Japan’s Insurance Industry

During the heydays of the 80’s and the first half of 90’s, like rest of its economy, Japan’s insurance industry was growing as a juggernaut. The sheer volume of premium income and asset formation, sometimes comparable with even the mightiest U.S.A. and the limitation of domestic investment opportunity, led Japanese insurance firms to look outwards for investment. The industry’s position as a major international investor beginning in the 1980’s brought it under the scanner of analysts around the world.

The global insurance giants tried to set a foothold in the market, eyeing the gargantuan size of the market. But the restrictive nature of Japanese insurance laws led to intense, sometimes acrimonious, negotiations between Washington and Tokyo in the mid-1990s. The bilateral and multilateral agreements that resulted coincided with Japan’s Big Bang financial reforms and deregulation.

Building on the outcome of the 1994 US-Japan insurance talks, a series of liberalization and deregulation measures has since been implemented. But the deregulation process was very slow, and more often than not, very selective in protecting the domestic companies interest and market share. Although the Japanese economy was comparable with its counterpart in USA in size, the very basis of efficient financial markets – the sound rules and regulations for a competitive economic environment – were conspicuously absent. And its institutional structure was different, too, from the rest of the developed countries.

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