Announcements Insurance Rating Alerts

GCR downgrades Star Assurance Company Limited’s national scale financial strength rating to A(GH); Outlook Negative

Rating Action

Johannesburg, 27 July 2020 – GCR Ratings (“GCR”) has downgraded Star Assurance Company Limited’s (“Star”) national scale financial strength rating to A(GH), from AA-(GH), with the Outlook accorded as Negative.

Rated Entity / Issue Rating class Rating scale Rating Outlook/Watch
Star Assurance Company Limited Financial strength National A(GH) Negative Outlook

Rating Rationale

The rating downgrade reflects the deterioration in Star’s credit profile following a conversion of significant high yielding deposits (with sister company, the failed UniSecurities Ghana Limited (“UniSecurities”)) into land. The consequential significant loss of earning assets impaired the insurer’s investment income, pressurising previously strong earnings to a weak level relative to industry peers, while trimming capitalisation and liquidity metrics. Furthermore, the rating action factors in management governance as a credit negative, reflecting concerns over the insurer’s shareholding, with the major shareholder; HODA Holdings Limited (“Holdco”), not consolidating subsidiaries, thus limiting GCR’s view of group risks. The Negative Outlook reflects potential for the credit profile to further deteriorate due to execution risks associated with the sale of land investments, with transaction delays likely to result in risk adjusted capitalisation and liquidity metrics measuring below rating adequate levels over the rating horizon.

Liquidity metrics weakened at FY19 as a result of increased exposure to investment property (57% of total investments). As such, stressed financial asset coverage of net technical liabilities measured at 1.8x (FY18: 2.6x) while operational cash coverage registered at 7 months (FY18: 22 months). However, GCR has factored in the possibility of successful sale of part of the property portfolio and subsequent investment in more liquid assets as per management’s plans, albeit with downside risks to the timely execution of the transaction viewed to be high.

Star’s risk adjusted capitalisation moderated, owing to an increase in market risk as a result of portfolio restructuring, leading to an increase in investment property (84% of capital). As such, Star’s GCR CAR coverage moderated to 2.1x at FY19 (FY18: 2.6x). While the insurer’s capital base has been maintained at high levels over the review period (FY19: GHS218m), GCR notes the deteriorating capital quality after factoring in partial sale of investment property.

Earnings capacity is constrained by weak underwriting profitability, impacted by elevated operating costs. This was historically offset by strong investment returns. However, investment income was significantly weaker in FY19 as a result of changes in the investment portfolio. In this respect, the underwriting margin equated to -11% (FY18: -4%) while return on revenue equated to 0.4% (FY18: 19%). GCR has factored in partial sale of the investment property and subsequent investment in higher yielding investments leading to improved investment returns.

Star’s rating also takes into account the insurer’s intermediate business profile underpinned by somewhat limited premium diversification, negative management and governance while competitiveness is viewed to be healthy. The insurer holds an approximate 7% share of domestic short term insurance premiums supported by an established brand and a wide distribution network. Furthermore, gross earnings streams are viewed to be well diversified, with three business lines contributing materially to total gross premiums, while the net base mirrors the business mix, albeit heavily weighted towards the motor book, which accounted for a higher 65% of NWP in FY19 (FY18: 62%).

Management and governance is viewed negatively, acting as a constraint to the rating. GCR notes with concern, lack of transparency regarding the wider group, as well as opaqueness of transactions between the Holdco and its various subsidiaries. This concern is compounded by the failure of UniSecurities, which is expected to weaken the group of companies, all else constant.

Outlook Statement

The Negative Outlook reflects our opinion that the rating may be lowered if Star does not manage to sell part of the investment property in the next 12-18 months. Underwriting profitability is expected to remain in the negative territory due to high operating costs while investment income suppression may be sustained as a result of the decrease in earning assets. The business profile is likely to be sustained within similar ranges over the medium term.

Rating triggers

Upward rating action is unlikely over the medium term, although a sustainable turnaround in underwriting profitability (considering a recovery in investment income) could be viewed positively. Conversely, the rating may revert to stable if the financial profile improves in line with expectations.

