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IFRS 17 represents a fundamental shift in how insurance contracts are accounted for. Codified by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), IFRS 17 supersedes the previous standard, IFRS 4, which was adopted back in 2004.
Unlike IFRS 4, which permitted insurers significant flexibility in measuring insurance assets and liabilities, IFRS 17 ushers in a single, consistent approach for all insurance contracts. This new standard aims to increase transparency and comparability across insurance companies and jurisdictions.
At its core, IFRS 17 requires insurance liabilities to be measured using current, market-consistent values. This is a major change from past practice where insurers measured liabilities based on the assumptions made at contract inception. Under IFRS 17, the fulfillment cash flows for future claims, benefits, and expenses must be estimated using up-to-date information. This number is then discounted using a market interest rate.
The goal is to better reflect the economic value of insurance obligations and reduce accounting mismatches that can arise between assets and liabilities. IFRS 17 also emphasizes timely recognition of profits to align revenue with the delivery of service.
For many insurers, implementing IFRS 17 necessitates a complete overhaul of actuarial models, accounting policies, IT systems, and more. While challenging, advocates argue the standard will result in greater transparency, improved decision making, and alignment across the industry.
According to the IASB, IFRS 17 "will provide investors and others with more useful information about insurance contracts and increase comparability between insurers." The standard applies to all insurance contracts issued by an entity, regardless of the type of insurance or geographic location.
The implications of IFRS 17 extend far beyond just insurers' financial reporting. The new standard is also expected to have wide-ranging impacts on capital allocation, product development, investment strategy, and more. Successfully navigating this transition requires coordination across many functions.
IFRS 17 applies to all entities that issue insurance contracts, regardless of the type of insurer or geographical location. This includes not only traditional life, non-life, and health insurers, but also other entities that undertake insurance activities. For example, IFRS 17 applies to insurers engaged in reinsurance, mutual entities, and insurance groups or conglomerates. Even companies that have insurance contracts as only part of their operation must apply IFRS 17 to those specific contracts.
The breadth of IFRS 17"s scope speaks to the global prevalence of the insurance industry and its material impact on economies worldwide. By providing consistent recognition, measurement, presentation and disclosure principles, IFRS 17 allows investors and others to more meaningfully evaluate and compare insurers across various products, jurisdictions, and corporate structures.
Application of IFRS 17 extends to both public and private insurers. Many large, listed insurance giants like AXA, Allianz, and MetLife will need to adhere to the standard. Additionally, smaller niche insurers, mutuals, cooperatives and specialty market players also fall under the scope of IFRS 17. For groups with both insurance and non-insurance business lines, the standard must be selectively applied to the eligible insurance contracts only.
Even state-owned insurance entities and government sponsored programs like crop insurance, deposit insurance and pension guarantee funds are encompassed by IFRS 17"s umbrella. The global sweep of the standard aims to uphold transparency and comparability for insurance contract accounting uniformly. Critics argue, however, that strict application of such a complex standard by small, non-public entities is unnecessary and overly burdensome. Proponents contend the enhanced consistency and reduced optionability outweighs the implementation challenges for entities of all sizes.
Measurement of insurance liabilities is now based on current, market-consistent values instead of original pricing assumptions. This is achieved via the general measurement model (GMM) which requires fulfillment cash flows to be remeasured each reporting period. These fulfillment cash flows represent probabilities-weighted estimates of future cash required to settle claims, benefits, and expenses. By reflecting current market information, the GMM measurement aligns the insurance liability valuation with the value of assets backing them.
Profit recognition now ties closely to the delivery of service per the contract. Under IFRS 17, profit consists of both the release from risk over coverage periods and the margin representing coverage and other services. This systematic release of profits eliminates volatility stemming from when claims are incurred. The allocation of profits to service periods provides investors enhanced insight into an insurer"s performance.
Increased granularity around profitability reporting is another aim of IFRS 17. The standard requires disclosure of profits separately for insurance contracts issued, reinsurance held, and investment activity. This level of transparency enables analyses into sources of earnings across the value chain.
Simplified approaches to measurement and profit recognition are allowed for certain types of contracts under IFRS 17. Shorter term life insurance contracts can use the premium allocation approach (PAA) which is similar to current practice. Certain investment-linked and direct participating contracts can report via the variable fee approach (VFA) to avoid unwarranted volatility.despite these select exemptions, IFRS 17 represents a seismic shift overall.