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COMMENTS

ESG Industry Report Card: Asia-Pacific Insurance Companies


ESG Industry Report Card: Asia-Pacific Insurance Companies

(Editor's Note: Our ESG Industry Report Card includes an analysis of ESG factors for a selection of the insurance companies in Asia Pacific. )

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors affect the insurance industry both directly and, more than other sectors, also indirectly. The direct risks and opportunities for insurers are in realms such as in treating customers fairly, ensuring proper governance and transparency, and enabling gender equality in their workforce. Indirectly, in their role as risk carriers, insurers also assume their counterparties' exposure to risks through their investment portfolios and insurance liabilities. S&P Global Ratings believes that in many cases, the indirect sources of ESG risk can be more material than the direct sources.

We incorporate ESG factors into our analysis where we believe related risks and opportunities are both material and relevant to creditworthiness. The influence of ESG credit factors on our ratings depends on our opinion on the degree to which they influence an insurer's capacity and willingness to meet its financial commitments. Our analysis can incorporate both qualitative and quantitative factors and do not have a specific time horizon (see "The Role Of Environmental, Social, And Governance Credit Factors In Our Ratings Analysis," Sept. 12, 2019).

This influence could be reflected through our insurance industry and country risk assessment which incorporates our view of institutional and governance effectiveness and regulatory framework and governance standards, amongst other factors. An insurer's competitive position may also be affected by exposure to ESG risks and opportunities which could affect the strength of its brand and reputation and, in turn, growth and profitability. Our assessment of an insurer's financial risk profile includes a forward view of capital adequacy. Given uncertainty around the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events and quantitative impact on catastrophe models, we can include adjustments in our capital adequacy or risk exposure analysis for an insurer's catastrophe exposure and exposure management effectiveness. Additionally, ESG credit factors impacting investment assets may also revise our risk exposure assessment. Our assessment of an insurer's governance, including risk culture, is explicitly assessed in our rating methodology and may be a neutral or negative adjustment.

Considering the continued growth of investor, consumer and regulator interest in ESG considerations, we are providing greater transparency regarding ESG factors as ratings considerations and how these factors can support credit quality or elevate risk. Here we explore the relative exposures of ESG credit factors that influence the credit quality of insurers in Asia-Pacific including the largest insurance groups in the region as well as those who we believe are more exposed to environmental, social and governance risks or opportunities when compared to the global insurance market.

Material ESG credit factors influenced about 5% of our total rated insurers in Asia Pacific. Not surprisingly, environmental risk is influencing reinsurers' credit quality where catastrophe exposure heightens the risk exposure, while social factors are more relevant to life and health insurers' creditworthiness. Positive examples of social factors in the region tend to be aligned with mutual ownership and activity in the health and medical sectors. In our view, governance is increasingly important to maintain public trust. This factor is more likely to be a negative drag for insurers in the region, as reflected in recent examples of regulatory intervention or breakdowns in risk management culture and compliance standards.

Environmental

The insurance industry's exposure to environmental risk is largely through its underwriting and investment activities. Our assessment of the influence of environmental factors on the credit rating takes into account how a company's product offerings and performance could be affected by the influence of the environment. While most of the environmental exposure goes to P/C insurers and reinsurers that underwrite property risks, some events such as recent bushfires in Australia have a broader reach across insurance product lines, including life and liability. These impacts extend beyond the immediate effect of climate on claims resulting from natural perils or catastrophes to include actions undertaken to minimize insurers' footprint and enhance renewables directly or indirectly (such as through investment actions). Our consideration of the impact to ratings is based on an individual company's ability to adjust, re-price, mitigate, and manage its exposure through proactive management.

Social

We assess an insurer's social exposure, and differentiation from peers, through its impact on existing clients or members along with the broader society. In Asia-Pacific, social exposure is more relevant to life and health insurers given their susceptibility to demographic changes, such as consumer behavior, mortality, and morbidity trends. Given less-penetrated insurance markets in the region, significant opportunity remains for insurers to bridge the gap of protection needs. Relative to the U.S., we have observed less social inflation (such as rising legal risks or higher court awards), but see this increasing with growing consumer expectation, litigation financing, and regulatory oversight. We examine whether insurers can provide products to fulfill needs among dynamic demographic profiles and consumer behaviors, and whether the company's credit profile is affected by these efforts.

Governance

We monitor a broad range of governance oversight and direction conducted by an insurer's owners, board, executives and managers, to identify any differentiation from that of peers. We examine insurers' board independence and its presence of professional directors engaged in risk oversight, the quality of public disclosures, and effective communication to various stakeholders. Furthermore, our assessment of governance is informed by our view of an insurer's risk management culture, including its risk-appetite framework and track record of regulatory, tax, and legal infractions.

