UK’s Solvency II Reforms Could Open Door to Share-Buyback Bonanza for Insurers

Insurers would potentially be able to use billions of pounds of expected gains from a relaxation of capital rules for share buybacks and to pay dividends, under plans by both candidates to succeed Boris Johnson as UK prime minister, Bloomberg News reported. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak have both said overhauling Solvency II capital requirements, a legacy of the UK’s European Union membership, is a key part of a drive to boost the UK’s competitiveness. But people with knowledge of the candidates’ thinking said they wouldn’t limit what the cash could be used for. The government set out proposals to ease Solvency II earlier this year as part of its push to cut red tape after Brexit and to free up cash for insurance companies to invest in infrastructure. The Association of British Insurers said last year that reforms could release as much as £95 billion ($116 billion) to boost the UK economy and tackle climate change. Ros Altmann, a peer and former UK pensions minister, said it would be a “travesty” if insurers do not use the money for long-term projects to benefit society. “I hope that that’s not what’s going to happen.” A person familiar with Truss’s plans told Bloomberg that restrictions on the use of capital for share buybacks and dividends wouldn’t be necessary, and could be counterproductive to boosting investment. A person with knowledge of Sunak’s thinking said such proposals would be unworkable. Read more.