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NZ's insurance premiums top global average, profits dips

Life insurance premiums rose 2.2% in in New Zealand and Australia last year, while globally they fell 2.7%.

Hannah Lynch
Thu, 28 Jun 2012

BUSINESSDESK: Insurance premiums in New Zealand and Australia rose well above the international average in 2011, even as profitability deteriorated, global reinsurer Swiss Re says.

Life insurance premiums increased 2.2% in both countries last year, while globally they decreased 2.7%.

Non-life insurance premiums expanded 3.7% to $US8.5 billion in New Zealand and grew 9% to $US44 billion in Australia, well above the global average of 1.9%.

"Growth of Australian and New Zealand life insurance markets should remain stable in the near future as the economies steadily recover from natural disasters," Swiss re chief economist Kurt Karl said.

"Rising disaster awareness, the higher expected frequency of catastrophic events and increased risk management preparedness measures are putting upward pressure on premium and reinsurance rates."

Mr Karl said moderate overall growth is expected in 2012, with "recent mergers expected to further consolidate the Australian and New Zealand markets".

New Zealand's most recent merger was in December when IAG agreed to buy AMI for $380 million after the Canterbury earthquakes drained AMI's reserves and drove up reinsurance costs, leading to a government bailout.

There is also speculation Tower may come into play as owner Guinness Peat Group looks to sell down its 34% shareholding to return money to shareholders.

Swiss Re expects robust growth in the non-life market over 2012 as price hardening supports premium growth. While slower economic growth in advanced markets is predicted to weigh on demand for life and non-life insurances.

"The profitability of the life insurance industry has stabilised but remains low," said Daniel Staib, one of the authors of the study.

"Low interest rates remain the key issue for the life insurance sector, affecting investment returns and eroding the profitability of guarantee products."

The study is based on data from 147 insurance markets.

Hannah Lynch
Thu, 28 Jun 2012
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NZ's insurance premiums top global average, profits dips