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March 2011

What Drives the Development of the Insurance Sector?

Erik Feyen's picture

The insurance sector can play a critical role in financial and economic development in various ways. The sector helps pool risk and reduces the impact of large losses on firms and households—with a beneficial impact on output, investment, innovation, and competition. As financial intermediaries with long investment horizons, life insurance companies can contribute to the provision of long-term finance and more effective risk management. Moreover, the insurance sector can also improve the efficiency of other segments of the financial sector, such as banking and bond markets, by enhancing the value of collateral through property insurance and reducing losses at default through credit guarantees and enhancements.

Indeed, a growing literature finds that there is a causal relationship between insurance sector development and economic growth. However, there have been few studies that conduct look at what drives the development of the insurance sector. Of the literature that does exist, most focuses on the growth of the life sector as measured by life insurance premiums.

Ladies First? Understanding Whose Job is Vulnerable in a Crisis

Mary Hallward-Driemeier's picture

In an economic crisis, whose job do employers put on the chopping block first? Many gender equality advocates and policymakers are concerned that “women are at risk of being hired last and dismissed first” during crises. This concern is fuelled by evidence showing that employers often discriminate against women even during less volatile times, that women often bear the brunt of coping with economic shocks, and that, in many countries, gender norms prioritize men’s employment over women’s. Despite a lot of rhetoric, existing studies of the labor market consequences of macroeconomic crises have yielded ambiguous conclusions about the differential impact across genders. Might claims about women’s vulnerability be exaggerated?

Most studies that look at the distributional impact of crises rely on household and labor force data. However, these data cannot distinguish between two mechanisms that could account for gender differences in employment adjustment. First, differences in vulnerability could be the result of sorting by gender into firms and occupations that differ in their vulnerability to crises. In this case, the effect of gender is indirect; women may take jobs that are relatively more or less vulnerable. Second, there could be differential treatment of men and women workers within the same firm. Faced with the need to adjust, do employers treat women differently, either by firing them first or cutting their wages more? It is this second mechanism that underpins concerns about discrimination. To distinguish between these mechanisms, we need to compare the employment prospects and wage trajectories of men and women both across and within firms—which means we need firm-level data.

Do We Need Big Banks?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

In the past several decades banks have grown relentlessly. Many have become very large—both in absolute terms and relative to their economies. During the recent financial crisis it became apparent that large bank size can imply large risks to a country’s public finances. In Iceland failures of large banks in 2008 triggered a national bankruptcy. In Ireland the distress of large banks forced the country to seek financial assistance from the European Union and International Monetary Fund in 2010.

An obvious solution to the public finance risks posed by large banks is to force them to downsize or split up. In the aftermath of the EU bailout Ireland will probably be required to considerably downsize its banks, reflecting its relatively small national economy. In the United Kingdom the Bank of England has been active in a debate on whether major U.K. banks need to be split up to reduce risks to the British treasury. In the United States the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (or Dodd-Frank Act) passed in July 2010 prohibits bank mergers that result in a bank with total liabilities exceeding 10 percent of the aggregate consolidated liabilities of all financial companies, to prevent the emergence of an oversized bank.

So public finance risks of systemically large banks are obvious. But what are some of the other costs (and benefits) associated with bank size? This is the question Harry Huizinga and I try to address in a recent paper. Specifically, we look at how large banks are different in three key areas:

How Corporate Stress Testing Can Enhance Bank Stress Testing

Inessa Love's picture

The Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP) performs bank stress testing to evaluate the resilience of the banking sector to different unexpected shocks, including sharp changes in the interest rate or exchange rate. In addition to macroeconomic shocks like these, the soundness of the banking sector also depends on the soundness of bank borrowers: systemic shocks to borrowers’ ability to repay loans is transmitted to banks through corporate defaults.

For example, an interest rate shock may affect banks directly, through its impact on the income and expenses from their lending practices. In addition, if the interest rate shock affects borrowers’ ability to repay, the shock will also be transmitted to the banking sector through an increase in corporate defaults. Similarly, a negative shock to corporate earnings will manifest as higher default rates and also adversely affect bank stability.

Assessment of corporate vulnerability thus would strengthen the analysis of bank vulnerability to shocks and should play an important role in bank stress testing. Unfortunately, assessment of corporate vulnerability is rarely included in the FSAP’s standard bank stress testing.