtain liquidity from external sources is limited by such ratings action.
The Group’s general exposure to counterparty risk was heightened during the credit crisis, and this risk could still be exacerbated to the extent defaults, or concerns about possible defaults, by certain market participants trigger more systemic concerns about liquidity. Losses due to defaults by counterparties, including issuers of investment securities (which include structured securities) or derivative instrument counterparties, could adversely affect the Group. In addition, trading counterparties, counterparties under swaps and other derivative contracts, and financial intermediaries may default on their obligations due to bankruptcy, insolvency, lack of liquidity, adverse economic conditions, operational failure, fraud or other reasons, which could also have a material adverse effect on the Group.
The Group could also be adversely affected by the insolvency of, or other credit constraints affecting, counterparties in its reinsurance operations. Moreover, the Group could be adversely affected by liquidity issues at ceding companies or at third parties to whom the Group has retroceded risk, and such risk could be exacerbated to the extent any such exposures are concentrated.
Risks relating to credit rating downgrades
Ratings are an important factor in establishing the competitive position of reinsurance companies, and market conditions could increase the risk of downgrade. Third-party rating agencies assess and rate the financial strength of reinsurers and insurers. These ratings are intended to measure a company’s ability to repay its obligations and are based upon criteria established by the rating agencies.
The Group’s ratings reflect the current opinion of the relevant rating agencies. One or more of its ratings could be downgraded or withdrawn in the future. Rating agencies may increase the frequency and scope of ratings reviews, revise their criteria or take other actions that may negatively impact the Group’s ratings. In addition, changes to the process or methodology of issuing ratings, or the occurrence of events or developments affecting the Group, could make it more difficult for the Group to achieve improved ratings, which it would otherwise have expected.
As claims paying and financial strength ratings are key factors in establishing the competitive position of reinsurers, a decline in ratings alone could make reinsurance provided by the Group less attractive to clients relative to reinsurance from competitors with similar or stronger ratings. A decline in ratings could also cause the loss of clients who are required by either policy or regulation to purchase reinsurance only from reinsurers with certain ratings. A decline in ratings could also impact the availability and terms of unsecured financing and obligate the Group to provide collateral or other guarantees in the course of its reinsurance business or trigger early termination of funding arrangements. Any rating downgrades could also have a material adverse impact on the Group’s costs of borrowing and limit its access to the capital markets. Further negative ratings action could also impact reinsurance contracts.
Legal and regulatory risks
In the ordinary course of business, the Group is involved in lawsuits, arbitrations and other formal and informal dispute resolution procedures, the outcomes of which determine rights and obligations under insurance, reinsurance and other contractual agreements. From time to time, the Group may institute, or be named as a defendant in, legal proceedings, and the Group may be a claimant or respondent in arbitration proceedings. These proceedings could involve coverage or other disputes with ceding companies, disputes with parties to which the Group transfers risk under reinsurance arrangements, disputes with other counterparties or other matters. The Group cannot predict the outcome of any of the foregoing, which could be material for the Group.
The Group is also involved, from time to time, in investigations and regulatory proceedings, certain of which could result in adverse judgments, settlements, fines and other outcomes. The number of these investigations and proceedings involving the financial services industry has increased in recent years, and the potential scope of these investigations and proceedings has also increased, not only in respect of matters covered by the Group’s direct regulators, but also in respect of compliance with broader business conduct rules, such as market abuse regulations, anti-bribery legislation, anti-money laundering legislation and trade sanctions legislation. The Group also is subject to audits and challenges from time to time by tax authorities, which could result in increases in tax costs, changes to internal structures and interests and penalties. The Group could be subject to risks arising from alleged, or actual, violations of any of the foregoing, and could also be subject to risks arising from potential employee misconduct, including non-compliance with internal policies and procedures. Substantial legal liability could materially adversely affect the Group’s business, financial condition or results of operations or could cause significant reputational harm, which could seriously affect its business.
Insurance, operational and other risks
As part of the Group’s ordinary course of operations, the Group is subject to a variety of risks, including risks that reserves may not adequately cover future claims and benefits, risks that catastrophic events (including hurricanes, windstorms, floods, earthquakes, acts of terrorism, man-made disasters such as industrial accidents, explosions, and fires, and pandemics) may expose the Group to unexpected large losses (and related uncertainties in estimating future claims in respect of such events); changes in the insurance industry that affect ceding companies, particularly those that further increase their sensitivity to counterparty risk; competitive conditions; cyclicality of the industry; risks related to emerging claims and coverage issues (including, for example, trends to establish stricter building standards, which can lead to higher industry losses for earthquake cover based on higher replacement values); risks arising from the Group’s dependence on policies, procedures and expertise of ceding companies; risks related to investments in emerging markets; and risks related to the failure of operational systems and infrastructure. In addition, the occurrence of future risks that the Group’s risk management procedures fail to identify or anticipate could have a material adverse effect on the Group. Any of the foregoing, as well as other concerns in respect of the Group’s business, could also give rise to reputational risk.
Use of models; accounting matters
The Group is subject to risks relating to the preparation of estimates and assumptions that management uses, for example, as part of its risk models as well as those that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses in the Group’s financial statements, including assumed and ceded business. For example, the Group estimates premiums pending receipt of actual data from ceding companies, and such actual data could deviate from the Group’s estimates. In addition, particularly with respect to large natural catastrophes, it may be difficult to estimate losses, and preliminary estimates may be subject to a high degree of uncertainty and change as new information becomes available. Deterioration in market conditions could have an adverse impact on assumptions used for financial reporting purposes, which could affect possible impairment of present value of future profits, fair value of assets and liabilities, deferred acquisition costs or goodwill. To the extent that management’s estimates or assumptions prove to be incorrect, it could have a material impact on underwriting results (in the case of risk models) or on reported financial condition or results of operations, and such impact could be material.
The Group’s results may be impacted by changes in accounting standards, or changes in the interpretation of accounting standards. The Group’s results may also be impacted if regulatory authorities take issue with any conclusions the Group may reach in respect of accounting matters. Changes in accounting standards could impact future reported results or require restatement of past reported results.
The Group uses non-GAAP financial measures in its external reporting, including in this report. These measures are not prepared in accordance with US GAAP or any other comprehensive set of accounting rules or principles, and should not be viewed as a substitute for measures prepared in accordance with US GAAP. Moreover, these may be different from or otherwise inconsistent with non-GAAP financial measures used by other companies. These measures have inherent limitations, are not required to be uniformly applied and are not audited.
Risks related to the Swiss Re corporate structure
Swiss Re is a holding company, a legal entity separate and distinct from its subsidiaries, including Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd. As a holding company with no operations of its own, Swiss Re is dependent upon dividends and other payments from Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd and its other principal operating subsidiaries.