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Continued from Part 1

Bancassurance in Europe: Part 2

National bancassurance markets

Review

There are plain disparities between the rates of bancassurance development across the European financial services industry. These underlying differences may be accounted for under four broad categories, defined by Benoist (2002). The first, and arguably most important reason, is the range of regulatory and legislative standards. Different fiscal and pension arrangements have also conferred incentives on certain distribution or sales structures. Dissimilarities accorded to the role of banks from one country to another forms the second explanation. In France, Belgium and The Netherlands, where bancassurance has made the most significant impact, banking institutions have traditionally played an important role in the financial system. In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the financial services industry has customarily been dominated by the securities markets. In this environment, bancassurance penetration has proven more difficult. The third rationale is the barrier presented by a patent segregation between the choices of distribution channels, such as in Germany. This obstacle is also evident in Italy, where the sale of insurance products by independent insurance advisors has continued to challenge the establishment of bancassurance activities. Lastly, immature insurance markets offered foreign insurers a means to enter the market. Partnering a local banking network represents a cheaper alternative to local acquisitions or setting up a new infrastructure or operation.

France

Bancassurance in France has enjoyed a successful history. The sale of tailored endowment style products dominated product sales and accounted for 90 percent of total life premiums in 2001 (Hill and others, 2002). Payments tend to be discretionary rather than contractual. The French life and non-life insurance market is the most concentrated of the larger European countries. The Comité Européen des Assurances (CEA) have reported that the concentration ratio of the top five life insurers increased from 45.4 percent in 1992 to 54.4 percent in 2000. Data pertaining to the rise in non-life has been even more marked, rising from 40.7 percent to 53.4 percent over the same eight-year period. The distribution of life insurance products is dominated by the bank’s branch offices. The ‘over-the-counter’ distribution channel accounted for 60 percent of French life sales in 2001, and has remained fairly constant since 1996. The salaried sales force, researched by Hill and others (2002) comprises the second largest distribution channel and accounted for 17 percent of life insurance sales in 2001. This statistic has also remained broadly constant since 1996. Despite turbulence in the equity markets, life insurance and endowment products remain popular, reflecting the tax incentives, capital protection and pooling of investments that they offer.

Traditionally, consumer pressure on the life insurance market has motivated most large French banks to establish their own insurance companies, now forming a significant proportion of the life insurance market as a whole. These developments corresponded with a growing need for savings requirements from the consumer, due to inadequate pension arrangements, as well as sympathetic taxation for life insurance products.

The synergies between insurance and banking have occurred via distribution agreements, creation of new companies and joint ventures. This has changed the face of the French financial services industry, with significant transformations of marketing strategies and the distribution of insurance products. In France, the development of bancassurance initially focused on tying-in product sales to pre-existing banking activity. This evolved into a diversification of distribution from the insurance arena and has more recently developed within the areas of health, property and casualty insurance (Bonnet and Arnal). ‘Bancassurance’ in France has historically referred to the sale of insurance products through banks’ distribution channels. Life insurance in France is legally viewed as an activity related to banks’ savings products. Thus, the main aim of bancassurance has remained the use of the banking distribution network to sell additional products. The initial drivers of the rapid development of bancassurance in France were competitive pressures and a growing automation and computerisation of tasks. In the 1980s, short and medium-term products dominated the savings-products market, resulting in low profitability. In order to attain profitability targets, the banks were forced to search for a means of securing an additional income to amortise their fixed costs. The business objective of improving productivity could not be achieved without a corresponding improvement in the profitability of the banks’ distribution networks. Establishing a strategy based on fixed costs amortisation of marginal integration-costs products overcame the heavy costs of banking overheads from the distribution networks. With low initial investment costs necessary to set up subsidiaries, staff training and information systems represented the main expenses. Frequent contact between the bank agencies, comprising the network, and their clients was also a contributing factor to the success of bancassurance. This was despite the development of automated services and, more recently, internet use that do not generally favour the establishment of these exchanges.

Favourable taxation and the enactment of the French Law no. 84-46 of January 24th 1984 gave credit institutions the scope to widen activities into additional and related activities (“operations connexes”). This period corresponded to a growth in client demand and allowed the banks to enhance the work on customer loyalty. Establishing a global sales strategy and the use of crossed offers increased the number of contracts. This enabled a satiating of client’s needs and developed their loyalty.

By transferring a significant part of their assets to life insurance, the banks could affect their balance sheets through a change in liabilities. Bonnet and Arnal highlighted further characteristics of the synergies between banking and insurance; notably different asset duration, a reversed production cycle and different impacts resulting from the variations in interest rates. The move into life insurance has also facilitated the banking industry to increase its activities within asset management, in addition to the steady income brought in from long-term capital management. From an intra-group perspective, bancassurers could apply efficient hedging strategies for substantial savings vis-à-vis traditional life insurers buying similar market products. Problems may arise however, in that debt issues from a banking group may be posted within the assets on a life insurer’s balance sheet. This could evade the dividing rules and facilitate an advantage and generous margins for the banks, with possible circumvention of controls and rules of asset-liability management.

