EIOPA Conference 2012: searching for the functional compromise

22 November 2012 — Daniela GHETU
eveniment_frankfurtBeyond diplomatic courtesy displayed, the 2012 edition of the annual meeting of EIOPA - the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, with affiliates and the European insurance and private pension markets players, revealed a certain tightness. Wednesday in Frankfurt discussions have highlighted industry's discontent and frustration in relation to the trend the European regulatory activity appears to take, and the slowness of decision making and implementation.

The difference between the well-known need for watershed action, with generally accepted conclusions, specific to European authorities and the cry for efficiency and clarity of the business environment was more visible than ever.

One of the opinions that have emerged most strongly could be summarized as follows: in an attempt to build a comprehensive regulation, Solvency II is about to become a "mammoth" directive that has already abandoned the principles of simplicity and, worse than that, begins to lose sight of the original objective - protecting the interests of insurance consumers. It is not only insurance and private pension providers' opinion, but also that of the entities representing consumer interests. Simply put, to protect the interests of consumers means to provide access to affordable financial products, properly structured and transparently managed, with a reasonable degree of financial security. The word "reasonable" is, in this context, of a well defined relevance, given the escalating costs induced by the additional safety measures. There is a common perception that products offered in these conditions could be "perfect", but out of reach to the general public, leading to quitting protection and / or savings, which is not in the interests of the broad masses of consumers.

Another topic repeatedly mentioned was that of the slowness of the European regulatory process. Present authorities - EIOPA, the European Commission, IAIS etc. - recognize that the analysis, debate and adoption procedures of the European regulations are long lasting. On the other hand, industries subjected to these regulations are not standing still waiting for the new legal framework's shaping, the financial environment is continuously evolving, so that new legislation could be easily outdated just before launch. Finding a functional compromise between these two conflicting tendencies became an issue by itself and not a collateral one.

Finally, long-term investments and long-term guarantees are also controversial issues. The main source of dissatisfaction relates to the mark-to-market benchmarking system which largely contradicts with the "long term" approach specific to the pension funds and life insurers' investments. In this context, forcing such investors to comply a short-term oriented benchmark may be contrary to the essential interests of their clients.

To conclude this brief review ... while the authorities are frequently referring to financial stability and safety systems, the industry is mostly talking about protecting the consumers and shareholders interests. Where are these lines of speech meeting?

Certainly, in the market. It remains to be seen what kind of effects will result for those who are, at least theoretically, the final beneficiaries - the consumers.

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