Nearly 40 percent of property/casualty insurers say they’d like to increase holdings in alternative investments in the coming months to combat low yields, according to a new Goldman Sachs Asset Management survey.
The firm argues that the results show a major change in attitude among property/casualty insurers, a division that generally keeps its investment portfolio on the safe side.
“Insurance CEOs of property and casualty companies have been of the view that ‘we take all the risk on the liability side, the underwriting function, and we don’t want to take any on the asset side,'” Robert Goodman, global head of insurance relationships with Goldman Sachs Asset Management, told Carrier Management. “They’re realizing it is more risky to remain pure investment grade on the asset side than not.”
He added that Goldman Sachs believes it is seeing “a structural, rather than a cyclical change in the appetite on the part of [property and casualty] companies to [focus on] asset classes and strategies other than investment grade fixed income.”
The third annual insurance survey from Goldman Sachs Asset Management, titled “Risk on…Reluctantly,” found similar results among multiple insurance sectors—a desire to boost risk in response to low yield. Their data comes from the poll responses of 233 insurance company chief investment officers and chief financial officers. Beyond property/casualty executives, they also spoke to global life, multiline, reinsurance and health insurance industry execs.
Combined, the executives represented companies with more than $6 trillion in global balance sheet assets, Goldman Sachs Asset Management said.
Among the broader findings: chief investment officers surveyed generally said they believed the most ideal near-term strategy to boost their portfolio returns was to devote to less liquid assets, alternatives and equities. More than one-third of CIOs said they’d increase their overall portfolio risk, and insurance chief financial officers generally said they were more comfortable with investment risk versus last year.
The survey found that CIOs intend to make more investments over the next year in areas including infrastructure debt, private equity, commercial mortgage loans and real estate equity—all riskier areas with potential for a greater rate of return.
For property/casualty insurers, 39 percent said they’d focus on increasing their risk in investments in the coming months, 8 percent said they’d decrease and the rest would maintain the status quo. In other words, very few P/C insurers said they’d reduce risk.
Goldman Sachs Asset Management said that this is significant, considering the overall industry has enjoyed improved capitalization and liquidity in recent years, along with and lower total investment risks on their balance sheets.
Goodman said that responses from property/casualty insurers indicate that executives in this sector realize that in the current market reality, “by investing [solely] in investment grade fixed income, they won’t generate the required level of investment income, and can’t compensate on the underwriting side.”
Even so, it isn’t about property/casualty insurers drastically increasing their investment risk profile. Rather, it is an evolutionary and gradual thing, said John Melvin, CIO of insurance asset management for the Goldman Sachs division.
“This is simply a more evolutionary change of stepping a bit further outside of the risk spectrum on the margin and trying to capture a bit more return on the portfolio,” Melvin told Carrier Management. “The vast majority of portfolios will still [have] high quality liquid assets backing” them.
Added Goodman: “The P/C industry generally views this as simply allocating a little bit more of the risk budget to the asset side than has traditionally been the case.”