ESG Risks In Asia-Pacific Insurance

The table below covers reinsurers; property and casualty (P/C) insurers; and life and health insurers. It covers general ESG credit factors embedded in our ratings assigned to large insurance companies as well as on rated insurers whose ESG credit factors are viewed as material.

Company/Financial strength rating*/Comments Analyst
AMP Ltd.(A-/Negative/--)  
The ratings on AMP group are more affected by governance related risks than environmental and social factors. Governance concerns in the fallout of the recent financial services Royal Commission weakened the credit quality of AMP group, including AMP Life Ltd. The hearings led to high-profile disclosures of misconduct (including fees for no services rendered) and various failures in regulatory disclosures in the group's broader advice and wealth businesses. These issues contributed to the resignation of the group's CEO, the early retirement of multiple board members including the chairperson and implementation of a widespread remediation program. These governance issues have also formed the basis of multiple class-action lawsuits. The subsequent brand damage undermined its business profile with high asset management outflows compared with industry, and reduced market confidence. We have also calculated lower-than-expected capital adequacy under our measurements, due to a material decline in embedded value with lower--than anticipated future profits. AMP reported a A$2.35 billion impairment charge at June 30, 2019 largely relating to a write-down of goodwill and capitalized costs borne primarily by its tarnished financial advice business. We view the social risk exposure of AMP group as more benign as a diversified asset-management, banking and insurance group, albeit its life insurance business will be divested shortly. AMP group's exposure to environmental risk factors is limited as a financial services business. AMP group, including through its global asset management business, has a public commitment to sustainability through reducing its environmental footprint and responsible investing. Kelvin J Bannan
China Life Insurance Co. Ltd.(A+/Stable/--)  
We see China Life's social role is a more supportive ESG factors, compared with peers. China Life's participation in providing micro-insurance, particularly policy-oriented health insurance and medical insurance, supports its social role as a government–related insurer. Since its establishment, the leading life insurer has contributed to various government initiatives by improving affordability of insurance coverage to mass, especially for those living in smaller cities. Furthermore, China Life has stronger access versus domestic peers' to China's less-developed inland areas. We believes this gives China Life a bigger role in improving social insurance coverage for citizens as the government embarks on gradual privatization of health and medical care. We view China Life's social role as a supporting factor for its government-related entity status. China Life benefits from a very high likelihood of receiving timely extraordinary support from the Chinese government. In our view, China Life has good transparency given its listing in three stock exchanges (New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai). As one of the major players within the world's second largest insurance market, we expect China Life's risk management framework to closely follow the ongoing enhancement of China Risk Oriented Solvency System. Judy Chen
China Reinsurance (Group) Corp.(A/Stable/--)  
As a state-owned reinsurer, China Re Group plays a lead role in implementing various government initiatives (such as provision of catastrophe and agriculture coverage) by functioning as a price setter for China's Agricultural Reinsurance pool (since 2014) and the China Residential Earthquake Insurance pool (since 2015). We consider the social responsibility undertaken by China Re Group as supportive for its government-related entity status. China Re Group benefits from a high likelihood of extraordinary government support from the central government in China. Overall, we consider China Re Group's exposure to environmental factors as on par with international reinsurance peers. While China Re Group's exposure to overseas catastrophe events is lower than peers, the non-modelled risks arising from rapid urbanization in China will likely expose it to earnings and balance-sheet volatility. We expect China Re Group to enhance its risk controls for domestic catastrophe exposure, backed by efforts to establish catastrophe models for the China exposure. We expect China Re Group to tighten its governance oversight following its growing presence in the Lloyd’s market. The reinsurance group listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2015. Wenwen Chen
The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. Ltd.(A+/Positive/--)  
We consider Dai-ichi Life Group's exposure to ESG risk factors to be broadly in line with industry peers. The business environment surrounding life insurers in Japan could suffer in the long term from social risk factors such as a rapid declining birth rate and aging society, and an increase in the number of people suffering from lifestyle-related diseases. However, we believe that the group's ongoing efforts to address those risk factors by providing diversified products to meet various customers' demands could help to mitigate the potential negative credit impacts. In addition, we note a growing demand for socially responsible investing for institutional investors like life insurers. In our view, the group is expanding "impact investing" to create both financial returns and positive social or environmental impacts. We believe that the group will continue to actively contribute to solving global social issues such as climate change mitigation and infrastructural development in emerging countries through its investment activities without sacrificing financial returns. Tomomi Narimatsu
