The prudential regulator has warned that budget changes designed to shore up the retirement savings of young people and low-income earners will trigger double-digit premium rises for everyone else.
The warning puts the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority on a collision course with the federal government, which says the changes will save vulnerable people over $600 million a year.
APRA’s deputy chairman Helen Rowell warned of unintended consequences from policies to stop fees being charged on low-balance superannuation accounts.
Ms Rowell told a Senate economics legislation committee on Friday the changes would “create upward pressure” on premiums for the remaining insured members.
The changes require the accounts of members with less than $6000, that have been inactive for 13 months, be transferred to the Tax Office. Another change will require members with less than $6000, and those under 25, to opt-in to life insurance.
Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said the government was committed to ending the long-standing rip-off, where super funds reap millions in fees from low-balance accounts.
“The biggest industry fund AustralianSuper have already made similar changes to insurance with apparently no premium impact,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
“Those looking to defend high fees and charges, and who are arguing to protect insurance products people don’t want or need, are profiting from people who can least afford it.”
Critics of the policy argue the impact of the changes will be to vastly reduce the number of superannuation accounts overall, therefore dramatically reduce the volume of premiums insurance companies are collecting for group life insurance policies held within those funds.
Actuaries from Rice Warner backed the claim from APRA saying insurers would have little choice but to lift prices overnight if the change was implemented.
30pc of revenue will evaporate
Rice Warner said around 30 per cent of the revenue they collected from group insurance premiums would evaporate overnight.
Chief executive officer Michael Rice said: “Every fund will have its group contract repriced.”
TAL Life Limited chief Brett Clark said the government’s timeline for the changes to start on July 1, 2019 was tight.
Mr Clark said the firm was being asked “to do over six months what needs to take place over two years”.
He also referred to a report from KPMG that forecast a rise in costs for group insurance premiums, saying it was clear that “prices will go up as these cohorts come out”.
KPMG has forecast a 26 per cent spike in premiums for remaining group life insurance policy members.
APRA also agreed that the time frame for implementation was “challenging” and highlighted the prospect of unintended consequences.
“There will be significant pressure on, and heightened operational risk for, superannuation funds and their insurers and administrators, if sufficient time is not allowed to implement the proposals in an appropriate and orderly manner,” Ms Rowell said in her opening statement.
Ms Rowell suggested that while it wasn’t impossible to introduce the changes a number of options could be considered to enable an orderly implementation of the proposals “including for example a staged approach to implementation” and recommended further consideration with key stakeholders.
Clearview chief Simon Swanson also appeared and described the move as “a step in the right direction”.
Superannuation funds and life insurance companies will come under the microscope when they form the fifth and sixth rounds of public hearings take place over two weeks each from August 6 and September 10 respectively.