WHAT IS 'Valuation Reserve'

Valuation reserves are assets that insurance companies set aside per state law to mitigate the risk of declines in the value of investments they hold.

Because policies such as life insurance, health insurance and various annuities may be in effect for extended periods of time, these reserves protect the insurance company from losses from investments that may not perform as expected. This helps assure that policy holders are paid for claims and that annuity holders receive income even if an insurance company’s assets lose value.

BREAKING DOWN 'Valuation Reserve'

Valuation reserve requirements have changed over the years. Before 1992, a mandatory securities valuation reserve was required by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to protect against a decline in value in the securities an insurance company held as an investment.

After 1992, however, the mandatory securities valuation reserve requirements were changed to include an asset valuation reserve and an interest maintenance reserve. This reflected the nature of the insurance business with companies holding different categories of assets and customers purchasing more annuity-related products.

Changing Valuation Reserve Requirements in a Shifting Market

Life insurance companies have the obligation to pay beneficiaries named by policyholders who purchase insurance and annuities. These companies need to hold an appropriate level of assets in reserve to make sure they can meet these obligations over many years that policies may be in effect.

Various state laws and standards require that this level be calculated on an actuarial basis. This approach accounts for expected claims among policyholders, plus forecasts on future premiums the company will receive and how much interest a company can expect to earn.

Yet the market for insurance and annuity products had been shifting in the 1980s. The American Council of Life Insurers reported that in 1980, life insurance represented 51 percent of reserves held by companies while reserves held for individual annuities accounted for only 8 percent.

But by 1990 reserves for life insurance fell to 29 percent of all reserves while the percentage held for individual annuities climbed to 23 percent. This reflects growth in the popularity of retirement plans that are administered by insurance companies.

A changing interest rate climate can create risk that impacts reserves needed for ongoing annuity payments more than for life insurance benefits that are paid in one lump sum.

By recommending changing regulations to separate asset valuation reserves from interest maintenance reserves, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners recognized the need to protect against the fluctuations in the values of equity and credit-related capital gains and losses differently than interest-related gains and losses.

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