People’s Republic of China–Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Financial Sector Assessment Program-Insurance Core Principles-Detailed Assessment of Observance

This Insurance Core Principles Detailed Assessment Report was prepared in the context of the Financial Sector Assessment Program for the People’s Republic of China–Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). The report describes that the insurance penetration and density in HKSAR is among the top 10 in the world. Foreign-owned insurers are dominant in the HKSAR insurance sector, and account for about 72 percent of total assets as at end-2012. The long-term insurance industry is highly concentrated, while the market share of general insurance industry is more evenly distributed. All except one of the top-10 insurance groups are all foreign owned, with much larger consolidated operations compared to their operations in HKSAR. The Insurance Authority is responsible for regulating and supervising the insurance industry of the HKSAR. It is supported by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, a government department in the HKSAR. A self-regulatory system is used to supervise the conduct of business of intermediaries.

Abstract

This Insurance Core Principles Detailed Assessment Report was prepared in the context of the Financial Sector Assessment Program for the People’s Republic of China–Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). The report describes that the insurance penetration and density in HKSAR is among the top 10 in the world. Foreign-owned insurers are dominant in the HKSAR insurance sector, and account for about 72 percent of total assets as at end-2012. The long-term insurance industry is highly concentrated, while the market share of general insurance industry is more evenly distributed. All except one of the top-10 insurance groups are all foreign owned, with much larger consolidated operations compared to their operations in HKSAR. The Insurance Authority is responsible for regulating and supervising the insurance industry of the HKSAR. It is supported by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, a government department in the HKSAR. A self-regulatory system is used to supervise the conduct of business of intermediaries.

Executive Summary

The insurance sector in HKSAR is mature and diversified. The insurance penetration and density in HKSAR is amongst the top-10 in the world. Foreign-owned insurers are dominant in the HKSAR insurance sector, and account for about 72 percent of total assets as at end-2012. The long-term insurance industry is highly concentrated, while the market share of general insurance industry is more evenly distributed. All except one of the top-10 insurance groups are all foreign-owned, with much larger consolidated operations compared to their operations in HKSAR.

While there had been some consolidation in the number of insurers, the industry as a whole has seen strong growth in the last three years. Growth in the long-term industry is underpinned by increasing affluence and an aging population. For the general insurance industry, expansion in the dominant accident and health insurance has been sustained by increased awareness of the need to plan for future healthcare needs. Long-term insurers are vulnerable to a protracted period of low interest rates and volatile financial markets, while general insurers are confronting keen competition in the market.

The Insurance Authority (IA) is responsible for regulating and supervising the insurance industry of the HKSAR. It is supported by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI), a government department in the HKSAR. A self-regulatory system is used to supervise the conduct of business (CoB) of intermediaries. Currently, three self-regulatory organizations (SROs) supervise insurance intermediaries in accordance with non-statutory codes approved by the IA. In practice, the IA supervises the SRO’s oversight of intermediaries, and conducts spot checks and independent inspections of insurance intermediaries for quality assurance on the effectiveness of the SROs.

The authorities have proposed establishing an Independent IA (IIA), scheduled to be implemented in 2015. The proposed IIA will have enhanced legal capacity, as well as financial and operational independence as well as a transparent system of accountability, in line with international best practice. It will have explicit legal authority for inspections, investigation, and prosecution, as well as broader sanction powers. In addition, direct licensing and supervision of intermediaries by the proposed IIA will replace the current self-regulatory regime.

The proposed IIA could be further strengthened in a number of areas by: (i) granting delegated authority to issue enforceable rules via administrative means; (ii) requiring public disclosure of the reasons for removing the head of the agency; and (iii) granting clear authority to establish and supervise public disclosures by insurers. The authorities are also advised to consider eliminating or specifying the circumstances under which the legal authority of the Chief Executive in Council (CE) to give directions to the IA and to exempt/vary the provisions of the Insurance Companies Ordinance (ICO) for certain insurers, without impinging on the Basic Law.

The regulatory regime for the insurance sector in HKSAR, supported by the IA’s robust supervisory practices, has a high level of observance of the Insurance Core Principles (ICPs). The IA is highly regarded by the industry. Staff of the IA have a good understanding of the industry and markets, facilitated by open communication and close dialogue with directors and management of insurers. Established internal procedures and checklists promote the consistency and effectiveness of supervision. The strong and robust supervisory practices compensate for many of the legal regulatory gaps noted by the assessors.