Analytical Contacts

Primary analyst Sylvia Mhlanga Senior Analyst: Insurance Ratings
Johannesburg, ZA Sylviam@GCRratings.com +27 11 784 1771
Committee chair Matthew Pirnie Group Head of Ratings
Johannesburg, ZA MatthewP@GCRratings.com +27 11 784 1771

Related Criteria and Research

Criteria for the GCR Ratings Framework, May 2019
Criteria for Rating Insurance Companies, May 2019
GCR Ratings Scales, Symbols & Definitions, May 2019
GCR Country Risk Scores, May 2020
GCR Insurance Sector Risk Scores, July 2020

Ratings History

Star Insurance Company Limited

Rating class Review Rating scale Rating class Outlook/Watch Date
Claims paying ability Initial National A(GH) Stable September 2009
Financial strength Last National AA-(GH) Stable September 2019

Risk Score Summary

Rating Components & Factors Risk scores
Operating environment 7.75
Country risk score 3.50
Sector risk score 4.25
Business profile (1.50)
Competitive position 0.25
Premium diversification (0.75)
Management and governance (1.00)
Financial profile 1.75
Earnings (0.75)
Capitalisation 1.50
Liquidity 1.00
Comparative profile 0.00
Group support 0.00
Government support 0.00
Peer analysis 0.00
Total Score 8.00