With a rapid expansion occurring in the 1980s, by 1990 the banks had attained a 39 percent market share of life insurance. From this date, the distribution of life insurance products through banking networks is composed of two important periods. The first was from 1990 through 1996, when the market share steadily increased to 59 percent. The second period, from 1996, has seen a stabilisation at around 60 percent. The trends are clear in figure 3.

banc4.jpg

In the context of these notable changes to the French financial services industry, most deposit banks were establishing or acquiring subsidiaries dedicated to life insurance. By 1999, the ten subsidiaries of greatest total asset worth represented 40 percent of the French insurance market’s assets, presented in table 2.

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The bancassurers attempted to seize control of the French market by imposing their conception of life insurance products. The banks achieved this growth through implementation of simple and standardised products with minimal administration and low acquisition costs (Bonnet and Arnal). The banks have continued to diversify their approach by focusing on the segmentation of further product ranges, including health insurance. Although the life insurance market may be viewed as a success for the proponents of bancassurance, the distribution of property casualty, car and household products has proved more challenging. The sale of life insurance products generating low marginal costs within a pre-established banking network contrasted significantly with these other areas. These activities are deemed less profitable and the banks have tended to opt for partnerships with the main insurers existing in these markets.

An inherent problem with the crossed sales and hard sell strategy is a saturation of the distribution network (Bonnet and Arnal). This approach may result in the loss of the main advantage held by the bancassurers, the association with banking products. Hill and others (2002) have comprehensively researched the modern banking system in France. They found that a large number of generalist companies competing in the same banking business sectors have exacerbated pressure on profits. The profitability of domestic operations has improved in tandem with a more healthy economy, with the average bank’s return on equity (ROE) moving into line with international standards. The retail sector still suffers from excess capacity, and pressures on interest margins remain notable in this area. The potential cost benefits offered by rationalisation are restricted by rigid labour markets in France, but there has been an improvement in efficiency ratios and integration appears to be progressing more smoothly. State intervention has been reduced and the products offered by banks and operating conditions increasingly liberalised.

In their assessment of the likely impact of Basel II requirements on the French financial services market, Jarvis and Down (2003) note that the introduction of requirements for operational risk and higher weightings for commitments will hit the French banks to a limited extent. More significantly, they found the proposal to insist on banks making capital deductions for insurance investments and minority financial stakes (50 percent from Tier 1) may have a greater impact. The concentration of bancassurers in France, with CASA serving as an example of a group with both a large insurance operation and significant banking stakes, mean this will potentially lower CASA's Tier 1 ratio from 10 percent to an uncomfortable 5.5 percent. The potential for discomfort stems from the generous treatment of insurance investments in France, which substantially reduces the level of equity that needs to be applied by banks.

Spain

Like France, Spain is one of the most developed bancassurance markets in Europe. From a market share of 43 percent in 1992, bancassurance in 2001 had grown to over 65 percent of life insurance premium income (approximately €17 billion). However, despite the striking statistics this growth rate is not solely explained by bancassurance. The life insurance industry as a whole has maintained an average 30 percent increase per annum over the last fifteen years. The Spanish bancassurance model developed rapidly due to an established network of regional building societies that now account for 50 percent of life insurance premiums in the bancassurance sector. Many European and global alliances have been established between banks and insurers in the past decade. The result has been a concentration of a formerly highly fragmented bancassurance market.

The Spanish banking system reflects the earning power and stout domestic franchises sustained by the domestic banks. This is in spite of pan-European competitive emphases on earnings coupled with a less encouraging operating environment. In the view of Cabanyes (2002), the vigorous domestic franchises help to counteract the risk from exposures in Latin America. The former period was characterised by historically low charges on loan losses and dynamic loan growth. Spanish banks and savings banks (cajas de ahorros, or simply ‘cajas’) are now having to address the effects of slower business growth on increasing pressures on operating revenues, while margins remain tight.

Against this challenging backdrop, those institutions that have developed their efficiencies to the benefit of a competitive advantage are better positioned to adapt to a less benevolent economic and financial environment. A well-structured bancassurance group should therefore be well set to exploit the changes to the business landscape brought about by these competitive pressures.

Spanish banks are subject to same pressures on traditional earnings as other European market participants. Strengths within the domestic market centre on profitable and resolute retail franchises (ROE at 14 percent for the sector in 2002), a diversified mix of businesses, good asset quality, recurring earning power at a level above the European average and sound economic capitalisation. The larger players reiterate the focus on profitable and sturdy operations. Despite benefiting from balanced earnings profiles, these companies still centre their franchises on retail banking, which accounts for approximately 70 percent of Santander Central Hispano’s and BBVA’s net attributable income. Being able to enhance revenues without incurring the corresponding increase in risk remains an important hurdle to overcome in the future. The revenue generating capacity of Spanish banks is determined by their focus on retail banking Cabanyes (2002). This adds stability to the revenue stream, providing an apparent strength in a currently unpredictable environment.

The leading bancassurer in Spain is Vidacaixa, part of the La Caixa group. An established partnership with Fortis has resulted in a long tradition in the bancassurance industry. Vidacaixa is followed by BBVA and then SCH. The Spanish banks and cajas have a dominant hold over the life insurance market, which reflects the greatly intermediated structure. Between them, they control 80 percent of new business and manage more than 50 percent of premiums. Bancassurance has a considerable potential for growth in Spain, but still has a great deal of strategic and competitive development to undertake.

