This is a technical article reviewing recent actions by S&P in implementing their new criteria on the reinsurance sector. If you are interested in understanding this further, would like further clarification or would like to comment please feel free to mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(*/** indicate references to ‘technical notes’ at the end of the note)
The recent S&P rating updates of the core operations of Catlin, Lancashire, Partner Re and Platinum Re highlight the profound impact of truly qualitative factors (and especially ERM) in S&P’s reinsurer ratings.
For Catlin and Lancashire this was of critical importance as the rating implications of not scoring highly in S&P’s ERM analysis were stark.
The financial strength rating anchor* for both groups is ‘bbb+’, which is below what is often perceived as a key threshold of market acceptance. However, each achieved a ‘strong’ score for ERM. The ERM analysis acts as a modifier to the initial rating anchor and was enough to push the indicative rating up one notch to the crucial ‘A-‘ level.
In Catlin’s case a further notch uplift to ‘A’ was achieved through S&P’s ‘holistic’ analysis whereby the agency may add or subtract a rating notch based on a final view of particularly strong or weak credit factors not already sufficiently captured by its analysis. For Catlin this reflected in particular S&P’s view of the strength of its competitive position and the relative quality of its earnings versus its peer group.
The S&P ratings anchor combines the “Business Risk Profile” and “Financial Risk Profile” assessments of each company. For Catlin a key constraining factor for the rating anchor is having only a ‘moderately strong’ Capital & Earnings score within its Financial Risk Profile despite S&P’s assumption of strong prospective earnings. By contrast Lancashire achieved a ‘very strong’ result for Capital & Earnings but this was offset by its Risk Position being scored as ‘very high’ and its Business Risk Profile score being reduced to ‘satisfactory’, despite receiving a ‘strong’ for its Competitive Position. Both constraints on the rating derive from its concentration in severity lines with large limits.
For both organisations the ERM score is clearly a powerful affirmation of management quality, however we would presume they would be far more comfortable being able to achieve the ‘A-‘ rating level via the Business Risk and Financial Risk profiles that drive the initial rating anchor, not least given that what constitutes high quality ERM is a bar that is consistently being raised. Moreover for Lancashire achieving an ‘a-‘ rating anchor from S&P might be difficult as the key drivers of this are heavily influenced by S&P’s interpretation of its high risk lines business model.
A.M. Best assigns ‘A’ financial strength ratings to both Catlin and Lancashire. Best does not publish the equivalent of a rating anchor but the positive deviation in its view from that of S&P on Lancashire’s strength can be further seen in the positive outlook Best’s assigns to its ‘Issuer Credit Rating’ (ICR) of the group’s underwriting operations. The ICR ‘translates’ the AM Best scale to the S&P scale and basically means Lancashire has a reasonable future chance of achieving an FSR rating from Best equivalent to ‘A+’** on the S&P scale. In rating terms that’s a long way from the ‘A-‘ S&P rating.
By contrast, Partner Re was assessed with a ‘aa-‘ level rating anchor from S&P but the final financial strength rating is reduced to the ‘A+’ level. Again Best is more positive with an ‘A+’ rating on its own scale that maps** to ‘AA-‘ on the S&P scale.
Within the S&P analysis of Partner Re the fundamental components of its rating anchor are almost as strong as they can be for a reinsurer. Only risks intrinsic to the reinsurance industry drag this down from the highest possible ‘anchor’ level of ‘aa+‘. However, given their size and sophistication, we assume they will be disappointed with S&P’s assessments of their Management & Governance being only ‘fair’ whilst their ERM is assessed as being ‘adequate with strong risk controls’. Both judgments on the key qualitative factors are below most of the group’s peers.
Platinum Underwriters was however assessed below Partner Re on these combined factors; also receiving ‘fair’ for Management & Governance, but a lower assessment of ‘adequate’ for ‘ERM’. This would have had the effect of pushing the indicative rating down to the ‘BBB+’ level. However in a further indication of the fundamental role of qualitative factors in their analysis, S&P’s final ‘holistic’ review raised it back to the ‘A-‘ level. Again AM Best is more bullish, rating Platinum ‘A’ on its own financial strength scale with a mapping to ‘A’** on the S&P scale.
*The ‘ratings anchor’ is not a rating (hence the use by S&P of the lower case symbols) but rather is the initial outcome of S&P’s rating review of a re/insurer. It addresses the core elements of financial and business risk analysis but is prior to S&P’s review of the key qualitative aspects of the re/insurer’s management profile; namely the quality of management, governance and its ERM. These may modify the rating anchor outcome positively or negatively. A further ‘holistic’ review is then applied which may adjust the rating up or down by one notch. S&P then may apply a ‘cap’ to the rating based on concerns around either liquidity or sovereign risk. Finally the rating may be adjusted due to wider group or government support.
** AM Best’s rating scale for financial strength ratings (FSRs) has fewer gradations than that used by S&P and some of the symbols common to both stand at different points in their respective scales. However Best also publishes ‘issuer credit ratings’ (ICRs) on rated re/insurers. Since the ICR for an operating re/insurer is the same as it’s FSR, for those carrying a financial strength rating the ICR effectively acts as a mapping of the AM Best scale to the S&P scale. Thus a Best’s ‘A+’ maps to an ‘AA-‘ or ‘AA’ on the S&P scale and a Best’s ‘A’ maps to an S&P ‘A’ or ‘A+’. It should be noted that typically for both S&P and Best’s the ICR of holding companies is below that of a given group’s core operating re/insurers.