The ICO needs to be updated to better reflect current international best practices. The key areas are: (i) extending the fit and proper regime to cover Senior Management and Key Persons in Control Function; (ii) establishing clear definition of control and pre-determined control levels; (iii) updating risk management requirements; (iv) authority to remove or disqualify persons on fit and proper grounds; and (v) requiring insurers to implement contingency plans. In addition, the list of entities exempted from authorization should be reviewed, and there are merits for clarifying the priority of claims of long-term policyholders. A number of guidance notes could also be updated and to more clearly differentiate minimum requirements from supervisory guidance.

Given the presence of insurance groups in HKSAR, it is timely that the IA formulates and implements a clear and comprehensive regulatory regime for insurance groups. Key elements of the regime should cover the scope of the group to be subjected to group-wide supervision, as well as prudential and market conduct requirements at the group level. Going forward, it is advised that the authorities: (i) ensure adequate supervisory resources to effectively supervise insurance groups; and (ii) consider legal authority to take measures at the level of the holding company, in line with emerging international best practices.

The IA’s plan to move towards a risk-based capital (RBC) regime is welcomed and a structured process for macro-prudential surveillance is recommended. The RBC regime should establish a clear and consistent valuation standard (including explicit best estimates of technical provisions and risk margins) and risk sensitive capital requirements. As a stop-gap measure, the IA is advised to establish solvency margin requirements for all classes of long-term business, and to provide supervisory guidance on insurers’ obligations to meet policyholders’ reasonable expectation. Pending the introduction of explicit enterprise risk management requirements, the current dynamic solvency tests could be enhanced in the interim. The proposed IIA’s new mandate on thematic research and studies will contribute to more comprehensive and systematic macro-prudential analysis, which could be supported by a framework for assessing the systemic risk of insurers. The proposed enhancements in the prudential regime need adequate technical support of experienced supervisors and technical specialists.

To enhance the protection of policyholders, the mission strongly supports the authorities’ initiative to transfer the supervision of intermediaries to the proposed IIA, and to strengthen CoB requirements in the ICO. While the IA has been exercising effective oversight of the SROs, it involves significant duplication of efforts. In addition, industry codes and standards issued by the SROs are not legally binding and the SROs are not full-fledged supervisors. These constraints dilute the effectiveness of the SRO regime. Direct supervision would also minimize the potential conflict of interests arising from self-regulation, and is more in line with international best practices. In addition to the proposal to introduce fundamental CoB principles in the ICO, the authorities should formalize existing practices in promoting professional conduct by insurers and intermediaries to fill current regulatory gaps.

Assessment of Insurance Core Principles

A. Introduction and Scope

1. This assessment provides an update on the regulatory and supervisory developments in the insurance sector of HKSAR since 2003. The assessment was conducted by Su Hoong Chang and Philipp Keller (both external experts engaged by the IMF) from August 29 to September 17, 2013. HKSAR undertook an initial FSAP in 2003, which included a formal assessment of its observance with the ICPs issued by the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) in 1999. The status of implementation of the 2003 recommendations is summarized in the Appendix.

2. The current assessment is benchmarked against the ICPs issued by the IAIS in October 2011, as revised in October 2012. The ICPs apply to all insurers, whether private or government-controlled. Specific principles apply to the supervision of intermediaries. The scope of the assessment covers the supervision of insurers exercised by the IA as well as the oversight of intermediaries’ CoB by SROs. The institutional arrangements for financial sector regulation and supervision are outlined in Section C.

B. Information and Methodology Used for Assessment

3. The level of observance for each ICP reflects the assessments of its standards. Each ICP is rated in terms of the level of observance as follows:

  • Observed: where all the standards are observed except for those that are considered not applicable. For a standard to be considered observed, the supervisor must have the legal authority to perform its tasks and exercises this authority to a satisfactory level.

  • Largely observed: where only minor shortcomings exist, which do not raise any concerns about the authorities’ ability to achieve full observance.

  • Partly observed: where, despite progress, the shortcomings are sufficient to raise doubts about the authorities’ ability to achieve observance.

  • Not observed: where no substantive progress toward observance has been achieved.