Insurance Australia Group Ltd.(AA-/Stable/--)  
We assess IAG's relative exposure to ESG factors as broadly in line with the industry given its Australia and New Zealand wide exposure to natural catastrophes. However we view the group's ongoing investment in internal risk resources, including in areas of climate change impact, as market leading. IAG is attuned to its concentration of property risks in built-up areas and is active in risk selection and pricing. This is principally through robust internal research and modeling as well as its external links to environmental research bodies and broad use of external catastrophe models. IAG covers its inherent property concentration risk through the purchase of A$10 billion in reinsurance protection, one of the world's largest programs, which i s partly provided by the significant quota share, and together with aggregate covers minimize earnings volatility. The group is also leading in engaging with the community and government around mitigation activities such as flood prevention and building codes. We see IAG at the forefront in balancing equitable customer outcomes around coverage and affordability under increasing community and regulatory expectation and scrutiny. We assess IAG's management and governance as strong, with a good track record of anticipating and responding to industry challenges. Its exposure to Hayne Royal Commission findings were modest. However frameworks and policies have been improved to better manage ongoing conduct risk. Michael J Vine
Japan Post Insurance Co. Ltd.(A/Stable/--)  
In our opinion, company has elevated risk in governance which led us to downgrade the ratings in October 2019. A scandal involving past inappropriate sales practices that became apparent since June 2019 highlighted governance related risks, including fragile risk management culture. The insurer has been investigating past policies and announced various measures to address the root causes and stop the recurrence of inappropriate sales. We will monitor whether such measures help the company to strengthen its risk management culture, compliance standards, and recover the reputation and brand image of the company. We view the company's exposure to social risks such as demographic movements to be moderate but slightly elevated than other life insurers in Japan. This is because policyholders of the company are slightly skewed toward old generation. The company is indirectly exposed to ESG risks in line with other life insurance companies by holding bonds issued by large Japanese corporates. The company has been gradually increasing ESG related investments, such as equity funds that consider ESG and sustainability standards, including thematic investments such as solar power projects and social bonds. Toshiko Sekine
Medical Assurance Society New Zealand Ltd.(A-/Positive/--)  
We consider the social impact of Medical Assurance Society New Zealand Ltd. (MAS; group credit profile only) to be a positive ratings differentiator relative to peers. The impact of environmental and governance exposures are assessed as consistent with those of domestic peers and are neutral to group ratings. Formed as a mutual society, MAS has developed a strong social bond with its medical and other professional customers by providing high quality insurance protection services that underpin its strong reputation and high business retention. The range of P/C, life, and asset management products offered support its broader objective of enabling members to implement appropriate protection to a range of risks. The MAS Charitable Trust further differentiates it from competitors, by supporting the education, promotion and research in health-related services that benefit the broader society. In our view, this furthers enhances the community's trust in MAS, its core proposition and ultimately its public perception as a good corporate citizen. Craig A Bennett
Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. Ltd.(A+/Stable/--)  
We see MS&AD insurance group's ESG-related exposure as broadly in line with industry peers, such as Tokio Marine and SOMPO group. The group is exposed to Japan catastrophe risk, typically typhoons as seen in 2018 and 2019. The group is also exposed to overseas catastrophe risk such as U.S, hurricanes and California wildfires, but the total exposure is well under control. While environmental risk factors surrounding natural catastrophe could intensify in scale and complexity going forward, the group has been improving its solid framework in aggregating and monitoring catastrophe exposure by its business lines and regions, utilizing enhanced reinsurance protection, and promoting business diversification. Moreover, earthquake risk for households is mitigated by the Japanese government's supported reinsurance scheme. The group management clearly incorporates sustainable development goals into their mid-term strategy plan with two key words "resilient" and "sustainable", which could help the group's business to create long-term value even when new social risks emerge. We have a favorable view on the group's experienced management team that ensures strategic consistency and financial soundness, however we also believe the group-wide governance would become even more complex and challenging amid global expansion. Continuous impairment of goodwill on acquired companies, such as Ms Amlin and Box, could support this view. Eiji Kubo
Nan Shan Life Insurance Co. Ltd.(BBB+/Stable/--)  
