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.
Imagine you have just passed your driving test. After many hours of careful instruction, you are keen to put your good driving habits to the test on the open road. You phone up your insurance company but discover that your insurance premiums will cost you hundreds of pounds more than you can afford because “newly-qualified drivers are worse than average”. This post is about how developments in the car insurance market have the potential to revolutionise the way we drive and how we guard against the risks of bangs, scrapes and scratches. The increased use of telematics (also known as black boxes) has important implications for anyone who might consider driving, policymakers and for society as a whole.
Alex Ntelekos, Dimitris Papachristou and Juan Duan
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was the fifth most active in 168 years. It was also one of only six seasons to see multiple Cat 5 hurricanes (Irma & Maria). These two hurricanes, followed similar tracks and, together with Hurricane Harvey, occurred close together. This situation can hinder relief efforts. For insurers it may also lead to resource strain, disputes and unhedged risks, if insurers do not have enough ‘sideways’ reinsurance cover. Our post asks whether three major hurricanes occurring in the US in close succession really was exceptional or, as our analysis of recent data suggests, it might happen more often in future. Is the insurance industry underestimating the likely ‘clustering’ of major hurricanes?
Correlation matrices arise in many applications to model the dependence between variables. Where there is incomplete or missing information for the variables, this may lead to missing values in the correlation matrix itself, and the problem of how to complete the matrix. We show that some of these practical problems can be solved explicitly, via simple formulae, and we explain how to use mathematical tools to solve the more general problem where explicit solutions may not exist. “Simple” is, of course, a relative term, and the underlying matrix algebra and optimization necessarily makes this article more mathematically sophisticated than the typical Bank Underground post.
Risky asset prices plummeted following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Whilst driven partly by deteriorations in fundamental news, these falls were amplified by ‘flighty’ investors that sold at the first signs of trouble. Conventional wisdom dictates that life insurers, with their long-term investment horizons, are better placed than most to ‘lean against the wind’ by looking through short-term fluctuations in asset prices. They could thereby stabilise prices when others are selling. But the structure of regulations can greatly influence insurers’ investment incentives. Using our model of insurers’ asset allocations, we find that new ‘Solvency II’ regulations reduce UK life insurers’ willingness to act as the white knights of financial markets, particularly in the face of falling interest rates.
In 2020 Google plans to launch a self-driving car which has already driven nearly one million miles without causing an accident; it doesn’t get tired and irritable, swerve into lamp posts or require a driving test. The in-built chauffeur comes in the form of a rotating LIDAR laser taking 1.3 million recordings per second, and it’s a better driver than you. By eliminating the element of human blunders, driverless cars are forecast to reduce motor accidents by up to 90% in the US according to McKinsey. That might imply a substantial impact on the insurance industry, with liability potentially shifting to car manufacturers. Such developments would pose challenging questions for the PRA in regulating UK insurance firms.