4. The assessment is based solely on the laws, regulations and other supervisory requirements and practices that are in place at the time of the assessment in September 2013. Ongoing regulatory initiatives are noted by way of additional comments. The authorities have provided a full and well-written self-assessment, supported by anonymized examples on actual supervisory practices, which enhanced the robustness of the assessment. Technical discussions with, and briefings by, officials from the IA have also enriched this report; as did discussions with industry participants.

5. The assessors are grateful to the authorities for the full cooperation and thoughtful logistical arrangements, particularly the helpful co-coordination of various meetings with industry participants. The assessors also benefitted from the valuable inputs and insightful views from meetings with insurers, as well as representatives of industry and professional organizations, including the Insurance Agents Registration Board (IARB), Professional Insurance Brokers Association (PIBA), and The Hong Kong Confederation of Insurance Brokers (HKCIB).

C. Overview—Institutional and Macro Prudential Setting

Institutional Framework and Arrangements

6. The Financial Secretary oversees the financial sector of HKSAR, with policy support by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB), headed by the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury. The IA, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), and the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) are the respective supervisors of the insurance, banking and securities sectors.

7. The IA is responsible for regulating and supervising the insurance industry of the HKSAR. It is supported by the OCI, a government department in the HKSAR. It is empowered under the ICO with the principal function to regulate and supervise the insurance industry, in order to promote the general stability of the insurance industry, and protect existing and potential policyholders.

8. A self-regulatory system is adopted for the supervision of intermediaries. Currently, three SROs supervise insurance intermediaries in accordance with non-statutory codes approved by the IA. The SROs are also responsible for handling all complaints against their members, conducting investigations, and taking disciplinary actions on substantiated cases. The IARB set up by the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers (HKFI) is responsible for the oversight of insurance agents, while the HKCIB and PIBA are responsible for the oversight of insurance brokers. In practice, the IA supervises the SRO’s oversight of intermediaries, and conducts spot checks and independent inspections of insurance as well as the examination and Continuing Professional Development Program for intermediaries.

9. The authorities have consulted on the establishment of an IIA, which is scheduled to be implemented in 2015. One of the key recommendations arising from the 2003 FSAP was the strengthening of the legal capacity and independence of the IA. The FSTB conducted public consultations in July 2010, followed by more detailed proposals in June 2011 and key legislative proposals in October 2012. The key proposals for the IIA include:

  • The establishment of the IIA as a body corporate;1

  • Setting and explicit legal mandates for the IIA to undertake additional functions: (i) CoB regulation of insurance intermediaries; (ii) public education programs to raise financial literacy; (iii) thematic research and studies; and (iv) assisting the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury in maintaining financial stability;

  • Enhancing the legal capacity of the IIA in: (i) inspection, investigation, prosecution, and sanctions; (ii) licensing and regulation of insurance intermediaries; and (iii) regulating the insurance intermediation activities of bank employees (bancassurance); and

  • Establishing an independent Insurance Appeals Tribunal to provide checks-and-balance. Members of the Tribunal will be appointed by the chief executive. The Tribunal’s mandate will be to review supervisory decisions, including all disciplinary decisions of the IIA.

10. Supervisory coordination among the regulatory agencies in HKSAR is facilitated by the Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) and the Financial Stability Committee (FSC). The CFR was established in 2000 to minimize gaps or duplication in the regulation and supervision of financial institutions. It is chaired by the Financial Secretary, and includes heads of SFC, HKMA, and the IA, and serves as a platform to review regulatory and supervisory issues with cross-market implications. The FSC was set up in 2000 to monitor the functioning of the financial markets in HKSAR, including the banking, debt, equity, insurance and related markets, and to deliberate on issues with possible cross-market and systemic implications. It is chaired by the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury and comprises heads of SFC, HKMA, and the IA.

Market Structure and Industry Performance

Industry Structure and Recent Trends

11. The insurance sector is an important pillar of the financial system in HKSAR. In 2012, financial services overall accounted for 15.9 percent of GDP of HKSAR (based on the value-added approach), with the insurance sector alone accounting for 2.9 percent. Assets held by insurers totaled about HK$1,519 billion as at end-2012, accounting for about 9 percent of the total assets of the financial sector. As at end-2012, there were about 65,000 employees working in the insurance industry, including agents having principal-agent relationship with insurers, but excluding bank employees who sell insurance products.

