Executive Advisor, Nippon Life
Mr. Ikuo Uno joined Nippon Life in 1959 and has over 50 years of experience in the insurance industry. In 1997, he was appointed President of the company, and became Chairman in 2005. Most recently Mr. Uno assumed his current position as Executive Advisor. After the collapse of Japan’s economic bubble in the early 1990s, Mr. Uno acted on his strong conviction that Nippon Life must continue its tradition of providing long term financial protection to policyholders. He solidified Nippon Life’s capital base, organized a more efficient sales force, and spearheaded innovations that led the industry through difficult times. World renowned as a thought leader and forward thinker, Mr. Uno summed up many years of wisdom in a highly acclaimed keynote address at the International Insurance Seminar, Madrid, 2010.
Contributions and Impact
Nippon Life has long been the largest life insurance company in Japan by any measure. Founded in 1889, with the spirit of co-existence, co-prosperity and mutual aid, the company has faithfully served its policyholders and Japanese society for more than 120 years.
Mr. Uno joined Nippon Life in 1959 and was sent to London as a trainee in 1976. Subsequently he returned to Japan and became Manager, Corporate Marketing Planning & Administration. Seeing that he was a person with exceptional potential, senior management continued to expose him to increasing levels of authority in various areas. He was assigned to the Personnel Department as Deputy General Manager in 1982 and rapidly rose through the ranks as General Manager in 1983 and Director and General Manager in 1986. In 1989, Mr. Uno moved to the International Investment Headquarters where he was Managing Director, Chief Executive. Then in 1991 he was appointed as Managing Director, Chief Executive of Metropolitan Area Marketing Headquarters. In 1992, Mr. Uno became Senior Managing Director and then was promoted to Executive Vice President in 1994. In 1997, based on his many accomplishments he was elected to President. Then, in 2005 he was elected as Chairman, the most honored position in the company.
The Japanese life insurance market is the second largest in the world, where death protection is predominant. Nippon Life’s mission has been to provide consistent financial protection to policyholders over the long term and to safeguard the best interest of customers, under all circumstances. With the guiding policy of "every effort for our customers," Mr. Uno has led Nippon Life to operate steadily and soundly from a long term perspective. He is also well-known for keeping close connections with the work force, and greatly values his relations with Nippon Life’s 50,000 agents in the field.
A business manager who is committed to long-term, stable business management with the conviction and determination to fulfill responsibilities to provide security for policyholders
Implementation of the philosophy of fulfilling responsibilities to provide security over the long term, both within and outside the Company
Mr. Uno, who joined Nippon Life Insurance Company in 1959, has more than 50 years’ experience in the life insurance industry. Career highlights include being appointed President of the company in 1997 and serving as Chairman of the Life Insurance Association of Japan in 2000 and 2004, thereby leading not only Nippon Life , the biggest company in the industry, but also the Japanese life insurance industry, which ranks second in the world in terms of market size. He also played an important role (as an expert member of the Financial System Council Finance Subcommittee for 2001 through 2002) on the government’s Financial System Council, which is a forum for discussions on the ideal state of the financial system and development of financial regulations.
When he assumed the office of President, Mr. Uno expressed his goals as follows: “While the 20th century was an era characterized by a focus on social security, in the 21st century, society needs to change its principles on self-responsibility and self-reliant efforts. This augurs a bright outlook for the life insurance industry. However, competition is likely to become fiercer. Under those circumstances, we should first forge a solid footing in primary insurance business and then expand our activities into peripheral fields, including the areas of annuities and nursing care”. Thus, he outlined his expectations for the mission of life insurance businesses and development of the industry.
Mr. Uno’s philosophy on life insurance business management is “fulfilling responsibilities to provide security for customers over the long term”. Throughout the tumultuous 13-year period in which he served as President and Chairman of Nippon Life Insurance Company, and Chairman of the Life Insurance Association of Japan – embracing the life insurance crisis of the 1990s following the collapse of the bubble economy (chain reaction collapses) and the contemporaneous Japanese financial “big bang”, together with the global trend toward market fundamentalism and the subsequent financial crises - he consistently pursued and implemented relevant policies, from a long-term perspective, in the course of his efforts on behalf of both an individual company and the industry in general.
Prompt disposal of a failed company in order to provide “ongoing security” and enhance the trust and esteem in which the life insurance industry was held.
When Mr. Uno assumed the office of President, a low interest rate policy had been adopted in Japan following the collapse of the bubble economy. This resulted in life insurance companies suffering from the problem of “negative spred”. Companies were unable to attain expected returns based on the interest rates they promised to their customers. Not surprisingly, companies which sold large numbers of policies at higher than assumed rates of interest based on the bubble period in the 1980s began to experience difficulties in paying maturity refunds.
The problem of low interest rates confronted Mr. Uno in April, immediately after his appointment as President. Nissan Mutual Life Insurance Company (a company unrelated to Nippon Life in any way) went bankrupt in the first such failure since World War II. Under the then current Insurance Business Law, the Life Insurance Association was expected to play a significant role in disposal of the failed company and, as the industry giant, Nippon Life assumed huge financial and personnel burdens under the leadership of Mr. Uno.
Focus was directed to continuation of the insurance policies of the failed insurance company and in October 1997, the insurance policies of the failed company were taken over by Aoba Life Insurance Company, a bridge company established by the Life Insurance Association. At that time, the Life Insurance Policyholders’ Protection Fund, which had just been established a year earlier with funding from life insurance companies, provided financial assistance. However, during the course of this process, the financial resources of the Life Insurance Policyholders’ Protection Fund were rapidly depleted. In addition, it became clear that such a system could function effectively unless a “white knight” insurance company were to step up to take over a failed company’s business.
