Boston, MA -- (SBWIRE) -- 07/16/2012 -- 2011 was a challenging year for Canada's world-class life insurance segment. Low interest rates, volatile financial markets, the complexities of changing regulation and, perhaps above all else, strong competition in most lines kept profits under downwards pressure. Nevertheless, the results that were published by the three largest listed life insurers - Great West Lifeco, Sun Life Financial and Manulife - highlighted these giants' strengths. Although the details differed from company to company, each highlighted the benefits of: deliberate focus on more rapidly growing and/or more profitable lines; product innovation; development of new distribution channels; use of technology (including iPhone apps for customers) to improve overall efficiency and customer service; powerful brands; capital strength, and absolute scale. Each of the three has acquired and built very substantial businesses in the US and elsewhere in the world. Looking forward, none of the three expects that overall operating conditions will improve much in 2012, but each is confident of delivering positive outcomes to customers and shareholders.
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In the non-life segment, recent newsflow has revolved around three themes. The first has been a surge in losses from natural catastrophes. The windstorms which caused CAD200mn or so of insured losses in Southern Alberta in November 2011 are the latest of many. The fire which destroyed much of Slave Lake in May 2011 was the second largest catastrophe in Canadian history. The second theme has been widespread concern over initiatives by the OSFI, the regulator, to increase the capital requirements for the property and casualty insurers - although this is a challenge for insurers in most developed countries. The third theme has been the lack of profitability in the market for auto insurance in Ontario. Meanwhile, particular companies have achieved significant growth in their businesses - or in particular lines - thanks to innovative marketing initiatives.
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