12. The insurance penetration and density2 in HKSAR is amongst the top-10 in the world (Table 1). In terms of total business, HKSAR was ranked fourth for insurance penetration and seventh for insurance density according to Swiss Re’s research. In particular, long-term insurance in HKSAR recorded significantly higher penetration and density compared to the average rates in advanced markets. On the other hand, penetration and density rates of general business are below advanced markets. (See section on operating performance for the analysis of the different business models.)

Table 1.

Hong Kong SAR: Insurance Penetration and Density as at end-2012

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Source: Swiss Re Sigma No 3/2013: World Insurance in 2012 and the IA (HKSAR data).

Based on Swiss Re definition as listed in Figure 15 of the Swiss Re Sigma No 3/2013: World Insurance in 2012.

13. The number of insurers has been consolidating since 2007 (Table 2). As at end-2012, there were 155 authorized insurers, with the highest number of exits seen in general insurers. The number of professional reinsurers has remained stable, of which 12 write only general reinsurance business, one writes only long-term reinsurance business, and six are composite reinsurers. Although there was only one captive insurer, the FSTB has been considering strategies to promote HKSAR as a sustainable captive insurance center.

Table 2.

Hong Kong SAR: Insurance Market Structure

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Source: The Insurance Authority.

For agencies, there were 24,398 responsible officers and technical representatives in 2007; and 27,830 responsible officers and technical representatives in 2012.

The figures represent insurance broker firms. Their chief executives and technical representatives were 6,552 in 2007 and 8,798 in 2012.

14. Foreign-owned insurers dominate the HKSAR insurance sector (Table 3). Foreign-owned insurers accounted for about 72 percent of the total assets in the insurance sector, i.e., 79 percent of total assets held by long-term insurers, 12 percent held by general insurers, and 47 percent held by reinsurers. There is no restriction regarding foreign entrants to the insurance market and ownership of insurers in HKSAR. Foreign branches account for almost half the number of authorized insurers, although the number of foreign branches has fallen from 89 in 2007 to 72 in 2012.

Table 3.

Hong Kong SAR: Ownership Structure as at end-20121/

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Based on majority (more than 50 percent) of ownership.

15. The long-term insurance industry is highly concentrated while the market share of general insurance industry is more evenly distributed. The top-3 long-term insurers, all foreign-owned, accounted for 46 percent of total assets of long-term insurers as at end-2012. In contrast, the top-3 general insurers made up only 16 percent of the total premiums written. No insurer enjoys a monopolistic position in any particular lines of business in either general or long-term business.

16. All except one of the top-10 insurance groups are all foreign-owned, with much larger consolidated operations compared to their operations in HKSAR. The domestic operations of the top-10 groups represented only 1.5 percent of their global assets while contributing to 7.5 percent of the premiums written in 2012. A number of insurers are part of financial conglomerates headed by parent banks where HKMA is the lead supervisor. Transfers of assets from the parent banks to insurers or increases in insurers’ investments in parent/related banks have been immaterial over the last three years (0.05 percent of long-term insurance assets and 3.9 percent of general insurance assets in 2012).

17. The Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation (HKMC) is wholly owned by the HKSAR Government through the Exchange Fund and regulated by the IA. In 1999, the HKMC pioneered the provision of mortgage insurance in HKSAR to fill a gap in the industry. The HKMC offers insurance coverage to most mortgage banks in HKSAR. In response to escalating property prices in recent years, the HKMC has revised the maximum loan amount it will insure. The latest change in February 2013 lowered the loan-to-value ratio (maximum of 90 percent), which varies with the property value (up to HK$6 million). As at end-July 2013, the total loan drawdown recorded by the HKMC was HK$240 billion and the reported delinquency ratio of its loan portfolio (0.003 percent as at June 2013) was lower than the general mortgage market delinquency. The HKMC has launched the following new products since 2011:

  • SME Financing Guarantee Scheme (SFGS) in January 2011—to assist local small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) obtain sustainable bank financing by offering loan guarantees of between 50–70 percent and at the same time help authorized institutions3 mitigate default risks. As of May 31, 2012, at the request of the government, the HKMC rolled out the special concessionary 80 percent loan guarantee product (with application period until end-February 2014) under SFGS to help HKSAR enterprises raise capital in the face of persistently weak export markets and a challenging external environment;

  • Reverse Mortgage Insurance4 in July 2011 whereby the HKMC provides insurance to mortgage banks to cover any shortfall between the proceeds from property disposal (on the death of the elderly or other maturity events) and the outstanding loan balance on the reverse mortgage. The estate of the elderly is not liable for any shortfall incurred but can recoup the surplus if the proceeds exceed the loan balance; and

  • Microfinance scheme was launched in June 2012.

