Insurers are now being added to the “too big to fail” list by Financial Stability Oversight Council created by Dodd-Frank. The Editors of The Wall Street Journal explain how ridiculous the idea is. Why would government put taxpayers’ dollars at risk like this?
Insurers, by contrast, match long-term liabilities with long-term assets. Premiums to cover some event likely to occur decades in the future are invested in assets of a similar duration. There is little risk of a “run on the bank” because policyholders, unlike depositors, typically cannot demand the face value of their policies in cash. Tornadoes, car accidents and terminal cancer do occur, but they don’t occur everywhere at once, and they are not triggered by a panic in financial markets.
Insurers can fail, but since customers cannot immediately demand their money the way bank depositors can, the failures tend to play out slowly over many years. States also typically require insurers to contribute to a fund to make up for the shortfall if one of them fails and its assets and liabilities don’t match. Without the same immediate demands for cash as at a bank that’s heading south, there is less risk of an asset fire sale that could roil markets.