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Call for cuts in premiums as insurers report huge profit rises

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FBD chief executive Fiona Muldoon. Photo: Damien Eagers

FBD chief executive Fiona Muldoon. Photo: Damien Eagers

FBD chief executive Fiona Muldoon. Photo: Damien Eagers

There have been calls for premium cuts after two major insurance firms reported bumper profits.

Both FBD Insurance and RSA Ireland reported a huge spike in profits.

FBD more than doubled its profits to €112m last year, a rise of 124pc. FBD told the Dublin Stock Market it benefited from the release of €40m in prior year reserves.

But it reduced overall premiums by just 2.2pc last year. Motor premiums were down by 4.2pc, with farm premiums down 2.5pc.

The company, which is Ireland's only domestic insurer, defended the profits surge and the failure to reduce premiums by more.

A recent Central Bank report found that motor premiums across all insurers in this market rose by 42pc in the decade to 2018, despite a slight fall in claims costs.

FBD chief executive Fiona Muldoon insisted her company was offering good value.

"Our premiums are down. We had 70,000 new customers last year, we lost almost as many customers," she said.

"We think this is a fiercely competitive market. I would say we represent really good value for money."

Ms Muldoon criticised injury court awards here, which she said were four times higher than in England.

"We are a business, we have to be around, we have to be stable, we have to be able to pay the claims" she added.

"Over the last 10 years FBD has made 4pc on its underwriting. Those are not excessive margins. I realise customers are angry, that nobody likes the price shocks, but price stability and a stable market require stable awards."

Meanwhile, RSA Ireland reported a 40pc surge in profits to €50m for last year.

Its parent group said premium income grew by 6pc in Ireland last year, with most of this from growth in the personal motor side of its business.

The group said its claims costs fell last year in this market.

RSA in Ireland reported a 5pc rise in net written premiums to £327m (€384.4m).

Insurance analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers Eamonn Hughes said in a note to investors: "RSA notes the benign weather out-turn, lower large claims and positive prior year development in the Irish business."

Peter Boland, of the Alliance for Insurance Reform, called for heavy premium cuts. "It is becoming clearer and clearer that the 'losses' reported by insurers in recent years were down to over-reserving on claims rather than increases in claims costs," he said.

"It is now up to insurers to make good this error by passing the historical profits back to the policyholders who have suffered, as a matter of urgency."

Firms and community groups are under huge pressure from rising premiums, with the situation exacerbated by the departure of a number of insurers from this market.

Irish SME Association chief executive Neil McDonnell said: "The increasing profitability of insurers in Ireland suggests they will have plenty of scope to reduce premia in 2020, which our members eagerly look forward to."

Mr McDonnell was also highly critical of lawyers for extracting huge fees from personal injury insurance claims.

He said a recent Central Bank report found that, on personal injuries claims below €100,000, legal costs amount to an average of 63pc of the damages awarded.

The report found insurers were making average profit margins of 9pc up to 2018, with companies expected to be even more profitable last year.

Irish Independent