18. The three core missions of the HKMC are enhancing the stability of the banking sector by offering a reliable source of liquidity; promoting wider home ownership in HKSAR; and facilitating the growth and development of the debt security and mortgage-backed security markets in HKSAR.

19. Insurers in HKSAR typically adopt a multi-channel distribution strategy. As at end-2012, there were 37,608 tied individual insurance agents, 2,419 agencies (including 38 banks) with 27,830 responsible officers and technical representatives as well as 604 brokers with 8,798 chief executives and technical representatives. The proportion of general insurance business distributed by the various channels has been stable over the past three years—about 41 percent of the gross premiums of general insurers were produced by brokers; 21 percent by agents; 12 percent via bancassurance; 13 percent from direct sales; and the remaining from other channels. For long-term business, a survey conducted in 2012 indicated that approximately 15 percent of in-force unit-linked policies (ULPs) were sold through banks, 42 percent by agents, and 43 percent via brokers.5

20. The insurance sector enjoys certain concessions under the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) although the impact has not been material so far. The CEPA, which came into effect on January 1, 2004, is an arrangement whereby a form of free trade area is established between the Mainland and HKSAR. It covers three broad areas, namely trade in goods, trade in services, and trade and investment facilitation, and accords the following concessions to the insurance market participants in HKSAR:

  • Groups formed by HKSAR insurers through re-grouping and strategic mergers may access the Mainland insurance market subject to meeting certain conditions6;

  • Capital participation by a HKSAR insurer in a Mainland insurer allowed, subject to a maximum limit of 24.9 percent;

  • HKSAR residents with Chinese citizenship are permitted, after obtaining the Mainland’s professional qualifications in actuarial science, to practice in the Mainland without prior approval;

  • HKSAR residents may, after obtaining the Mainland’s insurance qualifications and being employed or appointed by a Mainland insurer, engage in the relevant insurance business;

  • Establishment of an examination center in HKSAR for the Mainland qualifying examinations for insurance intermediaries;

  • HKSAR insurance agency companies are allowed to set up wholly-owned companies in the Mainland to provide insurance agency services for the Mainland insurers; and

  • Qualified HKSAR insurance brokers7 may set up wholly-owned insurance agency companies in Guangdong Province (including Shenzhen) on a pilot basis.

Assets and Liabilities

21. Long-term insurers held 64 percent of their assets in government, corporate and other securities as at end-2012 and investments portfolios accounted for 91 percent of total assets (Table 4). Investments supporting ULPs constituted 14 percent of total assets, while their exposures to equities were relatively low at six percent. The IA does not currently collect information on the market-consistent value and amortized costs of long-term insurers’ holdings of securities, which are subject to the Dynamic Solvency Testing (DST) annually to monitor their sensitivity to interest rates movement (ICP 14). There were insignificant amounts of receivable, including intra-group receivables.

Table 4.

Hong Kong SAR: Composition of Assets as at end-2012

(In millions of HK$)

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Source: The Insurance Authority.

22. The asset profile of general insurers is very liquid with cash and bank balances constituting 27 percent of total assets as at end-2012 (Table 4). Government, corporate and other securities accounted for another 25 percent, with the highest significant allocation to corporate securities, 30 percent of which was held by one general insurer. Most of the corporate securities were rated A- or above. The bulk of the “Other assets” was the mortgage loan portfolio of HKMC. Unlike long-term insurers, general insurers’ securities investments are valued on a market consistent basis. Foreign branches conducting general insurance business in or from HKSAR are required to hold a minimum level of qualified assets in HKSAR.

23. Reinsurers also recorded a relatively high level of securities that accounted for 45 percent of total assets (Table 4). In addition, receivables and reinsurance receivables added up to another 25 percent of assets. The relatively high level of reinsurance receivables was due to provisions for huge catastrophic losses arising from the Japan earthquake and the flood in Thailand in 2011.

