Total capital dedicated to the global reinsurance industry measured $658bn (£478bn) at year-end 2020 reflecting 7% year-on-year growth, according to the latest Reinsurance Market Report from Willis Re.
The firm said the rise was driven primarily by strong investment market appreciation and new capital raised both by incumbents and new entrants also added to the total, but capital returns to shareholders exceeded those new investments.
Willis Re also conducted an in-depth analysis of the results of a subset of 17 reinsurers. The subset’s reported combined ratio deteriorated from 100.6% in 2019 to 104.1% in 2020, due entirely to Covid-19 loss reserving.
However, on an underlying basis i.e. normalising Covid-19 and natural catastrophe losses and excluding reserve releases, the combined ratio improved from 103.1% to 100.7%. This is the first full-year improvement in this ratio since at least 2014.
The firm added that return on equity (ROE), nevertheless, “remains under pressure”. It said the subset companies’ reported ROE fell from 9.7% to 2.7%, and the underlying ROE also fell from 3.2% to 1.3%.
It said the underlying deterioration was due to “declining investment yields more than offsetting the better underlying underwriting performance”. On both a reported and underlying basis, the ROE remained well below the industry’s cost of capital.
James Kent, Global CEO, Willis Re, said: “Such a solid development of the global reinsurance industry’s capital base would hardly have been expected earlier last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic was gathering pace. Willis Re’s analysis provides clear evidence of the strength and resilience of reinsurance market capacity.
“Reinsurers and insurers alike must contend with the challenges of low interest rates. But, looking through the turbulence of COVID-19 and nat cat claims, and a declining reliance on reserve releases, there is a clear improving trend in underwriting profitability.”