Insurance Regulation:

The Failures of Four Large Life Insurers

T-GGD-92-13: Published: Feb 18, 1992. Publicly Released: Feb 18, 1992.

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GAO discussed the: (1) financial characteristics of four large insurance companies recently taken over by state regulators; and (2) regulatory actions regarding those insurers. GAO noted that: (1) state regulators in California and New York took over an insurance company and its subsidiary in April 1991, and regulators in California and Virginia took over two subsidiaries of another insurance company in May 1991; (2) when state regulators took over the four insurers, the companies had a total of nearly $85 billion in business and more than 900,000 policies with policyholders and annuitants in every state; (3) the four insurers' assets had grown six to ten times faster than the assets of the life insurance industry overall, primarily because of the sale of high-yield retirement investment products; (4) the insurers had invested heavily in high-risk assets, mainly notably junk bonds, to cover the high rates paid to policyholders and maintain profitability; (5) to bolster their financial condition, the four insurers had reduced policy reserves on their balance sheets through reinsurance transactions and received millions of dollars in surplus infusions and loans from their parent holding companies; (6) the insurers' dwindling surplus and massive junk bond holdings led to a loss of policyholder confidence, subsequent policyholder runs, and eventual state takeovers of the companies; (7) state regulators were aware of the four insurers' troubled conditions, but did not take effective action to stem the companies' financial deterioration or minimize losses; and (8) state regulators lacked timely, complete, and accurate information to monitor the insurers.

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