New thoughts on renewal rates for Embedded Values

Embedded Values (EVs) are widely used to measure value for life insurers. In the context of long-term contracts such as individual life, it reflects the value embedded in prudent regulatory provisions (or “actuarial reserves”).

For short-term business (group risk, health insurance, health administration, general insurance etc.) it is something different since these lines don’t have long-term prudent provisions. In these cases it reflects the present value of future profits expected to be earned out of the existing business.

The inclusion of these short term types of business within EV is widespread. It seemingly increases consistency between different types of contracts since we are considering the long-term expected profitability in all cases. More on this apparent consistency in a moment.

What do we include in the EV and VIF?

EV is not a complete economic measure of the value of an insurer, since it ignores future profits arising from future new business. This is by design. An Appraisal Value incorporates the Value of Future New Business (VFNB) as well, although there is always subjectivity over how many years of future new business should be included. (More on this in a separate post.)

Existing Business vs Future Business

The idea of “existing business” and “future new business” is clear in the individual life context. It’s existing business if you have a contract, and future new business if not. Premium increases and slight benefit modifications can usually be accommodated within the existing contract and so should ideally be included in the Value of In Force (VIF) based on the expected probabilities of these changes.

As such, the expected future premium increases should also be factored into the Value of New Business (VNB) when the business is originally sold. (Don’t confuse VNB with VFNB.  VNB is the value of business written over some past historical period, typically the last month, 6 months or year. VFNB is the expected value to owners of the business from business that will be sold at some point in the future.)

What counts as In Force for short term contracts?

The position is less clear for Group Risk or Motor policies. These are typically annual contracts, but with high expectations of renewal. In this case the renewals are typically included in the VIF at some assumed level of premium inflation reflecting wage growth rather than new business. Premium inflation is an important consideration in countries with non-negligible inflation. New employees on an existing Group Risk policy are also usually not considered new business since no new sales activity was performed or purchasing decision was made.

The rules applied then are quite well understood. However, we are valuing two different things between short term and long term contracts, and also a little bit of something we shouldn’t.

The source of value for long-term and short-term contracts in the EV

For long term contracts, we are valuing expected future surpluses arising out of a long-term contractual right and prudent regulatory provisions.

For short term contracts we are valuing the existing contract (a small portion of the total value) and the customer relationship that will give rise to future renewals.

There is also a component of customer relationship in the long-term contractual rights since poicyholders can lapse the contract, incur some penalties possibly, but ultimately not be required by law to continue paying premiums. It’s difficult to separate these components though.

Unintended inclusion of brand value

Now the interesting part: I maintain that by using a best estimate future renewal rate for short term contracts, we are actually valuing a portion of the brand over and above the customer relationship. This is best demonstrated by an example.

Example of confounding of customer relationships and brand value

Take a company with a 20pc market share in the group risk market in which it operates. Let’s also say that best estimate future renewal rate is 80pc. If we assume a constant market share percentage (arising because of the value of the brand, but may be also broker networks etc.) then 1 in 5 employer groups looking for group risk cover will choose our hypothetical company – ignoring customer relationships.

Some of our customers will be very pleased with our service and will renew for that reason. The good customer relationship is a significant source of value. However, some of our customer won’t particularly value our service or relationship. Some of these will leave, but others will stay anyway – because of the value of our brand.

In fact, we should expect 20pc of our existing customers to renew even if there is no customer relationship at all. Why should existing customers be less likely to choose us again even if there is no customer relationship than a brand new customer?

Some of our customers may be so put out by an unfortunate incident, poor service or a repudiated claim that they may deliberately not renew. A customer relationship doesn’t have to have positive value.

So of our 80pc renewals, 20pc renew for reasons independent of our customer relationship. So the correct renewal rate to apply when measuring customer relationships is actually 60pc.

The impact can be significant

This makes a significant difference to the VIF. For a 20 year projection and 20pc market share, the difference is a reduction in VIF of 46pc. For a 10 year projection with a 5pc market share, the difference is still 14pc.

You can test the impact using this Renewal Test model under Example Models.

Example Group Risk EV model

What does this mean practically?

Now we haven’t changed the true value of the business; we’ve changed how much of it we recognise as a customer relationship. With a lower VIF, we would expect to see positive renewal experience variances (if we compare actual renewal rates to modelled) or higher volumes of new business (if we treat the portion of renewals related to overall market share as new business) athough the new business margin on revenue will be lower since we are modelling a lower Discounted Premium Term (DPT).

Neither of these results is very satisfactory. Perhaps the answer lies in separating renewal into a change in market share impact and the remaining renewal variance so that the VNB is still objectively measured as new sales, but the persistency profits are separately allocated between the known adjustment for brand and the actual deviations from renewals being further different than expected.

Merger and Acquisition pricing and accounting

Specifically though, this has important implications for accounting for insurance mergers and acquisitions and the types of intangibles created. It also feeds into the purchase price decision and valuation adopted for an acquisition. Ultimately, views of the Appraisal Value of annually renewable business must incorporate these important differences when compared to individual life businesses.