Overall, life insurers in Taiwan have moderate exposure to environmental and social risks, and we believe Nan Shan Life's exposures are in line with the industry and those of its closest peers. Recent disputes on governance structures, including over the IT (Envision Project) incident that led the regulator to suspend sales of investment-linked insurance products since late September 2019, are reflected in our rating assessments. The insurer has been implementing new measures to identify root causes, obtain reassurance on system stability from independent third parties, and is planning to resume sales of investment-linked insurance products during 2020. We will monitor progress on actions to mitigate execution risks and franchise risks, and to address the IT system issues. In addition, we believe these issues may raise social awareness on the company's ability to protect customer benefits. However, we believe this to be manageable to the company's overall social-risk assessment because the company's social welfare activities are well-known in the country. Separately, social risks could come from changes in demographic trends which include longevity risks and mortality risks embedded in traditional life products contain guarantee rates. However, we believe these risks are mitigated by the good track record of identifying, modelling and managing mismatch risks related to guaranteed life businesses as well as the variety of life insurance products, including unit-linked products and interest-rate sensitive products. Serene Hsieh
Nippon Life Insurance Co.(A+/Positive/--)  
We consider Nippon Life Group's exposure to ESG risk factors to be broadly in line with that of industry peers. In the long term, Nippon Life could be exposed to ESG factors indirectly through holdings of securities and loans to some sectors with high ESG risks. Having said that, the company has started to pay more attention to mitigate ESG risks going forward through introducing some measures such as screening and /or ESG integration. We do not identify any serious issues in ESG factors in their life insurance business. Facing long- term negative trends such as an aging and declining population in Japan, Nippon Life focuses on insurance products which cover morbidity risk and longevity risk more than before, which will mitigate future social risk Nippon Life will face in the future. Eiji Kubo
QBE Insurance Group Ltd.(A+/Stable/--)  
QBE's global diversity mitigates its exposure to environmental risks as a P/C writer in regions subject to natural perils and catastrophes; overall, we view that exposure as moderate. Corporate governance practices are typically strong in Australia, QBE's principal location, and this is viewed as low to moderate risk in countries where QBE has material operations. Exposure to social risks is broadly in line with global multi-line peers. The group's geographic footprint is well spread and extends across Australia, Asia, North America, and Europe providing a potential source of earnings and capital diversification. Operating performance of North America operations, and captive reinsurers, has been affected by catastrophes and adverse large risk claims experience in recent years. We lowered forecast earnings for QBE as a result, because we believe the insurer could be slightly more affected by this factor than other higher rated global multi-line peers. QBE restructured its 2020 reinsurance program to better align with group exposures after its exit from underperforming portfolios and regions. The 2020 reinsurance program included lower retentions, a relatively high catastrophe limit, and increased aggregate protection for large risk claims. We view QBE's risk management and risk culture positively, with appropriate investment in monitoring systems and controls. Its governance framework is well-developed and facilitates a comprehensive assessment of risks in the context of its global footprint, underwriting exposures, and complexity of risks exposed. While the recent Royal Commission into the financial sector identified lapses across the industry, we don't view QBE as an outlier and this has not affected our credit rating. QBE has implemented responsible investing with environmental, social and governance factors into the investment analysis process. The vast majority of its external fund managers are signatories to the Principles for Responsible Investment. Craig A Bennett
Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance Inc.(A+/Stable/--)  
We view that Sompo Holdings Group's ESG related exposure is broadly in line with its domestic multiline peers, such as Tokio Marine and MS&AD group. The group is exposed to Japan catastrophe risk, typically typhoons. We expect Sompo Holdings group to manage the domestic catastrophe events within its risk tolerance as in 2018 and 2019. The group's business diversification to life insurance and oversea insurance business mitigates the concentration on domestic catastrophe risk. The earthquake risk for domestic households is covered by Japanese government supported reinsurance scheme. Besides, the group's oversea catastrophe risk, particularly U.S. hurricane risk is properly controlled and mitigated by its focus on less exposed specialty line of business, in our view. The group is restructuring its oversea business under Sompo International Holdings. In order to strengthen the group-wide governance framework, the group decided to invite the global talent in its management team. Kentaro Mukoyama
Southern Cross Medical Care Society(A+/Stable/--)  
