DEFINITION of Net Liabilities To Policyholders' Surplus

Net Liabilities To Policyholders' Surplus is the ratio of an insurer’s liabilities, including unpaid claims, reserve estimation errors, and unearned premiums, to its policyholders’ surplus. Also called the net liability leverage ratio, represents the risk that an insurer’s loss reserves won’t cover its claims, requiring it to dip into policyholders’ surplus. The ratio is usually expressed as a percentage.

BREAKING DOWN Net Liabilities To Policyholders' Surplus

Insurance companies set aside a reserve to cover liabilities that arise from claims made on policies that they underwrite. The reserves are based on an estimate of the losses an insurer may face over a period of time, meaning that the reserves could be adequate or may fall short of covering its liabilities. Estimating the amount of reserves requires actuarial projections based upon the types of policies underwritten.

Indicator of Solvency 

The net liabilities to policyholders’ surplus differs from ratios based on loss reserves because loss reserves don’t represent liabilities as much as it represents a rainy day fund for potential liabilities.

Insurers have flexibility when it comes to how they report their finances, and can use loss reserves as a source of income smoothing. For some insurers, a large majority of liabilities are for loss and loss adjustment expense reserves. Estimations of these reserves impact how the insurer is valued by investors. Insurers may wrongly estimate their losses with no intention of being fraudulent, but may also purposely manipulate the figures.

Regulators pay attention to the net liabilities to policyholders’ surplus ratio because it is an indicator of potential solvency issues, especially if the ratio is high. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), a ratio of less than two hundred percent is considered acceptable. If a number of insurers have ratios greater than what is considered acceptable, this could be an indicator that the insurers may be dipping too far into reserves to pay out profits.

Consumers can find this and other ratios for insurers from The NAIC Insurance Regulatory Information System (IRIS), a collection of analytical solvency tools and databases designed to provide state insurance departments with an integrated approach to screening and analyzing the financial condition of insurers operating within their respective states. IRIS, developed by state insurance regulators participating in NAIC committees, is intended to assist state insurance departments in targeting resources to those insurers in greatest need of regulatory attention. IRIS is not intended to replace each state insurance department’s own in-depth solvency monitoring efforts, such as financial analyses or examinations.