Both an increasing number and more significant types of alliances between banks and insurers are likely to take place in the future. Insurance makes only a marginal contribution to the revenues of banks and caja in the current environment. The select distribution agreement for life insurance products between AVIVA (formerly CGNU, the largest insurance group in the United Kingdom, with significant European operations) and Unicaja, Caixa Galicia, Caja España and Bancaja (four domestic savings banks) serves as an example. With approximately three thousand points of sale across Spain, the formation of the group is likely to become one of the country’s leading life insurance groups. The leading independent insurance company in Spain clearly supports this outlook, and shares the strategic determination, evidenced by the Caja Madrid - Mapfrel alliance.

Competitive pressure sand successive cuts in interest rates have reduced domestic margins by over fifty percent over the past decade. However, following the euro convergence Spanish banks have adapted quite well. The key traits underlying much of the continental European banking model are well demonstrated in Spain. Close proximity of a bank branch remains an important competitive factor, as retail customers do not demonstrate particular price sensitivities. The branch network is still the most important distribution channel for retail banking in Spain, despite the growth of alternative such as telephone and Internet banking. These alternatives are commonly viewed as complementary, yet no alternative to physical branches Cabanyes (2002). The commitment to their extensive networks by Spanish banks has facilitated a powerful defence mechanism against the threat of foreign competition. Contrary to some research findings, Spanish banks offer provide a clear contradiction to claims of a correlation between inefficiency and large branch networks. For example, Banco Popular has a domestic network of 2,144 branches and benefited from a 40 percent cost-to-income ratio in September 2002, among the best in Europe. One concern is that, with the concerted application of new technologies, the industry will be vulnerable to an increasing numbers of customers transferring to alternative channels of distribution both domestically and overseas.

Other investment vehicles, including insurance products, are likely to continue the process of tempting away the traditional customer base over the longer term. Due to the country’s rigid labour laws, the benefits that can be derived from further merger and acquisition activity among Spanish banks are quite limited. A notable structural barrier to consolidation on the domestic front is that existing national legislation does not sanction the acquisition of savings banks by commercial banks. The advantages to be gained from geographic diversity and a wider range of products are generally offset by difficulties in acquiring any cost savings or improving efficiencies. Further consolidation in the Spanish system is more likely to be in the form of alliances and collaborations, and implementing cross-border mergers will remain difficult due to the cultural, legal and tax diversities.

This analysis bodes well for the continued development of bancassurance in Spain. Although the market is demonstrating a reluctance to accept further structural changes in the short-term, the benefits of this class of European financial services may prove hard to resist. From both a corporate and customer perspective, any advantage conferred over a long-term investment horizon is likely to attract attention. The inherent nature of an industry already well established in Spain, but not at saturation levels, positions bancassurance in a positive stance going forward.

Belgium

The Belgian life insurance market was comparatively under developed less than a decade ago. One of the marked issues facing this industry is the pressure being exerted by bancassurance operations on traditional brokerage distribution. Régent and others (2000) believe those companies without access to adequate bancassurance distribution may find it increasingly difficult to compete within the individual life insurance market. As the industry consolidates, the financial strength of Belgian life insurance companies can no longer be assessed on a stand-alone basis. The financial strength of insurance companies increasingly depends upon the strength of their enlarged groups, as the credit quality of financial conglomerates, in turn, benefits from the strength of their operating companies.

The distribution of life insurance in Belgium relies on three channels. Conventional distribution by brokers and tied agents accounts for approximately 43 percent of the market. A 41 percent market share is held by the banks’ distribution networks, encompassing both bancassurance operations and sales of products of insurance companies not affiliated with the bank in the branch. Direct channels maintain a 16 percent share of the distribution market.

In establishing their initial position in the Belgian market, the banking sector attempted various means of structuring an insurance operation. This included working as a broker in co-operation agreements with existing insurers to sell policies at bank counters. Further attempts involved the creation of their own life insurance subsidiaries, for example BBL Life for BBL, Omniver for Kredietbank and Mega Life for Crédit Communal de Belgique/Gemeentekrediet. This transition into insurance operations was largely effective by the late 1980s. In Belgium, there was also a parallel development of assurfinance, the sale of savings products through traditional insurance channels. The consolidation of the financial services industry over the last decade has accelerated the development of integrated bancassurance operations yet further. ING (BBL), Fortis (Générale de Banque/Generale Bank, CGER/ASLK) and KBC have reshaped the supply of banking and insurance products into a co-ordinated financial offer with indistinct boundaries (Régent, 2000). The strategic rationale behind such effective and all-encompassing bancassurance operations included a desire to grow a presence, to enhance revenues through cross selling opportunities and to diversify distribution channels. By developing upon an existing branch network, banks may benefit from a broad client base and the leveraging potential of each sales point to meet the demands of customers’ banking, savings and insurance requirements.

The brokerage structure in the industry has contrasted poorly with bancassurance. Both the small brokers covering private lines and smaller businesses and the large, international operations dealing with large corporate clients are likely to continue to lose out in individual life insurance, despite a proven record of accomplishment in coverage of the market. Intermediaries have also been challenged by amendments in the regulatory framework. The 1995 ‘Cauwenberghs’ Law was the first step in a program of modernisation and stipulated the necessary conditions before an intermediary could operate in the Belgian insurance market. The law also required that intermediaries be registered as either tied agents or independent brokers. Its implementation unsettled an industry previously conducted with an element of ambiguity over the question of “independence” of intermediaries. To clarify the continuing uncertainty, in 1999 a new law was implemented to distinguish between “brokers” and “insurance agents”.