Glossary

Accident An unplanned event, unexpected and undesigned, which occurs suddenly and at a definite place.
Accounting A process of recording, summarising, and allocating all items of income and expense of the company and analysing, verifying and reporting the results.
Agency An insurance sales office which is directed by an agent, manager, independent agent, or company manager.
Assets A resource with economic value that a company owns or controls with the expectation that it will provide future benefit.
Balance Sheet Also known as a Statement of Financial Position. A statement of a company’s assets and liabilities provided for the benefit of shareholders and regulators. It gives a snapshot at a specific point in time of the assets the company holds and how they have been financed.
Budget Financial plan that serves as an estimate of future cost, revenues or both.
Capacity The largest amount of insurance available from a company. In a broader sense, it can refer to the largest amount of insurance available in the marketplace.
Capital The sum of money that is invested to generate proceeds.
Capitalisation The provision of capital for a company, or the conversion of income or assets into capital.
Capital Adequacy A measure of the adequacy of an entity’s capital resources in relation to its risks.
Captive Insurance Company A company owned solely or in large part by one or more non- insurance entities for the primary purpose of providing insurance coverage to the owner or owners.
Cash Funds that can be readily spent or used to meet current obligations.
Catastrophe An event, which causes a loss of extraordinary magnitude.
Claim A request for payment of a loss, which may come under the terms of an insurance contract.
Commission A certain percentage of premiums produced that is received or paid out as compensation by an insurer.
Contract An agreement by which an insurer agrees, for a consideration, to provide benefits, reimburse losses or provide services for an insured. A ‘policy’ is the written statement of the terms of the contract.
Credit Rating An opinion regarding the creditworthiness of an entity, a security or financial instrument, or an issuer of securities or financial instruments, using an established and defined ranking system of rating categories.
Debt An obligation to repay a sum of money. More specifically, it is funds passed from a creditor to a debtor in exchange for interest and a commitment to repay the principal in full on a specified date or over a specified period.
Diversification Spreading risk by constructing a portfolio that contains different investments, whose returns are relatively uncorrelated. The term also refers to companies which move into markets or products that bear little relation to ones they already operate in.
Dividend The portion of a company’s after-tax earnings that is distributed to shareholders.
Equity Equity is the holding or stake that shareholders have in a company. Equity capital is raised by the issue of new shares or by retaining profit.
Experience A term used to describe the relationship, usually expressed as a percent or ratio, of premiums to claims for a plan, coverage, or benefits for a stated time period.
Exposure Exposure is the amount of risk the holder of an asset or security is faced with as a consequence of holding the security or asset. For an insurer, its exposure may also relate to the risk related to policies issued.
Facultative Facultative reinsurance means reinsurance of individual risks by offer and acceptance wherein the reinsurer retains the “faculty” to accept or reject each risk offered.
Financial Flexibility The company’s ability to access additional sources of capital funding.
Financial Statements Presentation of financial data including balance sheets, income statements and statements of cash flow, or any supporting statement that is intended to communicate an entity’s financial position at a point in time.
Income Statement A summary of all the expenditure and income of a company over a set period.
International Scale Rating LC International local currency (International LC) ratings measure the likelihood of repayment in the currency of the jurisdiction in which the issuer is domiciled. Therefore, the rating does not take into account the possibility that it will not be able to convert local currency into foreign currency or make transfers between sovereign jurisdictions.
Interest Money paid for the use of money.
Interest Rate The charge or the return on an asset or debt expressed as a percentage of the price or size of the asset or debt. It is usually expressed on an annual basis.
Investment Income The income generated by a company’s portfolio of investments.
Investment Portfolio A collection of investments held by an individual investor or financial institution.
Liabilities All financial claims, debts or potential losses incurred by an individual or an organisation.
Liquidity The speed at which assets can be converted to cash. The ability of an insurer to convert its assets into cash to pay claims if necessary. Market liquidity refers to the ease with which a security can be bought or sold quickly and in large volumes without substantially affecting the market price.
Loss The happening of the event for which insurance pays.
Market Risk Volatility in the value of a security/asset due to movements in share prices, interest rates, currencies, commodities or wider economic factors.
Net Profit Trading/operating profits after deducting the expenses detailed in the profit and loss account such as interest, tax, depreciation, auditors’ fees and directors’ fees.
Net Retention The amount of insurance that a ceding company keeps for its own account and does not reinsure.
Operational Risk The risk of loss resulting from inadequate or failed internal processes, people or systems or from external events. This includes legal risk, but excludes strategic risk and reputational risk.
Personal Lines Types of insurance, such as auto or home insurance, for individuals or families rather than for businesses or organisations.
Policy The legal document issued by the company to the policyholder, which outlines the conditions and terms of the insurance.
Policyholder The person in actual possession of an insurance policy.
Pool An organisation of insurers or reinsurers through which particular types of risk are underwritten and premiums, losses and expenses are shared in agreed-upon amounts.
Preference Share Preference or preferred shares entitle a holder to a first claim on any dividend paid by the company before payment is made on ordinary shares. Such dividends are normally linked to an interest rate and not determined by company profits. Preference shares are normally repayable at par value in the event of liquidation. They do not usually carry voting or pre-emptive rights. Preference shares can be redeemable or perpetual.
Premium The price of insurance protection for a specified risk for a specified period of time.
Rating Horizon The rating outlook period
Reinstatement The resumption of coverage under a policy, which has lapsed.
Reinsurance The practice whereby one party, called the Reinsurer, in consideration of a premium paid to him agrees to indemnify another party, called the Reinsured, for part or all of the liability assumed by the latter party under a policy or policies of insurance, which it has issued. The reinsured may be referred to as the Original or Primary Insurer, or Direct Writing Company, or the Ceding Company.

SALIENT POINTS OF ACCORDED RATINGS

GCR affirms that a.) no part of the rating process was influenced by any other business activities of the credit rating agency; b.) the rating was based solely on the merits of rated entities, security or financial instrument being rated; and c.) such rating was an independent evaluation of the risks and merits of the rated entity, security or financial instrument.

The credit rating has been disclosed to the rated entity. The rating above was solicited by, or on behalf of, the rated entity, and therefore, GCR has been compensated for the provision of the rating.

The rated entity participated in the rating process via virtual management meetings, and other written correspondence. Furthermore, the quality of information received was considered adequate and has been independently verified where possible. The information received from the entities and other reliable third parties to accord the credit rating included:

  • Audited financial results as at 31 December 2019;
  • Four years of comparative audited financial statements to 31 December
  • Full year budgeted financial statements for 2020;
  • Unaudited interim results to 31 March 2020;
  • Reinsurance cover for 2020; and
  • Other relevant documents.
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