Insurers are not blameless in economic collapse, says Allstate chief executive

Insurers are not blameless in economic collapse, says Allstate chief executive

Allstate chief executive Tom Wilson has insisted the insurance industry must shoulder some of the blame for the global economic crisis.

The US insurance industry looks certain to have some kind of federal regulation imposed on it this year as the government tries to put protections in place against a repeat of the present financial problems.

But there are those within the insurance industry who have argued that the state based system works well and that the economic problems stemmed largely from banking and other areas of financial services. Even in the case of American International Group (AIG), they point out that it was in non-insurance areas where the problems started.

Wilson, though, disagrees and says insurers must hold their hands up play a part in ensuring there is no repeat of the difficulties being felt around the world.

"It should be no surprise that a big insurer like AIG would be a major issuer of credit default swaps. What is surprising is the claim that insurance did not contribute to the recent market failures, and therefore insurers don't need to consider how to prevent them from happening again," wrote Wilson in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

He continued that, unlike some of his peers, he is an advocate of federal regulation and says any company that could pose a risk to the financial markets should be included.

"There are plenty of people singling out causes for the collapse of the financial markets, and conveniently, the source of the problem is usually someone else," he said.

"But accountability lies with all of us - the insurance industry, regulators, banks and credit rating agencies. The insurance companies that wrote credit default swaps were happy not to be regulated. Insurance regulators didn't expand their oversight to ensure the solvency of these companies. Banking regulators, banks and credit rating agencies did not properly assess the strength of issuers and readily accepted these complex derivatives.

"Unlike banks or investment houses, insurance companies are not regulated by the federal government. Instead, they are regulated by individual states, which lack the expertise to properly oversee rapid innovation or systemic risks.

"All companies that create risk for the financial markets need to be in the pool of federal regulation, including companies like Allstate. A good start would be for Congress to eliminate the hodgepodge of state regulatory systems by establishing a federal regulator for national insurance companies."

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