Up Front

The Fed Will Soon Be Regulating Some Major Life Insurers

Douglas J. Elliott

The Federal Reserve will soon be an important regulator of the largest insurers, which will be a major change in regulatory regime that could have real effects on how these insurers operate, including what products they offer and how much they charge.

The Financial Stability Oversight Council has announced a preliminary determination to designate several major financial institutions as systemically important. The specific names were not announced, since the firms have 30 days to appeal the designation, though two major insurers were apparently included (AIG and Prudential) and MetLife is likely to follow soon. Designation as a SIFI (Systemically Important Financial Institution) could carry with it a considerably greater regulatory burden, as the Fed will have quite wide powers over all SIFIs. The Fed automatically has these same regulatory powers over medium-sized and larger banks, so the real issue has been which non-bank financial institutions would be designated.

The big question now is how the Fed will choose to regulate these insurers. They have given little clue so far and, frankly, their thinking is probably not yet very advanced. They focused on the designation process first and they are already overwhelmed with concrete deadlines imposed by other parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. However, the act of designation will start to concentrate their mind on some important choices to be made.

For those who want to know more, please read my recent paper providing a detailed overview on how life insurance SIFIs ought to be regulated