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Introduction to IFRS 4 - Insurance Contracts

Reasons for issuing the IFRS

1 This is the first IFRS to deal with insurance contracts. Accounting practices for insurance contracts have been diverse, and have often differed from practices in other sectors. Because many entities will adopt IFRSs in 2005, the International Accounting Standards Board has issued this IFRS:

(a) to make limited improvements to accounting for insurance contracts until the Board completes the second phase of its project on insurance contracts.

(b) to require any entity issuing insurance contracts (an insurer) to disclose information about those contracts.

2 This IFRS is a stepping stone to phase II of this project. The Board is committed to completing phase II without delay once it has investigated all relevant conceptual and practical questions and completed its full due process.

Main features of the IFRS

3 The IFRS applies to all insurance contracts (including reinsurance contracts) that an entity issues and to reinsurance contracts that it holds, except for specified contracts covered by other IFRSs. It does not apply to other assets and liabilities of an insurer, such as financial assets and financial liabilities within the scope of IFRS 9 Financial Instruments. Furthermore, it does not address accounting by policyholders.

4 The IFRS exempts an insurer temporarily (ie during phase I of this project) from some requirements of other IFRSs, including the requirement to consider the Framework1 in selecting accounting policies for insurance contracts. However, the IFRS:

(a) prohibits provisions for possible claims under contracts that are not in existence at the end of the reporting period (such as catastrophe and equalisation provisions).

(b) requires a test for the adequacy of recognised insurance liabilities and an impairment test for reinsurance assets.

(c) requires an insurer to keep insurance liabilities in its statement of financial position until they are discharged or cancelled, or expire, and to present insurance liabilities without offsetting them against related reinsurance assets.

5 The IFRS permits an insurer to change its accounting policies for insurance contracts only if, as a result, its financial statements present information that is more relevant and no less reliable, or more reliable and no less relevant.

The reference to the Framework is to IASC’s Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements, adopted by the IASB in 2001. In September 2010 the IASB replaced the Framework with the Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting.

In particular, an insurer cannot introduce any of the following practices, although it may continue using accounting policies that involve them:

(a) measuring insurance liabilities on an undiscounted basis.

(b) measuring contractual rights to future investment management fees at an amount that exceeds their fair value as implied by a comparison with current fees charged by other market participants for similar services.

(c) using non-uniform accounting policies for the insurance liabilities of subsidiaries.

6 The IFRS permits the introduction of an accounting policy that involves remeasuring designated insurance liabilities consistently in each period to reflect current market interest rates (and, if the insurer so elects, other current estimates and assumptions). Without this permission, an insurer would have been required to apply the change in accounting policies consistently to all similar liabilities.

7 An insurer need not change its accounting policies for insurance contracts to eliminate excessive prudence. However, if an insurer already measures its insurance contracts with sufficient prudence, it should not introduce additional prudence.

8 There is a rebuttable presumption that an insurer’s financial statements will become less relevant and reliable if it introduces an accounting policy that reflects future investment margins in the measurement of insurance contracts.

9 When an insurer changes its accounting policies for insurance liabilities, it may reclassify some or all financial assets as ‘at fair value through profit or loss’.

This IFRS:

(a) clarifies that an insurer need not account for an embedded derivative separately at fair value if the embedded derivative meets the definition of an insurance contract.

(b) requires an insurer to unbundle (ie account separately for) deposit components of some insurance contracts, to avoid the omission of assets and liabilities from its statement of financial position.

(c) clarifies the applicability of the practice sometimes known as ‘shadow accounting’.

(d) permits an expanded presentation for insurance contracts acquired in a business combination or portfolio transfer.

(e) addresses limited aspects of discretionary participation features contained in insurance contracts or financial instruments.

10 The IFRS requires disclosure to help users understand:

(a) the amounts in the insurer’s financial statements that arise from insurance contracts.

(b) the nature and extent of risks arising from insurance contracts.