We view social risk factors as having a positive influence on the ratings of health insurer Southern Cross Medical Care Society (SCMCS) due to its not-for-profit focus, community impact, and charitable activities of the broader group. The Southern Cross group, including its hospital trust network, maintains a strong social purpose of making quality healthcare more broadly available and accessible for New Zealanders. Its charitable activities include health services, support for the financially disadvantaged, and cancer patients. With a not-for-profit business model that primarily seeks to improve health outcomes, SCMCS is also able to offer products with a high health payout ratio relative to the industry, which provides a strong competitive advantage relative to peers. The social ethos, and local ownership, supports public perception that SCMCS is a good corporate citizen that is governed for the benefit of the community, which is supportive of its ratings. We view SCMCS's exposure to environmental risk factors as low reflecting its private health insurance risks and conservative investment mandates. SCMCS's robust governance framework has helped sustain a stable business track-record and ratings history. Kelvin J Bannan
Suncorp Group Ltd.(A+/Positive/--)  
We view Suncorp group's environmental and social risk factors as aligned with its peers. This is also the case for the group's corporate governance practices. Suncorp group's P/C insurance portfolio is broadly diversified and well-spread across Australia and New Zealand. The well-diversified insurance portfolio, solid modelling capabilities and strong reinsurance arrangements moderate its natural peril exposures. Suncorp purchases A$7.2 billion in catastrophe cover and in fiscal 2020 (ending June 30) it increased its natural hazard allowance to A$820 million and purchased an additional A$200 million aggregate stop-loss protection to provide cover against rising natural hazard claims. The group is taking a proactive stance toward climate related risks and has set out clear goals for managing these in its Climate Change Action Plan. It is also is a signatory to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. We consider Suncorp's governance standards to be strong and are reflective of the complexity of its operations. While a recent Royal Commission into the financial sector found lapses in governance and risk management in a number of insurers, including Suncorp, the group was not an outlier and remediation costs for the group are relatively minor relative to its peers. We also believe the group has good depth and breadth of management across its major businesses and maintains a strong focus on fostering internal talent and succession planning. Julian X Nikakis
Toa Reinsurance Co.(A+/Stable/--)  
We see environmental risk as an important consideration in our credit analysis of Japan-based Toa Reinsurance group. Toa Re group's key risk is catastrophe risk and its exposure is somewhat concentrated on Japan, typically typhoons. We expect the group's capital base to reduce due to the back-to-back typhoon losses: Jebi in 2018, and Faxai and Hagibis in 2019. Further, environment risk factors surrounding natural catastrophes could possibly intensify in its scale and complexity going forward. We see mitigating factors: the group has abundant capital buffers, sound reinsurance protection scheme, and the ability and track-record to raise capital. However, in terms of business size and risk diversification to mitigate the significant home country losses, Toa Re group somewhat lags those of large global reinsurers. While the group shifted its business expansion to Europe into high gear since 2018, we believe it would take some time for European business to make a large contribution, and the group might face challenges in new risk exposure management and group-wide governance during the expansion. Koshiro Emura
Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. Ltd.(A+/Positive/--)  
Tokio Marine group has moderate exposure to environmental and social risks, broadly in line with that of its global multiline peers. Tokio Marine Group is exposed to natural catastrophe risks mainly in Japan, while overseas risk is more controlled due to its focus on specialty lines with small natural catastrophe exposures. While environment risk related to natural catastrophes could intensify in scale and complexity going forward, this is somewhat offset by the group's ongoing efforts to promote business diversification and strengthen reinsurance protection, as well as its robust modeling capabilities and well-defined risk tolerances. Moreover, the earthquake risk for domestic households is mitigated by the Japanese government's supported reinsurance scheme. Similar to other global multiline insurers, Tokio Marine group's geographic business expansion exposes it to overseas social risks, including the recent rise in litigations in the U.S. The group has taken measures to address rising social risks for U.S. subsidiaries by adjusting pricing and reserving. We regard Tokio Marine's exposure to demographic developments including longevity as in line with other insurers in Japan. Tokio Marine's corporate governance practices are of relatively high standards in Japan but the group's geographic diversity adds more complexity. Tokio Marine group has been strengthening its governance by utilizing its global talent in its group committees and improving communication throughout the organization. Toshiko Sekine
*Ratings cited are on core operating companies for holding company structures. Ratings as of Feb. 11, 2020.  

This report does not constitute a rating action.

Primary Credit Analysts:Andy Chang, CFA, FRM, Taipei (8862) 8722-5815;
andy.chang@spglobal.com
Michael J Vine, Melbourne (61) 3-9631-2013;
Michael.Vine@spglobal.com
Secondary Contacts:Eunice Tan, Hong Kong (852) 2533-3553;
eunice.tan@spglobal.com
Eiji Kubo, Tokyo (81) 3-4550-8750;
eiji.kubo@spglobal.com
Craig A Bennett, Melbourne (61) 3-9631-2197;
craig.bennett@spglobal.com
Terry Sham, CFA, FRM, Hong Kong (852) 2533-3590;
terry.sham@spglobal.com
Peter Sikora, Melbourne (61) 3-9631-2094;
peter.sikora@spglobal.com
Philip P Chung, CFA, Singapore (65) 6239-6343;
philip.chung@spglobal.com
Kiyoko Ohora, Tokyo (81) 3-4550-8704;
kiyoko.ohora@spglobal.com

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