Fed Considering Capital Rules for Insurers

Agency seeks data as it works to tailor capital and liquidity standards specific to insurance companies.

The Federal Reserve today announced a voluntary survey into the potential impact of capital rules for insurance companies that it regulates.

The Federal Reserve is seeking comments from the industry as it studies how to tailor capital and liquidity standards for insurance companies, who argue that they should not have to meet the same standards as banks.

Information collected through the study “would allow for further exploration of areas of concern raised by commenters during the proposal stage of the revised regulatory capital framework rulemaking,” the Fed said in a statement.

In Dodd-Frank, the sweeping regulatory overhaul enacted in response to the 2008 credit crisis, a measure grouped insurers and other non-bank companies with financial firms that would face capital and liquidity standards to be imposed by the Fed.

The Fed has interpreted that provision, named after Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, to instruct them to write similar rules for insurers as banks.

“This is a welcome step in the right direction,” said Chris Stern, vice president for policy communications at MetLife Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer. “Capital rules written for banks are a bad fit for life insurers. They don’t measure risk properly and make financial protection needlessly expensive. Done properly, this study could go a long way toward helping the Federal Reserve understand the negative consequences of imposing bank-centric rules on life insurance companies and consumers.”

Fed Chair Janet Yellen, her predecessor Ben Bernanke, and Governor Daniel Tarullo, have all said they support congressional action to change this provision.

So far, lawmakers have not been able to agree.

The Senate has passed a bill by Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, that would give the Fed flexibility in writing capital standards for insurers.

The House in September passed a similar bill while combining it with other Dodd-Frank changes. The two measures would need to be reconciled before being sent to the president. The insurers have asked for a clean capital fix bill.

In the study, the Fed asked for comments by the end of the year.

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