24. Both long-term and general insurers have immaterial off-balance sheet activities. For long-term insurers, these are mainly currency forward or exchange rate contracts, guarantees provided to trust subsidiaries conducting mandatory provident fund (MPF) business, capital commitments, and operating lease commitments. The notional amount outstanding of over-the-counter off-balance sheet derivatives (e.g., currency swaps) accounted for less than 1 percent of the total assets of long-term insurers. The off-balance sheet activities of general insurers are mainly capital commitment, operating lease commitment and letters of credit in favor of the IA. The exposure amounts are considered to be immaterial (0.6 percent of assets as at end-2012).

Operating performance

25. The long-term insurance industry in HKSAR has recorded double-digit growth rates in the last three years (Table 5). This has been underpinned by increasing affluence and an aging population. Traditional policies accounted for two-thirds of the market share in 2012. The growth of ULPs slowed to 5.0 percent in 2012 although wealth management products are viewed as the potential growth segment. The IA has been monitoring the sale of policies to visitors from the Mainland (Table 6), who are attracted by the broad range of well-regulated insurance products in HKSAR and the prospects of higher rates of returns. Premiums of policies issued to Mainland policyholders accounted for almost 13 percent of new business premiums in 2012, more than doubling the market share recorded in 2008. The sale of endowment and protection products denominated in Renminbi has also been rising rapidly and the policyholders are mainly residents in HKSAR.

Table 5.

Hong Kong SAR: Gross Written Premium by Major Lines of Business—Long-term Business

(In millions of HK$)

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Source: The Insurance Authority.
Table 6.

Hong Kong SAR: New Policies Issued to Mainland Visitors

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Source: The Insurance Authority.

26. Gross written premium (GWP) of the general insurance industry rose by 6 percent in 2012 after a surge of almost 15 percent in 2011. Accident and health insurance is the dominant class of business, accounting for 27 percent of domestic GWP and 70 percent of foreign GWP (HK$3,5 billion) (Table 7). The sustained growth in accident and health business is mainly due to increase in premium rates and enhanced market demand, primarily due to increased awareness of the community to plan for future healthcare needs. Liability business, comprising the mandatory employees’ compensation insurance, also grew over the past five years, mainly due to the increase in construction projects and the general increase in the wage levels. The overall retention ratio for all classes of general insurance has been consistently above 70 percent for the past three years, with a lower retention for domestic property risks of 41 percent.

Table 7.

Hong Kong SAR: Gross Written Premium by Major Lines of Business in 2012—General Business (in millions of HK$)

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Source: The Insurance Authority.
Solvency position

27. On average, the insurance sector reported solvency positions above the minimum and prescribed requirements. The ICO sets minimum solvency margin requirements for various classes of business (the relevant amounts). In practice, the IA requires insurers to maintain 150 percent of the relevant amounts, which is deemed to be the prescribed capital requirement (PCR). As at end-2012, long-term insurers recorded available capital resources over the PCR of more than 190 percent while the general insurers and reinsurers reported higher ratios of 560 percent and 639 percent, respectively (Table 8). The existing solvency regime is rules-based, largely modeled on the European Union’s current Solvency I framework.

Table 8.

Hong Kong SAR: Solvency Position of Domestic Insurers1/

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Source: The Insurance Authority.

Insurers incorporated in HKSAR and Bermuda carrying insurance in and from HKSAR.

Key Risks and Vulnerabilities

28. Long-term insurers are vulnerable to low interest rates and potential pandemic risks. Substantial drops in prevailing interest rates have had a negative impact on the valuation of long-term liabilities. A prolonged low interest climate has a particular negative impact on savings insurance products (especially guaranteed products with long duration) since investment income is the main profit source for these type of products. The IA has been monitoring insurers’ exposures to pandemic risks through stress testing.

29. Overcapacity is the main risk for general insurers, compounded by keen competition in the market. This has kept premium rates low, which may lead to some insurers compromising their underwriting discipline. The more vulnerable lines of business are employees’ compensation and motor insurance, where aggressive insurers may try to gain market share through rate cutting. To uphold underwriting discipline, the IA has maintained close vigilance8 and requires actuarial certification on the adequacy of technical provisions for these two classes of business. General insurers’ exposures to pandemic and natural catastrophe risks have been limited by reinsurance protection and the predominantly domestic risk portfolios (Table 7).