Bancassurance has proved to be so successful in Belgium that it may threaten the existence of traditional insurers with no affiliations to banks. The more recent developments in life insurance serve to highlight the division of the industry into two groups. Bancassurers are quick to develop and grow their market share, tend to operate with lower costs and present a transparent and appealing product range. Conversely, brokers operate with a higher cost base, seldom facilitate the levels of efficiency evidenced by banks and have been more sluggish in selling progressive life insurance services such as unit-linked products. The conventional insurance companies have attempted to respond by expanding their distribution capacities into new networks. For example, AXA developed proprietary bancassurance networks with retail banks Ippa and Anhyp. The collective merged to become AXA Bank in 1999.

Belgian life insurance companies have historically had little requirement for asset and liability management systems. Policyholders were generally given little room for manoeuvre, stabilising insurers’ liabilities, whilst a tight regulatory framework kept competition down to a minimum. However, regulatory changes in the early 1990s introduced greater competition and began the process of modernisation of the life insurance industry. This in turn introduced more potential for the negative impact of new risk creation on those insurance franchises either too slow to adapt and develop products or too fast to implement them without the appropriate asset and liability assessment.

Bancassurance has increased existing pressures on the expense base of all insurance companies. In comparison with either the level of premium income (annual flows) or technical provisions, expense ratios have significantly decreased over the last 10 years. Although it was at a relatively high rate to begin with, the level of commissions and administration expenses has fallen by over fifty percent since 1990 largely because of premium income growth, excluding non-life insurance operations (Régent, 2000). Most significantly, ‘the emergence of cheaper distribution through banks, economies of scale, the greater role given to traditional intermediaries in the administration of policies, the use of information technology and the out-sourcing of non-core operations’ also go some way to accounting for the reduction. New products have also been marketed aggressively through cuts in commissions. A further expense reduction is hampered by the limited size of the domestic market, creating a challenge in trying to spread costs across large books of business, and inflexible labour laws, preventing any rapid restructuring effort.

Belgian national legislation is necessarily subject to European Union regulatory oversight of capital adequacy. Amalgamated insurance companies have been required to ‘calculate distinct life and non-life solvency margins’, and to ‘allocate equity and profits carried forward to each business’ following specific rules since 1984. The minimum solvency margin is equal to either an absolute minimum value or, if higher as in the majority of cases, ‘equal to a minimum calculated upon the existing book of business weighted by the nature of the risks taken by the company’. The national insurance industry is supervised by the OCA/CDV (Office de Contrôle des Assurances/Controledienst Voor De Verzekeringen) with reference to the Belgian Insurance Supervisory Act (1975) (subsequently amended). The OCA/CDV reports to the Ministry of Economy. A separate entity, the insurance commission, performs a consultative role and offers opinions on those issues considered most relevant to the industry. A distinct supervisory commission oversees the banking sector, but the development of large financial conglomerates and the growth of bancassurance operations have acted as catalysts for the introduction of greater co-operation between the two supervisory bodies. In December 1992, a Royal Decree served to reform the legal framework applicable to Belgian life insurance. The modernisation established the path towards improved innovation of products and increased competition between insurance companies.

The Netherlands

Bancassurance in The Netherlands has developed into a concentrated and competitive market. With representation of all the distribution channels and the offer of an integrated service from a single point of sale, the industry is likely to consolidate its strong position in the future. The Netherlands may lay claim to some of the most powerful financial institutions in the world. This strength across both banking and insurance, demonstrated by ABN-AMRO, Rabobank and ING Bank N.V. is supported by equally sturdy economic fundamentals and a complimentary corporate framework. State intervention previously contributed to a protectionist environment, but the withdrawal of this welfare function has benefited the financial services industry. In addition, the implementation of a 2001 law on taxation significantly shifted the supply structure of insurers and amended the fiscal position of individuals. Bancassurance has proved to be the end goal of a consolidation rally, with the banking, pension, social security and fund management sectors allying with insurance companies to implement integrated strategies. The strongest institutions have followed a global expansionary plan through both overseas acquisitions, demonstrable by ING, Aegon and Fortis, and ‘green-field’ operations by ING, for example.

The concentration of the Dutch financial services is evident within the insurance sector, with less than ten groups continuing to control the market. In the view of Lepreux and others (2000), high concentration levels do not prevent the development of new institutions. Although some market segments remain saturated, traditional fund managers may be attracted, for example, by the provision of pension products and unit-linked business. The development and exploitation of new distribution channels, including the internet, may facilitate a leveraging of brand power and client base and enable more market competition. However, these opportunities do not detract from the realities of a national market where, in 1998, the five largest life insurers accounted for over fifty percent of premium income. The Comité Européen des Assurances has noted that the extent of concentration actually appears to be even greater. On a group level, the ten largest groups in the Dutch market controlled a market share of over eighty percent in 1998. The high number of licensed insurance companies appears to serve as a distraction from the fact that the ownership of such companies is increasingly concentrated in just a few groups.

The collective provision of banking and insurance services was initiated at an early stage in the recent history of the Dutch financial services. The banking sector began to distribute insurance policies in the 1980’s, generally acting as agents for brokers and insurers. This steady entry into the bancassurance market accelerated during the deregulatory 1990’s, when legislative changes facilitated mergers and alliances between insurance companies and banks. The result was a marked concentration of the market into the control of a small number of bancassurance conglomerates including ING, through the merger of NMB Postbank with insurer Nationale-Nederlanden in 1991, and the co-operative group Achmea and Rabobank’s development of insurance activities through its Interpolis subsidiary.

