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Dupplin: Neal bill would hit the US consumer in the pocket

If legislation to increase the US tax burden on Bermuda reinsurers were to pass, American consumers would end up paying more for insurance.

That is the view of Hiscox Bermuda CEO Charles Dupplin, who said yesterday that with the ever-increasing pressure on companies to make an underwriting profit, the extra burden of added tax would inevitably be borne by the insurance buyers.

Speaking in a panel discussion at the Bermuda (Re) insurance 2011 conference, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Standard & Poor’s, Mr Dupplin said the Neal bill would effectively set in motion a game of “pass the parcel”.

“If the Neal bill were enacted, then I think the boards of Bermuda entities would say we need to make an underwriting profit, so we’ll alter the pricing to make the sums add up,” Mr Dupplin said.

“Part of this increased tax burden would be passed back to the ceding companies and then on to the insured.”

Mr Dupplin added that something like the IPT tax, levied on insurance policies in the UK, would be a better approach for the US to adopt, though this would mildly soften demand for insurance.

Fellow panellist Brad Kading, President of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR), who spearheads the industry’s lobbying of US politicians, said that this was a rare time when there was a bipartisan force for corporate tax reform, something that promised to be a major issue in the 2012 Presidential election.

The panel was discussing global economics and the impact on the industry. A major theme was, as outlined by moderator Caroline Foulger, lead re/insurance partner at PwC Bermuda, is that a rapidly increasing portion of global growth is emanating from emerging market economies.

Although the rise of BRICs (Brazil, India, Russia and China) presented the industry with growth opportunities, there were also hurdles and threats.

Mr Dupplin pointed out that China was not throwing up as much business as might be expected for a fast-growing economy. One of the reasons for this may be cultural. In discussions with a Chinese client, Mr Dupplin was told that the Chinese believe in fate, so they many didn’t see the point of insurance. Many of the Chinese factories, owned by individuals rather than companies, were not insured at all.

However, he saw opportunities in second-generation insurance demand, from children of those factory owners who wanted to safeguard their family wealth.

Mr Kading warned that protectionism was limiting opportunities for insurers in some emerging markets. “Protectionism is something to be battled against. But we’re most likely to see more of it happen as a result of the global recession,” he said.

“India and China are hard markets to enter and Brazil has some protectionist barriers.”

He warned that “regulatory costs will rise dramatically” for international reinsurers in the coming years.

Mr Dupplin saw opportunities in emerging markets where people were starting to buy insurance. He believed that the floods in Thailand, which had caused significant business interruption, would “shake out” some of less serious players in Singapore and some of that business might come to Bermuda.

Mr Dupplin said that 2011 had some similarity to the first eight months of 2001, with a slight upward pressure building on rates, before the “tinder box event” of the September 11 terrorist attacks caused rates to rise across all lines.

“If that tinder box event happens, there would be a very hard market,” Mr Dupplin said. “That event has traditionally been some sort of insurance disaster. Could be the collapse of the euro?”

David Law, PwC’s global insurance leader, added his view on the European debt crisis, that he could not see Greece staying in the euro.

“From my perspective, the sums don’t work and something has got to break,” he said.

Mr Law also spoke about the fact that many insurers are trading well below book value. “It shows that what we are communicating in terms of value is not understood,” he said. He said that investment houses were reluctant to invest in an industry that was quite opaque.

Hiscox Bermuda CEO Charles Dupplin

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Published November 10, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 10, 2011 at 7:55 am)

Dupplin: Neal bill would hit the US consumer in the pocket

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