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The Risks and Returns Associated with the Insurance Activities of Foreign Subsidiaries of U.S. Banking Organizations

by Gary Whalen


In late 1999, U.S. banking organizations were granted permission to indirectly engage in insurance underwriting by affiliating with insurance companies in a holding company framework. To date, however, few such combinations have occurred and so little empirical evidence on the actual benefits of this sort of merger exists. Most of the available empirical evidence on the risks and returns of bank involvement in insurance activities is drawn from studies examining only hypothetical mergers of banks and insurance companies. Although some U.S. banks have begun to sell insurance products domestically in recent years, there have been virtually no studies of the actual risks and return of this activity because banks are not required to report information on this individual line of business.

But U.S. banking organizations have been permitted to sell insurance and underwrite life insurance outside the U.S. through foreign subsidiaries and file financial statements for each of these subsidiaries with the Federal Reserve. The primary aim of this study is to use these data over a 13-year time span (1987-1999) to generate evidence on the risks and return actually associated with bank controlled insurance operations. This exercise should provide needed insight on the likely effects of an increase in domestic insurance activities by U.S. banks.

Although the results are somewhat sensitive to the aggregation method employed, the evidence is basically consistent with the findings reported in previous work where only hypothetical bank-insurance combinations were analyzed. When ROA is used as the measure of returns, the mean and median returns earned in insurance activities exceed banking returns as well as the returns earned in other nonbanking activities by a substantial margin. When ROE is used to measure returns, the pattern is more mixed because equity-asset ratios in insurance activities are much higher than they are for the two benchmark activities. The evidence generally shows that when viewed on a stand-alone basis, insurance activities are slightly riskier than banking but less risky than the other nonbanking activities BHCs have been permitted to engage in. The results of an analysis of simple two-asset portfolios (banking and insurance) suggest banking organizations can improve, or at least not unfavorably alter their risk/return opportunities by engaging in both banking and insurance activities.


As with all OCC Working Papers, the opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency or the Department of the Treasury.

Any whole or partial reproduction of material in this paper should include the following citation: Whalen, "The Risks and Returns Associated with the Insurance Activities of Foreign Subsidiaries of U.S. Banking Organizations," Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, E&PA Working Paper 2000-8, September 2000.


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