D. Preconditions for Effective Insurance Supervision

Sound and Sustainable Macroeconomic and Financial Sector Policies

30. As a free market economy, HKSAR provides equal opportunities to participants in all sectors of the market. HKSAR has been ranked first in terms of economic freedom for 19 consecutive years (1995–2013) by the Heritage Foundation.9 The Government’s policy is to promote development of the insurance industry in HKSAR whilst ensuring, through prudential supervision, the best and most up to date industry standards.10

A Well-developed Public Infrastructure

31. HKSAR has a well-developed system of business and financial sector laws, and an efficient judiciary system. These include financial sector, corporate, insolvency, contract, consumer protection and private property laws. There is a mature mechanism for the fair resolution of disputes by an efficient and independent Judiciary. HKSAR was ranked fifth place (out of 142) in terms of the efficiency of the legal framework in settling disputes and fifteenth place for judicial independence.11 There are well-defined regulatory regimes and adequate supervision of the financial sector and the regulated entities. The payment as well as clearing and settlements systems in HKSAR are adequately regulated and supervised.

32. Accounting standards adopted in HKSAR are in line with international standards, and auditors are subject to a self-regulatory regime. The Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) is the only body authorized by law to register and grant practicing certificates to certified public accountants in HKSAR.12 It has more than 33,000 members and is responsible for promulgating financial reporting, auditing and assurance and ethical standards in alignment with the International Accounting Standards Board and the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board. The Financial Reporting Council conducts independent investigations into possible auditing and reporting irregularities in relation to listed entities and report irregularities identified to the HKICPA for follow-up.

33. Long-term insurers are required to have Appointed Actuaries that meet the IA’s prescribed criteria. The Actuarial Society of Hong Kong (ASHK) has some 1,000 members, 75 percent of which serves in the insurance industry. ASHK is a member of the International Actuarial Association and regulates actuarial practices by issuing professional conduct codes, professional standards and actuarial guidance notes. ASHK members must fulfill continuous professional development requirements.

34. A wide range of economic, financial and social statistics is readily available to insurance businesses and the IA. The Census and Statistics Departments publishes a wide range of economic and business statistics, including regular (monthly, quarterly, and annual) surveys on various topics, including selected indicators on the insurance sector. The IA also publishes selected key indicators of the insurance industry and insurers on its website.

Effective Market Discipline in Financial Markets

35. General corporate governance standards in HKSAR are set out in the Companies Ordinance (CO). The corporate governance regime prescribes certain requirements in respect of roles and accountabilities of the board of directors, including requirements on independent directors, and senior management. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange imposes higher governance and disclosure requirements on listed entities. Financial and market analyses are widely available from media, rating agencies, brokers etc. The public disclosure regime for insurers is largely based on the accounting standards adopted in HKSAR (ICP20).

Mechanisms for Consumer Protection

36. The consumer protection regime is supported by a predominantly self-regulatory regime for market conduct requirements, dispute resolution mechanisms, and policyholder protection funds (PPF). The IA and the relevant SROs supervises the professional conduct of insurers and intermediaries. The Financial Dispute Resolution Centre Limited13 currently covers the banking and securities sectors. For the insurance industry, the HKFI has established the Insurance Claims Complaints Bureau (ICCB) that serves as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to resolve personal insurance claims disputes between policyholders and insurers. All insurers writing personal lines of business are members of ICCB. The jurisdiction limit for the ICCB has been progressively increased from HK$250,000 in 1990 to HK$800,000 in 2006. The ICCB’s decisions are binding on insurers but complainants can pursue legal action if unsatisfied by its ruling.

37. There are two insolvency funds for mandatory insurances to protect policyholders or claimants against insolvency of insurers:

  • The Motor Insurers’ Bureau14 operates an Insolvency Fund, which is available to meeting claims for bodily injuries or death arising from motor accidents. This Fund protects, without limit, any final claim which is not paid in full by a member insurer due to its insolvency. The Fund has been gradually built up by a 2.5 percent levy on all motor policy premiums when it was established in 1985. The levy rate has since been revised several times and has been adjusted to 2 percent from July 1, 2012.

