Swings and roundabouts
Although the banks raised the loudest voices against the Bachar report, which the treasury proudly released on Monday, it is the insurance agents that are likely to be hit the hardest by the recommendations from the team's foray into the capital market.
And the insurance companies have been understandably quiet while the show was on the road, because it looks like they will clean up if the plans get put into practice. And if they celebrate a little too much, it will upset the agents.
Here I present the winners and losers of the Bachar recommendations, bearing in mind that the reforms have yet to be approved by the cabinet and pass all stages of legislation, during which many changes may be wrought, as the banks intend to keep plugging for their corner with all and sundry, from lowly MK to the PM. Whatever the final form is, the insurance firms will come out tops.
1. Insurance companies.
The insurance market may be no less concentrated in the hands of the few than the banking sector, regulation may be less for the insurers than for bankers, and the goings-on in insurance are far less disclosed than in banking, but none of this bothered the Bachar team when it placed "For Sale: Price NIS 270 billion" on the banks' provident and mutual funds. Why was this?
First of all, insurance companies are considered less threatening than the banks in terms of clash of interests (though this may not necessarily be true); second, because really there is no alternative. The team members hope to create a regulated infrastructure that will prevent the interests currently with the banks from seesawing over to the insurance sector, and are hoping foreign investors or other local parties will buy the funds for sale.
The insurance companies will profit again when the banks are allowed to market their own policies because it will allow them to reduce their dependence on the agents. Some believe they will then need to rely on a new body - the banks - but two bodies from different sectors depending on each other still gives the company heads greater room to maneuver. Another sign of this is the assumption that banks, when they do market their own insurance products, will go for the simpler policies, with the lower profit margins.
2. The regulators.
Treasury director general Joseph Bachar made a long journey on this reform until he was convinced of its necessity. Today he embodies the very fellow who looks able to steer the whole package through the shenanigans that await the treasury team in the cabinet and the Knesset. Bachar is enjoying his moment, his more than 15 minutes of fame, and the generally heady atmosphere that is pushing for the reforms that have waited some 20 years to be put into practice. Bachar has produced - with the help of fellow regulators - a fat booklet, written and pored over to the smallest detail, which, even if it doesn't pass as is, comprises an important document on the understanding of how a capital market should be. Bachar et al - Eyal Ben-Chelouche, David Klein, Davidi Lehman-Messer, Moshe Terry, Dror Strum and Yemima Mazuz - are likely to become the losers if the Knesset or the government chew the report over and empty it of its contents.
3. Brokers and foreign investment houses.
For years, an alternative has been sought for the banking system, hoping that it will take over the mantle of the banking establishment, to no avail. Now the treasury is hoping that private brokers such as Analyst, Meitav and Gmul Sahar will step in and buy the provident funds, with international institutions taking part, too. Some initial screening process will weed out the minnows, but basically any foreign body will be welcomed with open arms.
1. Insurance agents.
The agents will have to completely rehash their jobs and choose whether they want to be financial advisers, acting solely in the best interests of their clients, or work for one of the two big insurance companies. The banks will be competing on the financial advice side, so the agents may be tempted more to go for the choice number two.
In any case, the days when the insurance company was dependent on the agents is over.
2. The banks.
Well, of course. But they could make a mint if they sell their provident and mutual funds at very attractive prices and invest the proceeds wisely, or become more efficient. Undoubtedly they will lose clout, as the funds account for 20 percent of all the public's savings.