How competitive are UK insurance markets?

Fraser Drew, David Humphry, Michael Straughan and Eleanor Watson

For most of us buying insurance nowadays, price comparison websites offer plenty of choice. But how much competition in insurance markets is there? There are very few studies that address this question (see here for a summary), unlike for banking where there is a wide literature. We take an exploratory approach to address the question, applying benchmarks used in competition research to a unique set of reporting data across multiple UK insurance regulatory regimes, with the hope of stimulating further work. We find competition generally works well in UK life and non-life insurance markets, despite increases in life market concentration over the past 25 years. However, competition regulators have found practices in specific markets that harm consumers.

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How Britain paid for war: bond holders in the Great War 1914-32

Norma Cohen

This post contributes to our occasional series of guest posts by external researchers who have used the Bank of England’s archives for their work on subjects outside traditional central banking topics.

In August 1914, Britain was the world’s wealthiest country. Yet there was no guarantee that government would be able to harness that wealth for World War I. Effectively, Britain was forced into a ‘Battle for Capital’ simultaneous with its military efforts — with the efficacy of the latter dependent on the success of the former. Over 80% of the £7,280 million Britain borrowed from 1914 to 1919, was raised at home. New research shows that Britain’s desperate efforts to marshal its citizens’ capital for the purpose of war, while also struggling to direct wartime production, profits and labour, led to a sharp shift in the sources of its borrowings during the war and in the years after.

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Planes, boats and automobiles: a discussion of machine learning with telematics data

Ali Soliman

Data plays a central role in all technical aspects of insurance and actuarial work. However, utilisation is often still confined to aggregate premium and claims data. Not so in the case of telematics. Say the phrase ‘black box’ and most people will think of flight recorders fitted to aircraft. But Motor insurers also use the millions of data points generated by black boxes, fitted to more than a million cars in the UK, to price risks. What’s more Marine insurers are getting in on the act. In this post we take an actuarial vantage to explore the use of telematics data and consider whether insurers could be using this ‘gold mine’ of information even more widely.  

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How does international capital flow?

Michael Kumhof, Phurichai Rungcharoenkitkul and Andrej Sokol

Understanding gross capital flows is crucial for both macroeconomic and financial stability policy. However, theory is lagging behind empirical work, as much of the literature continues to rely on net capital flow models developed many decades ago. Missing from these models is an explicit tracking of the financial records underlying all goods and asset purchases, namely gross balance sheet positions, which in turn requires modelling the principal medium of exchange, bank deposits. Our new model features gross capital flows and offers a fresh perspective on important policy debates, such as the role of current accounts as indicators of financial fragility, the nature of the global saving glut, Triffin’s current account dilemma, and the synchronisation of gross capital inflows and outflows.

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2020 hindsight: what can supervisors learn from the collapse of Barings Bank 25 years on?

Ben Dubow

This year marks 25 years since the failure of Barings Bank. On Sunday 26 February 1995, the 200-year old merchant bank blew up thanks to derivatives trading, which it believed was both risk-free and highly profitable. It was neither of these things. The firm’s star trader was illicitly pursuing a strategy akin to ‘picking up pennies in front of a steam-roller‘. The steamroller arrived in the form the Kobe earthquake. The star trader’s losses ballooned and he doubled up on his bets, unsuccessfully. Barings went bankrupt. The episode captured the public imagination, and helped lead to the creation of a new regulator in the UK. 

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Capital flights during Covid-19

Fernando Eguren-Martin, Cian O’Neill, Andrej Sokol and Lukas von dem Berge

While planes were grounded, capital flew out of emerging market economies in response to the acceleration in the spread of the virus in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Was this capital flight predictable once you account for the sudden deterioration in the global financial environment? In this post we present a model that helps to think about how financial conditions and international capital flows are linked. We then apply this methodology to events observed between March and May 2020, and find that the model predicted a large increase in the likelihood of capital flight. However, the scale of outflows was abnormally large even once the sharp tightening in financial conditions is accounted for.

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Covid-19 briefing: extensions to the SIR model

John Lewis

The SIR model, first developed by Kermack and McKendrick (1927), remains the canonical epidemiological model. It a natural choice for economists seeking to model the interplay between economic and epidemiological dynamics. This briefing surveys some of the many adaptations to the basic SIR setup which have emerged in the epi-macro literature over the past six months. These have all been used to analyse issues such as lockdown policies, super-spreaders, herd immunity, hospital capacity and ‘test- and-trace’.

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Separating deposit-taking from investment banking: new evidence on an old question

Matthieu Chavaz and David Elliott

On 16 June 1933, as the nationwide banking crisis was reaching a new peak, freshly elected US President Franklin D. Roosevelt put his signature at the bottom of a 37-page document: the Glass-Steagall Act. Eight decades later, the debate still rages on: should retail and investment banking be separated, as Glass-Steagall required? In a recent paper, we shed new light on the consequences of this type of regulation by examining the recent UK ‘ring-fencing’ legislation. We show that ring-fencing has an important impact on banking groups’ funding structures, and find that this incentivises banks to rebalance their activities towards retail mortgage lending and away from capital markets, with important knock-on effects for competition and risk-taking across the wider banking system.

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