  • The Employees Compensation Insurer Insolvency Scheme administered by the Employees Compensation Insurer Insolvency Bureau covers employees’ compensation claims. It is funded by a levy of 2 percent on member insurers.

38. The HKSAR Government plans to introduce in 2015 a Bill to establish two PPF, one for long-term business and one for general business (except for the mandatory insurances mentioned). The authorities have consulted on the key proposals of the PPF in January 2012, and the Government aims to introduce the bill into the legislature in 2015. The key proposals include:

  • All authorized direct life and non-life insurers, except reinsurers, captive insurers and wholesale retirement schemes, will be required to participate in the PPF. Both Schemes will cover direct insurance policies written in HKSAR.

  • The PPF will cover individual policyholders, small and medium enterprises, as well as building owners’ corporations.

  • The compensation will be 100 percent for the first HK$100,000 of any claim, plus 80 percent of the balance, up to a total compensation limit of HK$1 million.

  • The PPF will facilitate the transfer of life policies and accident and health policies with guaranteed renewability.

  • The PPF will be funded by a levy on insurers set at 0.07 percent of premium.

Efficient Financial Markets

39. As a major international financial sector, financial markets in HKSAR are generally deep and liquid, although there is scope for further development of the bond markets. There are no barriers of access to the market by foreign businesses, and no restrictions on capital flows into and out of HKSAR. There are also no exchange controls. In addition, HKSAR was the world’s sixth largest foreign exchange market in terms of turnover in 2010,15 largely benefiting from its favorable time zone location. Hong Kong Exchange was the sixth largest exchange in the world and the second largest in Asia in terms of market capitalization (US$2,873 billion) as at end-May 2013.16 Some long-term insurers have indicated that the limited supply of longer-term government and corporate securities constrains their asset-liability management, with implications for their product design and development.

Table 9.

Hong Kong SAR: Summary of Compliance with the Insurance Core Principles

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Table 10.

Hong Kong SAR: Summary of Observance Level

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Table 11.

Hong Kong SAR: Recommendations to Improve Observance of the Insurance Core Principles

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Authorities’ Response to the Assessment

The IA greatly appreciates the opportunity to be assessed by the IMF against the new set of IAIS ICPs. The entire FSAP process has provided an opportunity for the IA to thoroughly review the insurance regulatory framework of Hong Kong and pave ways for further improvement. The implementation plan of IMF’s recommendations is elaborated as below:

  • the HKSAR Government is strongly committed to establishing an IIA which is a statutory body independent of the government. A Bill to amend the ICO would be introduced into the Legislative Council in the second quarter of 2014 for establishing the IIA in 2015;

  • through this exercise, the HKSAR Government would also update other aspects of the regulatory regime so as to observe international best practices, e.g., empowering the IIA to give prior approval and revoke insurers’ appointment of controllers, directors and key persons in control functions;

  • upon the establishment of the IIA, the existing self-regulatory regime for insurance intermediaries will be replaced by a statutory direct licensing regime. The IIA would exercise direct supervision of insurance intermediaries through the statutory licensing regime. The fundamental principles in respect of conduct requirements will be set out in the legislation, with details to be promulgated in subsidiary legislation as well as codes and guidelines to be issued by the IIA. The IIA will be given statutory powers to impose disciplinary sanctions on insurance companies and insurance intermediaries;

  • the IA fully agrees with the need to strengthen the existing regulatory regime for insurance groups with operations in Hong Kong. For insurance groups based in Hong Kong, although the ICO does not have explicit provisions on groups, the IA has assumed the role of group-wide supervisor, responsible for leading supervisory colleges and coordinating all periodic meetings with other supervisors to discuss and monitor issues related to the groups. The IA will continue to play this role and will fully collaborate with other supervisors for effective cross-border cooperation and coordination. The IA will also consider how to amend the ICO to provide for group supervision; and

  • the IA is developing an RBC framework for Hong Kong. The new RBC framework will be applicable to insurers, both on a solo and group basis, and will encompass the requirements under the relevant ICPs, particularly in the aspects of valuation of assets and liabilities, technical provisions, capital requirements, and other requirements for solvency purposes.

Detailed Assessment

Table 12.

Hong Kong SAR: Detailed Assessment of Observance of the Insurance Core Principles

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