Global reinsurance capital, profits, and ROE on the rise in H1: Willis Re

10 September 2021

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Global reinsurers performed well in the first half of 2021, with a further expansion of their capital bases and strong headline underwriting results and ROEs. Underlying ROEs, while less strong, were nonetheless noticeably improved, according to the latest Reinsurance Market Report from ICMIF Supporting Member Willis Re.

Total capital dedicated to the global reinsurance industry measured USD 688 billion after the first six months of 2021, reflecting a 4% increase from 31 December 2020. The rise was driven primarily by strong net income. To fuel organic growth in the positive rating environment, reinsurers typically retained more income than has been usual in recent years.

Reinsurers together achieved exceptionally strong premium growth of 15% during H1 2021. Their weighted average reported combined ratio was 94.1%, which closely matches the figures reported for the 2016 to 2019 half years. Despite abnormally heavy natural catastrophe activity so far this year, the ratio marks a dramatic improvement from the COVID-impacted 104.1% in H1 2020. Reported combined ratios also benefitted from slightly higher levels of reserve releases, reversing the trend of declining releases seen since 2017.

The reinsurers’ underlying half-year combined ratio, excluding prior year development, and normalising for natural catastrophe losses, has improved steadily since 2017. This continued in H1 2021, falling from 98.6% in H1 2020 to 98.4%. A lower expense ratio supported the improved combined ratios, as rapid premium growth more than offset rising costs.

The average ROE also rebounded strongly, assisted by improved investment returns. The reported ROE recovered from last year’s minus 0.7% to reach 13.9%, while the underlying ROE more than doubled to reach 6.3%. Nevertheless, the underlying ROE still remains below the industry’s cost of capital.

James Kent, Global CEO, Willis Re, said: “Reinsurance providers will be heartened by these results. The industry has endured several years of below-par performance, capped by the calamitous experience of COVID-19. Now the remedial work reinsurers have undertaken over the past several years is bearing fruit.

“Unfortunately, though, very strong premium growth in the first half of this year was achieved against combined ratios which are not much lower than during the softer parts of the cycle, therefore leaving underlying ROEs still languishing below the cost of capital.”

Download the full report: The Willis Re Reinsurance Market Report is a biannual publication providing in-depth analysis of the size and performance of the reinsurance market. Analysis is based on the Willis Reinsurance Index group of companies. In 2021 the Index includes 43 companies from across the globe.


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