Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance in Talks With Watchdog on Virus Shock

By Patrick Winters and Marion Halftermeyer | March 20, 2020

Switzerland’s top insurance companies are in talks with the financial regulator about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on their capital buffers and their business, according to people familiar with the matter.

The watchdog contacted Swiss Re AG, Zurich Insurance Group AG, Swiss Life Holding AG and other local insurers to discuss capital and liquidity issues after the market slump and ahead of an expected wave of claims related to coronavirus deaths, cancellations and business disruption, the people said, asking not to be identified talks are private.

The regulator, known as Finma, is in “close contact” with the institutions that it regulates in such situations, a spokesman said, adding that it’s closely monitoring the situation and possible effects. Insurers are likely to be more impacted by the correction in financial markets than by claims, he said, declining to comment on specific companies.

Insurers — as well as the re-insurers who take up their losses — are assessing the cost of disruptions related to the virus – which has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 and put swathes of the U.S. and Europe on lockdown. The industry has worked to reduce its exposure to pandemics since the 2003 outbreak of SARS in Asia. Over recent years, thats included tightening their policies by inserting communicable-disease exclusions in contracts.

A Zurich and Swiss Re spokesperson declined to comment. Swiss Life said that and other insurers are “regularly in exchange with the supervisory authority Finma regarding their business activities. As a matter of principle, we do not comment on our ongoing exchange with Finma.”

Insurers that fall under Finma’s regulation have solvency ratios that are on average well over the required minimum, the watchdog said. Capital buffers built up over the years can also be used in case that’s required, Finma said.

Munich Re and Swiss Re, the world’s two biggest re-insurers, in recent days sought to reassure investors that the virus would have a limited impact on their businesses.

“Even in the very unlikely scenario of a worldwide pandemic equivalent to a 200-year event, Munich Re would face a maximum of 1.4 billion euros in life and health insurance claims – similar in scope to a medium-sized natural catastrophe in property-casualty reinsurance,” the firm said in its annual report on Wednesday. It doesn’t expect the coronavirus outbreak to have any overall material effect on annual results.

The major impact of Covid-19 on the insurance industry to date is on the asset side of the balance sheet, Swiss Re chief financial officer John Dacey said at an investor conference on Thursday. The company put in place hedges to mitigate the economic impacts of falling equity prices and widening credit spreads and sees the impact to be entirely manageable at this point, he said.

–With assistance from Stephan Kahl.

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