TEXT - Fitch comments on Aviva and Legal & General
Feb 1 - Prudential, Aviva and Legal & General are the most exposed life insurers to the risk of falling annuity profits if a Financial Services Authority investigation leads to a major shake-up of the industry, Fitch Ratings says. As market leaders in annuities and also providers of pension savings vehicles, these firms benefit significantly from the tendency of clients who buy an annuity at retirement to stick with the provider they built their savings with. FSA steps to make consumers more aware of their right to choose a different annuity provider would be likely to reduce either the volume of business these insurers do, or the margins on that business. Annuities represent around 30% of UK sales at Prudential and Aviva and more than 15% at L&G. Moreover, this business generates higher margins than most of the other products the companies sell in the UK. But annuities also carry significant risk for the provider, principally from increasing life expectancy and the difficulty of matching assets and liabilities for a product that can continue to pay out for more than 30 years. Strong risk management and pricing discipline are therefore essential for a successful annuity business and we would closely monitor pricing developments in the event of changes in the industry. We rate Prudential and L&G and would not expect any change to these ratings because the companies have well-diversified business portfolios by product or geography. Annuities can also serve as a partial hedge to traditional term life assurance business. The FSA is conducting a review of the annuities market, which will continue during the second half of this year. The review will initially examine the detriment to consumers from not shopping around and whether there are firms or particular groups of consumers where this is likely to arise.
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