Insurers: Asset Management’s Saviors?

Ultra-low interest rates are placing more emphasis on asset classes that insurance companies cannot manage in-house, surveys show.

As the world’s largest pension funds bring more investment capabilities in house, asset managers are turning towards insurers as their new saviors, two industry surveys indicate.

While pensions have been reducing their reliance on third-party asset managers, ultra-low interest rates and bond yields mean insurance companies have been diversifying into new asset classes of which they have little knowledge internally.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of insurers surveyed by Clear Path Analysis were seeking to outsource some asset management. Fixed income, infrastructure, and private equity were the asset classes most likely to be outsourced, the survey showed. Within fixed income, corporate loans, infrastructure debt, and residential mortgages are all of interest to various groups of insurers.

The survey also found that 13% of continental European insurers were seeking outsourced expertise across all assets, while just 5% of UK-based insurers felt the same.

This year alone, asset managers including AXA, Aberdeen, Columbia Threadneedle, JP Morgan, and Lombard Odier have hired in insurance experts to target the European insurance market. More than half (57%) of managers now have dedicated insurance teams, according to a separate survey by consultancy firm Prometeia.

Asset managers expect to grow their share of the insurance market by roughly €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) in the coming years, bringing their total assets in the sector to €4.5 trillion, Prometeia reported.

“According to expectations, medium and small managers would experience higher growth rates (13% to 14% a year), with an increasing role [for] non-captive managers—growing twice as fast as insurance players,” the consultant wrote. “Significant opportunities are seen also by alternative managers, which can ride the tailwind generated by the low yield environment.”

As well as investment expertise, insurers are also seeking risk management and strategic asset allocation advice, Prometeia said. Complying with Solvency II rules—which include limits on the amount insurers can invest in risky assets and a requirement to hold cash buffers—is also an area of concern, the consultant added.

Last month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that low interest rates threaten the solvency of insurers and pension funds. Insurance companies in Germany and Japan, which often offer guaranteed returns, are at risk of “an eroded asset-liability management gap as policies continue to pay out a return higher than current rates,” the IMF said. It highlighted a need for “high and robust standards” on insurance capital—but warned that chances for consensus on an international standard have been threatened by Brexit and the disinclination of the US Federal Reserve to adopt such a standard.

Related: Are Insurance Giants Giving Up on Hedge Funds? & IMF: Low Rates Threaten Solvency of Pensions, Insurers