Unlike the French model of bancassurance, which has tended to focus on the banks establishing proprietary life insurance companies to exclusively distribute their own products within a branch network, the Dutch model has traditionally involved the formation of significant organisational and commercial links. The aim has been to benefit from the economies of scale of a group forged from the banking and insurance sectors. The bancassurance groups have developed the concept of leverage, in the structural context, and applied this approach to maximise the benefits of strategic branding and marketing, client bases and distribution channels. Accordingly, the constitution of bancassurance strategies has largely been the result of mergers between existing insurers and banks, with insurance companies regularly remaining committed to multi-distribution. Those institutions that have elected to maintain a solely insurance or banking focused business have found their development hindered by regulatory restrictions, whilst at the same time have been forced to struggle against the competitive hurdles of a diminishing market share due to the successful cross-selling by bancassurers. By utilising multiple brands, the insurers have thereby attempted to attain a greater customer base through different distribution channels. The associative arrangements are well illustrated by ING. It has established an intermediary relationship with Nationale-Nederlanden, one of tied agents with RVS, and of bank and direct with the Postbank. The pressures of the evolving market have forced the insurers to address concerns over expense management by adapting their cost structures and diversifying distribution arrangements.

The importance of properly administered asset and liability management has been heavily promoted within The Netherlands as a means of assisting in the development of product provision. As in other continental European environments, volatile capital markets have necessitated changes to risk management techniques in order to protect against a loss of revenues caused by adverse changes. A tradition of liberal supervisory oversight has allowed institutions to self-regulate a large part of their programs to establish premiums and provisions, with little regulatory control over rules of conduct and minimum requirements. The result is a very competitive market and a culture of price importance.

The 1993 Insurance Business Supervision Act set out the role of the Insurance Chamber (Verzekeringskamer, or VK), a non-governmental administrative authority. This entity bears responsibility for the supervision of all Dutch-owned insurers and pension companies, and determines the granting of licences authorising companies to enter into insurance operations. Significantly, insurance regulations do not permit life and non-life operations to be combined within the same single company, but do sanction this affiliation within the same group.

Italy

The emergence of bancassurance in Italy was made possible by significant changes to the legislative and fiscal framework during the 1990s. Whilst an extensive and well-established banking sector had long promoted the development of consumer trust in their products, the Italian market has more recently witnessed a rapid growth in this means of distribution. By 2002, bancassurers represented a 50 percent market share of the insurance market, compared to 36 percent in 1995 and only 8 percent in 1992 (SCOR, 2003). The banking sector in Italy has customarily been subject to a significant degree of public sector ownership, which has tended to hold back the pattern of integration evidenced across the European financial services industry as a whole. From 1990, however, a wave of reforms started to erode away the traditionally fragmented structure of the Italian banking sector. The passing of the Amato Law (1990) authorised banks to own shares in insurance companies and prompted the acceleration of consolidation towards the end of the decade that would instigate the growth of bancassurance in Italy. These developments were given a further boost between 1995 and 1998 by increasingly favourable changes to the taxation policies governing life insurance products. Although the profitability of Italian banks still tends to lag behind international standards, these conditions facilitated the banks’ capacity to account for over 60 percent of new life insurance business and 70 percent of savings products in 2002 (MacNevin, 2002).

Large losses by major Italian banks in the 1990s, including Banco di Roma, Banco di Napoli and Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura, proved to be illustrative of the heavy influence of politics within the domestic environment. Despite these setbacks, the restructuring of the industry has since accelerated with an increasing focus on privatisation, including the sale of stakes owned by the state or charitable foundations. The efforts appear to have taken effect. There is now an overall consensual agreement on a stable outlook for banks in Italy (Moody’s 2002). By improving efficiency, developing new product lines and delivery channels and continuing the ethos of consolidation, the remaining concerns have continued to be addressed. Further progression has centred upon improving the underlying strategic approach to future consolidation, addressing how best to ensure profitability under challenging operating environments, improving product diversification and revenue streams, successfully integrating acquisitions with the delivery of projected benefits and ensuring the adequate maintenance of risk management to provide good asset quality with ongoing loan growth.

The top five banks in Italy now account for over 60 percent of sector assets, with IntesaBci, SanPaolo IMI and Unicredito Italiano possessing considerable market share. One result of this concentration has been the development of sufficient critical mass to support the investments necessary to support expansion of new products and innovative delivery channels (MacNevin, 2002). Further to this domestic concentration, the Italian banks have not been impervious to the growth of cross-border strengths by powerful market participants. Examples of the associations include Credit Agricole’s shareholding in IntesaBci, BBVA’s holding in BNL, and ABN AMRO’s stakes in Capitalia and Banca Antonveneta. With an apparent lack of tangible benefits to the domestic economy stemming from these alliances, The Bank of Italy has shown some reluctance to sanction a cross-border acquisition or merger. Although this approach may appear to evidence a postponement of the inevitable, The Bank has taken a very pro-active view in ensuring the image of the domestic market is not harmed, assisting in the takeover of distressed banks by stronger groups. Moreover, the actual participants in the arrangements have begun to question their true value, with evidence of inequalities between Italian and international influences.

