Thursday, October 22, 2015

No. 122: Risk-Based Capital—A Classic Example of the Perennial Confusion over the Denominator of the Ratio

On October 13, 2015, MetLife, Inc. (NYSE:MET) filed an 8-K (material event) report with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The report provides a classic example of the perennial confusion over the denominator used in calculating risk-based capital (RBC) ratios.

The Nature of the Confusion
An RBC ratio is a comparison of two numbers. The numerator of the ratio is "total adjusted capital" (TAC), which is the company's net worth with a few adjustments. The denominator of the ratio, in theory, could be any of the several RBC "levels." However, companies invariably use either "company action level" (CAL) or "authorized control level" (ACL). CAL is exactly twice ACL.

The responsibility for the confusion rests with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which made a politically motivated change when the RBC system was adopted in the early 1990s. I discussed the problem on pages 308-310 in my recently published book, The Insurance Forum: A Memoir. I concluded the discussion there by saying that one thing is certain: whenever an RBC ratio is mentioned, it is essential to indicate what RBC level was used as the denominator.

The Language in the 8-K Report
In the recent 8-K report, MetLife said its "Combined RBC Ratio" at the end of 2014 was 398 percent "instead of in excess of 400% as previously reported in the 2014 10-K and 410% as previously communicated on the Company's first quarter 2015 earnings call." I do not know what was said on the earnings call, but the recent 8-K report did not say what denominator was used in calculating the combined RBC ratio.

To find out, I reviewed MetLife's 10-K report for the year ended December 31, 2014. I found the answer buried on page 299 of the 361-page 10-K report. The denominator was CAL.

The Language in the 10-K Report
One paragraph in the 10-K report explains the RBC system. It is necessary to read the entire paragraph carefully to learn that CAL was the denominator used in the combined RBC ratios mentioned in the recent 8-K report. Here is the full paragraph:
The states of domicile of MetLife, Inc.'s U.S. insurance subsidiaries imposes [sic] risk-based capital ("RBC") requirements that were developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners ("NAIC"). American Life does not write business in Delaware or any other domestic state and, as such, is exempt from RBC requirements by Delaware law. Regulatory compliance is determined by a ratio of a company's total adjusted capital, calculated in the manner prescribed by the NAIC ("TAC") to its authorized control level RBC, calculated in the manner prescribed by the NAIC ("ACL RBC"). Companies below specific trigger levels or ratios are classified by their respective levels, each of which requires specified corrective action. The minimum level of TAC before corrective action commences is twice ACL RBC ("Company Action RBC"). While not required by or filed with insurance regulators, the Company also calculates an internally defined combined RBC ratio ("Combined RBC Ratio"), which is determined by dividing the sum of TAC for MetLife, Inc.'s principal U.S. insurance subsidiaries excluding American Life, by the sum of Company Action RBC for such subsidiaries. The Company's Combined RBC Ratio was in excess of 400% for all periods presented. In addition, all non-exempted U.S. insurance subsidiaries individually exceeded Company Action RBC for all periods presented.
An Omission from the 10-K
MetLife did not disclose in the 2014 10-K report the CAL RBC ratios for its principal U.S. insurance subsidiaries. To calculate the figures, it is necessary to obtain—from the statutory annual statement for each subsidiary—TAC and ACL, multiply ACL by two to determine CAL, divide TAC by CAL, and express the quotient as a percentage.

Although the combined CAL RBC ratio was 398 percent, according to the recent 8-K report, there may be a wide range of CAL RBC ratios among MetLife's principal U.S. subsidiaries. To get an inkling of the range, I reviewed the year-end 2014 statutory annual statements of three subsidiaries. Here are the TAC, CAL, and CAL RBC ratios:
(in millions)
(in millions)
MetLife Ins Co USA
Metropolitan Life Ins Co
Metropolitan Tower Life Ins Co
Three Companies Combined
The CAL RBC ratios for the three subsidiaries are all comfortably in the adequate zone; that is, they are all well above the CAL RBC ratio of 125 percent, which is the "red flag level." Thus no type of corrective action is necessary.

Also, as indicated in the table above, I calculated the combined CAL RBC ratio for the three subsidiaries, using the methodology described in the quoted paragraph from the 2014 10-K report. The combined CAL RBC ratio for the three subsidiaries is 393 percent, which is close to the 398 percent combined CAL RBC ratio cited in the recent 8-K report for all the principal U.S. subsidiaries of MetLife other than American Life.

Availability of My New Book
Ordering information for The Insurance Forum: A Memoir is available at The book is also available from Amazon.