OpinionSuccessor for Frank Grund

Breach of taboo for BaFin

Julia Wiens has the right skills to be the next head of the insurance supervisory authority. Nevertheless, her appointment signifies a delicate breach of a taboo.

Breach of taboo for BaFin

It was about time. Just a few days before Frank Grund's departure, his successor for the top position in German insurance supervision has been announced. Insurance manager and actuary Julia Wiens will take over the position of Executive Director for Insurance at BaFin. The decision, like the previous change in insurance supervision in 2015, came very late. Frank Grund's term, who has been on board for eight years, had long been scheduled to end. The federal government, especially the Ministry of Finance, risks damaging this immensely important position. Firstly, the late appointment suggests that priorities in Berlin lie elsewhere. Secondly, it will not be a seamless transition – the current Baloise executive Julia Wiens will take up her new position on January 1st.

The appointment of an active industry executive to head industry supervision is a breach of taboo in this country. Frank Grund, who also came from Baloise, had a cooling-off period of three years between his operational board duties and his start at BaFin. Wiens is making the switch directly. The German Stock Corporation Act prohibits the direct appointment of a board member to the supervisory board (although there is a loophole) in publicly traded companies. It is concerning that the Ministry of Finance does not see a need for a cooling-off period for the top supervisory position. There was no statement from the Ministry of Finance on this point on Wednesday.

Hot-button issues for the insurance industry

BaFin Chief Mark Branson explicitly points out the current focus in the announcement of Wiens' appointment, which he recently outlined at the annual insurance supervision conference: he intends to prioritize consumer protection in insurance products and their distribution in the future. These are hot-button issues for the insurance industry, as evidenced by the years-long dispute over commission caps and high cost ratios. It's a challenging situation for Julia Wiens: she will have to switch sides almost abruptly on these issues. However, her current employer Baloise does not appear unfavorably in BaFin's complaint statistics for life insurance – the sector for which Wiens is responsible.

Apart from that, Julia Wiens, as an actuary and industry expert, brings skills that are central to her new role. She will have various applications on her desk for the transfer of life insurance portfolios to external run-off platforms. Her deep knowledge of life insurance products and investments will help in the presumably tough negotiations with the private equity-dominated run-off companies. Furthermore, the risk of having to make decisions about her own past portfolios is rather unlikely: Baloise transferred its old contracts with high guarantees to Frankfurt Leben years ago. It was one of the first companies in the German market to take such a step.