Bancassurance products have still seen strong growth since 1999, supplying essential commission income for a comparatively young sector operating in a tumultuous era within the equity markets. From a longer-term perspective, however, the provision of retirement needs offered by life assurance, pensions and asset management products corresponds to prospective growth for the Italian banking sector. Despite this potential, and the joint efforts between banks and independent insurers to develop footholds across more diverse financial services provision, the concept of the ‘bancassurance industry’ has not gained the considerable cultural ground evidenced in other European countries. However, as effective builders of customer trust, the Italian Banks may utilise their established long-term savings and protection provisions to grow their franchises and the efficiencies of convergence going forward. The banks have adopted the developments that necessarily come with a more diverse distribution of products and services, such as new delivery channels and competitive arenas. As in other European countries, one aspiration has been to reduce their fixed cost base, yet the Italian system must further amend the rigid cost structure and labour laws that continue to hold back the industry. A common view held of the bancassurance sector in Italy is that the development of alternative sales channels simply started later than in the markets of many European peers. More pertinently, however, the barriers presented by the Italian market are significantly cultural, with a sustained focus on the personal nature of the banking relationship. Further, banks have seized the opportunities to develop their means of distribution, but tend to embrace the independent sales agents, or “promotori finanziari” as a means of both expanding the branch networks and growing their businesses.

Germany

Bancassurance has historically proved to be less successful in Germany than in some neighbouring European countries, due to regulatory constraints associated with insurance products. General sales agents have traditionally dominated the market here, although there has been a notable reduction in their market share from 85 percent in 1992 to 54 percent in 1999. This trend has benefited both the bancassurance and brokerage operations in Germany, with their market shares increasing from 1 percent to 18 percent and from 2 percent to 20 percent respectively between 1992 and 1999. Despite this advance during the 1990s, a large number of cross shareholdings and partnerships between banks and insurers have continued to act as barriers to new players on the bancassurance market.

In Germany, over 2,500 commercial, savings and co-operative banks collectively form a highly fragmented banking sector. Further to this, the life insurance industry has not traditionally witnessed a significant level of concentration. More recently, growing competition and pressure on profit margins are forcing a reassessment across the financial services industry as to how best to ensure an efficient corporate structure going forward. Consolidation is meeting the objectives of many banks and insurance companies faced with these challenges to their business models. As a result, alliances, mergers and co-operative agreements are occurring at all levels, both intra-group (related operating units) and inter-group (driven by mergers and acquisitions, co-operation) (Harris and Braun, 2002).

Whilst the structural changes impelled by competitive markets have been significant in themselves, weakened capital markets may also contribute to the trend of consolidation. In addition, changes within the German banking and insurance sectors have also been influenced heavily by fiscal and regulatory controls. Acting as a catalyst for further integration of services, the Riester Reform of the pension system imposes higher capital resources on the industry and contributed to a marked slowing of premium growth in the life insurance sector. The fiscal reforms implemented in 2002 have permitted the larger commercial banks to realise large hidden gains by selling equity stakes, although the culminating effect of these changes is likely to depend on how funds are eventually used. One drawback highlighted by several authors is the traditionally conservative nature of the German market. Despite the potential of deregulation to remove restrictions on prices and circumstances in which they may be offered, change has not followed rapidly. Nevertheless, tax and pension reforms as a whole may sustain longer-term prospects for growth.

Allianz, AMB and ERGO have dominated the modern bancassurance market, controlling over 60 percent in total. With such powerful and established competition already in place, the facility to allocate resources to this growth area may determine the ability of other groups to share in the prospects, or even survive. The conventional state guarantees for Landesbanks and other public sector banks (Anstaltslast and Gewährträgerhaftung) will be removed, although obligations currently in operation may be enforced. The tradition of stability within the German banking sector, therefore, is being challenged on all fronts. Competition, disintermediation, a necessity to ensure more transparent accounting practices and an ever-increasing focus on shareholder value have placed distinct pressures on the future of the industry. The ensuing process of restructuring witnessed a substantial step down this road to consolidation with the merger between Hypo-Bank and Bayerische Vereinsbankt, and significant takeovers within the industry have continued. The application of the traditional ‘critical mass via mergers and cross-border expansion’ model, as defined by Harris and Braun (2002) is disintegrating, to the considerable detriment of the mortgage bank sector. Declining asset quality and poor profitability have hindered any progression of the German notoriety for ownership of some of the world’s highest rated banks. According to Moody’s, the ratings agency, this reflects vulnerabilities to competitive pressures and the impact of potential acquisitions, an erosion of established relationships with customers, and difficulties in achieving cost efficiencies. The impact upon the supply and demand of financial products and services as a whole in Germany is expected to rest heavily on continued bancassurance collaborations and brokers.

As can be seen in figure 4, the life insurance sales force, or tied agents, continues to account for the most significant market share of distribution channels for life insurance policies, of around 54 percent of total business in 2000. Banks, brokers and direct sales, with shares of 19, 16 and 4 percent respectively, are other important distribution channels in the German insurance market. All-electronic communication resources may be of increasing importance in any successful, future sales ventures. However, to date the internet has primarily been implemented as a means of providing information and generating sales leads, rather than as a distribution channel per se.

Figure 4: Share of distribution in Germany (2000)

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Source: GDV

The continued amendments to capital adequacy provisions on a pan-European basis will set apart those mid-ranking companies at threat from market pressures on earnings from companies with greater capital strength, able to survive the corresponding strain on profit margins to fund future growth. Allied with a significant market share and distribution capabilities, the growth potential of the larger groups continues to encourage the sector as a whole. The possibilities offered through product cross selling by the banking sector are still highlighted as a likely beneficiary of the market’s evolution. German insurers are recognising and looking to act upon the benefits and effectiveness of the banking sales channel, for example in the retention of maturing life insurance proceeds. The potential spread deficiency risk arising from guaranteed interest rates on deferred annuity and life contracts in a continued low interest rate environment, noted by Harris and Braun (2002), and the persistence of high expense levels due to operating inefficiencies in the past suggest two further reasons underlying the importance of a re-evaluation of operating activities. The year 2001 marked the culmination of consideration along these lines with Allianz’s acquisition of Dresdner Bank. In forming this new bancassurance group, the companies could capitalise on a stable funding base, a strong domestic franchise and the wholesale benefits of integration. For example, the cost savings of this transaction have been targeted as 5 percent of the combined annual budget of €2 billion, or €100 million. The development towards uniformity of systems and software applications, synergies of customer and product identification and homogenised pricing across distribution channels demonstrates the appeal and real potential of a successful bancassurance operation. Underlining the markets' acknowledgment of the advantageous principles behind such collaborations, AMB/Commerzbank and the HVB/ERGO Group have also moved to build up their strategic ties. This increasing convergence between banking and insurance products was revealed in the co-operative arrangement between ZFS and Deutsche Bank, and table 3 presents the key banks acting as a sales distribution for an insurance group within the German market, affirming the emphases placed upon bancassurance.

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Developments in European Union acceding countries

European Union enlargement is likely to hasten the corporate-sector battle for a stake in Eastern Europe. This market offers a cheaper production base on a new sales area, enticing corporate expansionary strategies. With the aid of European Union integration, the region should present high growth in the coming decades as living standards improve. The financial services industry offers significant growth potential within the new, competitive arena. Mortgage loans to GDP are at approximately 5 percent, compared with 60 percent and 20 percent for the UK and Spain respectively. As illustrated in figure 5, comparable differences exist for total loans to GDP. Austrian and Italian banks have been most evident in the retail banking and mutual fund markets. Bank Austria (owned by HVB), Erste Bank, Unicredito, KBC, SocGen and AIB are the most noticeable, generally via acquisitions. Many institutions offer insurance in the region. ING is a principal life insurance and investment products provider, and Aviva have a focus on non-life services.

Figure 5: Total Loans to GDP Ratio 2002, or High Potential Growth in Financial Services

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Source: Morgan Stanley Research

The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic serves as an illustrative example of an economy where the financial services model may develop into the insurance-banking hybrid seen across Western Europe. With increasing competitive pressures from abroad, an improvement in productivity may enable insurers in the Czech Republic to compete, Rucková (2000). The growth of new insurers has been slow to start, with real establishment of this industry only gaining ground since 1992. Economic problems stemming from expensive claims due to floods in 1997 have also hampered developments. Integration into larger financial groups offers the potential for a more comprehensive financial services industry.

Insurance companies have historically adhered to a universal model, with institutions attempting to meet the demands of the sector across the product spectrum. In 1999, for example, Komercní pojišt’ovna (Commercial Insurance Company) extended its product range to include life assurance services. A further barrier to the introduction of successful bancassurance services is the dominant market position held by Ceská pojišt’ovna, a.s. (Czech Insurance Company), which in 2000 accounted for 60 percent of the Czech insurance market. Rucková (2000) highlights a concern of the Czech industry; that the introduction of significant bancassurance services may not cater for clients’ specific need. This demonstrates the difficulties presented by more immature markets, where such integration may be viewed as a benefit to select institutions, but not the market as a whole. However, despite apprehensions over taking a step back from what many in the Republic see as consumer-focused services, integrations initiated by both the banking and insurance sectors continue to impact on the market. The founding of Pragobanka by the Czech Insurance Company in 1991 and the integration of KBC Insurance and CSOB pojišt’ovna demonstrate bancassurance in action, across both life and non-life insurance avenues.

By 2000, five bancassurance institutions had been established in the Czech Republic. The problems resulting from an absence of domestic legislation pertaining to this sector are likely to be largely resolved with the impact of European Union enlargement. The global awareness and necessity to improve customer services across the financial services industry is therefore likely to strengthen the case for the benefits offered by bancassurance.

Summary of non-European bancassurance markets

United States

In the United States, regulatory barriers to the development of institutions engaged in both insurance and banking has resulted in an immature or non-existent bancassurance industry. The two industries do not share an information system, with creditor insurance the only partnership-product. Banks continue to distribute savings products and the development of insurance activities; for example, Long Term Care or term insurance is in its infancy. There are four main reasons for the markedly different level of bancassurance facilitation and implementation in the United States (Benoist, 2002). Firstly, the US consumer does not generally relate insurance to the banking industry, and has yet to be convinced of its merits. Secondly, the banks are not viewed as trustworthy custodians of consumer interests outside loans and deposits. Third, the US market already has well developed and effective insurance distribution channels. Lastly, the challenges of cross selling have been largely underestimated by the banks. Failed cross-sales experiences, combined with the heavy licensing requirements and additional training necessary to sell insurance products, have resulted in a lack of emphasis on insurance sales by the banks. More recent discussion of regulatory changes to the US financial services industry offer greater potential for integration of banks and insurance companies.

Latin America

The banking sector in several Latin American countries has benefited from recent financial deregulation, enabling these institutions to sell insurance products across the counter (Benoist, 2002). In Brazil, banks are likely to utilise their dominant position in the private pensions market to take full advantage of future pension reforms. With established distribution networks and brand recognition, the largest banks will continue to play an important role in the distribution of insurance products. The bancassurance market is well represented in Argentina. The domestic banking sector is actively acquiring a share of the non-life insurance industry and remains well positioned to profit from the market in private pensions. Bancassurance accelerated in the South American region during the 1990’s due to a number of national and international partnerships. In Argentina and Mexico, for example, foreign banks and insurers formed alliances with local banks that had pre-existing and extensive networks. Bancassurance continues to gain ground in Mexico following the 1997 pension reform and creation of pension funds.

Asia

The Asian markets have traditionally been significantly deregulated, which has facilitated a variety of distribution models. For example, although banks in Thailand have only recently been sanctioned to receive commissions from insurers, all insurance products may now be distributed through the banking channel. In addition, shareholding links between the two sectors is increasing the development of bancassurance distribution.

In Japan, the supervising authorities have applied a deregulatory emphasis on the financial sector since the 1990s, before which bancassurance activities were prohibited. In 1998, insurance companies were authorised to establish banking subsidiaries, and in 2000 the sale of non-life products was sanctioned, and vice versa. Since 2001, the distribution of non-life insurance products has been within the remit of the banks and since October 2002, they have had the right to distribute life annuities. Economic barriers resulting from deflation, coupled with insurers’ guaranteed higher rates than the return on their assets, have lead to expectations of a huge rise in the prevalence of bancassurance (Benoist, 2002).

Conclusion

The pressures of increased competition working in parallel with a more deregulatory market framework have necessitated a reappraisal of traditional banking and insurance provision within Europe. The convergence of banks and insurers under the general bancassurance model reflects one natural consequence of these transitions; that benefits may arise from a diversified or shared distribution.

However, the phenomenon has had a significant effect on certain markets, but in others the effect is minimal. There are several explanations behind these differences; namely, the legal, fiscal, political, economic, behavioural and cultural framework established over the course of each market’s development. The Continental European customer is increasingly developing a higher level of sophistication, both in terms of their general understanding of the services offered and also their informal analysis of how best to attain personal aims and aspirations through use of an array of financial products. This holistic approach to personal finances and the underlying management of the risks associated must engender a changing focus on solutions tailored to the idiosyncrasies of a given group of persons, or individuals. To date, the asset quality at most European insurers is positive and life insurers offer the banking sector the potential of steady earnings to offset more volatile securities activities for example, and the benefits of cross-sales and diversified earnings across the scale of complexity, as illustrated in figure 6. This general merging of the distinctions between banks and insurers may strengthen bancassurers’ competitive position, as these operations are increasingly forcing the financial industry to cut costs and accentuate competition.

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The evidence emerging from a diverse range of markets and requirements across Europe is that before a prospective bancassurer or group attempts to analyse customer requirements, competitive realities now enforce the necessity to have a holistic understanding of the services they aim to provide. The three broad categories and intrinsic features are summarised in figure 7. What emerges as a defining inference is that bancassurance offers a means of provision, but not an all-encompassing solution to halt any losses stemming from the dynamic nature of financial services distribution. The strategic construction of any approach to, or further development within, the European bancassurance market must depend on the specifics and objectives behind each business. Those institutions with the capacity to evolve their application of bancassurance to best align with the market context may continue to find benefit in the model.

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Financial regulation has been developed and revised to respond to the trend of consolidation and convergence across Europe. On the domestic and pan-European stage, supervisory bodies are laying out a regulatory competition framework that may affect substantially upon the intrinsic gains of bancassurance. The new framework is designed to align capital requirements more closely with banks’ risk profiles. By placing greater responsibility on banking groups and holding companies, on a fully consolidated basis, the more recent capital adequacy requirements aim to maintain the level of regulatory capital in the European banking system. The regulators intend to reduce the opportunities for regulatory arbitrage currently exploited within the bancassurance remit, whereby groups are electing to choose between their constituent companies to minimise the impact of the requirements. This will not prevent financial consolidation, but the conclusion of any considerations over how best to employ the potential offered by a free market environment may become more varied. Three ‘not mutually inconclusive’ scenarios were developed by the International Monetary Fund in 2001 as the future of the European financial services industry, but acknowledgement was also given to the inability to conclusively determine which would preside, or even the likely future balance between them. The first is a continuation of the current trend towards international service providers, both inter and intra-nationally. The second approach highlights a persistence of consolidation that would lead to specialist financial institutions in functional niche areas. Lastly, a further movement of consolidation would develop in parallel with a gradual breaking down of the traditional supply chain, through a motivation towards specialising in the supply of a certain product range.

The innate conclusion of strong interdependencies between and across European countries is the increased sensitivity of each country to the environment of all others. Developments towards efficient bancassurance operations must take account of a framework of harmonised directives across the European Union that hopes to prevent crises on a continental scale. The more flexible forms of consolidation and convergence including, but not exclusive to, strategic alliances, co-operative agreements and joint ventures may drive the European financial services industry to re-evaluate its role in the context of evolving capital adequacy requirements.

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