While working to regain the public’s trust in the life insurance industry as a whole, leading the industry and making approaches to authorities, and following the revision of the Insurance Business Law in December 1988, Mr. Uno contributed to establishment of a new safety net called the Life Insurance Policyholders Protection Corporation of Japan. The Protection Corporation provides financial assistance to the savior insurance company. Furthermore, if no white knight appears, the corporation or its subsidiary is entitled to temporarily take over the insurance policies before identifying a savior insurance company to which the policies can be transferred.
Despite the rescue of Nissan Mutual Life policyowners, the life insurance business management environment continued to be difficult. In 1999, the target unsecured overnight call rate, which is the policy interest rate, was reduced to as low as 0.15%. The asset management environment for life insurance companies further worsened, most notably through a slowing of growth in interest and dividend income. Even the investment yield of the general account of Nippon Life, the largest company in the industry, fell from 6.84% in FY1989 to 1.59% in FY1998.
In July 2000, Mr. Uno assumed the office of Chairman of the Life Insurance Association for the first time. From a historical point of view, this move took place at a time of high expectation for critical leadership. Many felt the industry was at the edge of a precipice, and indeed 5 of the 47 member companies of the Life Insurance Association failed within the subsequent year. Since the Insurance Business Law required the first two companies to be dealt with in the same way as Nissan Mutual Life Insurance Company, as Chairman of the Association, Mr. Uno was directly responsible for the disposition of the failed companies. Subsequently, for the other three companies he initiated a new court-based approach under the Court-guided Rehabilitation Law which had just taken effect in May of that year. As a result, he significantly contributed to the recovery of public trust in the life insurance industry by overseeing the disposition of all failed insurance companies during his term of office. Significantly, by assuring continued protection under all policies of failed insurers he relieved policyholders from anxiety over their loss of protection.
Development of rules to strike a balance between policyholder protection and self-responsibility
While Mr. Uno placed top priority on policyholder protection and maintenance of the industry’s credibility in his response to the unprecedented life insurance crisis, he also led deliberations on a system that would demand self-responsibility on the parts of both management and policyholders in order to avoid/dispose of failed businesses, going forward. Up to that point, the disposition of failed companies had depended on assistance from the Protection Corporation and utilized absolutely no public funds. The results were that life insurance company insolvencies had no major impact on the Japanese financial system. However, since funds for the the Protection Corporation were derived from contributions from sound companies, and those funds were originally the assets of the policyholders and shareholders of sound companies, Japanese society suffered substantial cost.
One of Mr. Uno’s innovations was incorporated into the Insurance Business Law that went into force in August 2003. An insurance company can change the terms and conditions of existing policies before going bankrupt by applying to the Financial Services Agency to obtain approval, subject to shareholders’ or similar meeting resolutions, and after going through the opposition procedure for policyholders. This offers an additional option to insurance companies: to make their own management decisions at their own discretion in order to avoid failure. Fortunately, due to improved circumstances, to date, no company has taken this option. However, it remains an important safeguard for companies and policyowners.
While Mr. Uno was serving his second term as Chairman of the Life Insurance Association in 2004-2005, he led discussions resulting in a systemic revision of the treatment of failed companies that resulted in greater fairness among its policyholders. In concrete terms, he argued for a reduction of the maximum limit of “compensation up to 90% of the policy reserve” which is applied to other common insurance policies for policies with higher rates of return, providing a route to the ideal disposal scheme for failed companies.
If too much responsibility is assigned to the policyholders of the failed company without providing any compensation, people could face difficulties in taking out new insurance policies due, for example, to aging and deterioration of health conditions. As a result, insurance companies would no longer be able to carry out their mission of providing long-term security. In contrast, if society were to provide excessive protection for policyholders, this could generate a moral hazard among policyholders and managers of insurance companies and consequently result in a lack of fairness among policyholders and across society. These policies developed by Mr. Uno were in keeping with the spirit of the “Golden Mean” while also giving consideration to the balance between policyholder protection and self-responsibility.
Strengthening the financial basis for long-term solidity
Mr. Uno believed that it is necessary to enhance “equity capital” in the original sense that it serves as the core foundation for payment of insurance compensation and benefits in accordance with the original insurance policies, even in the event of risks arising at unexpected levels, as in such cases as an unprecedented level of ultra-low interest rates or a large-scale natural disaster, and he worked to strengthen fundamental financial stability in a step-by-step fashion. In fact, the fund, which stood at JPY150,000 million when he assumed the office of President in 1997, had swelled to JPY1,050,000 million, or JPY2,805,800 million including reserves, as of the end of FY2009. The “financial crisis” which threw the global economy into chaos in 2008 has been called a “once in 100 years” phenomenon. It caused stock prices to plunge sharply and large fluctuations to occur in foreign exchange rates. Within the life insurance industry, Yamato Life Insurance went bankrupt and a number of companies posted losses at the end of FY2008. Despite these developments, management of Nippon Life Insurance Company was not affected because the business was backed by a strong equity capital base.
In 2000, Mr. Uno introduced a fund-raising program that stands as the industry’s first innovative securitization approach using a special purpose company (SPC). And, in 2002, he raised funds from a wider investor base by adopting the industry-first public offering approach. This instance of a mutual company attempting and implementing a fund-raising method comparable to those used by joint stock companies contributed to expansion of the managerial options available not only to Nippon Life Insurance Company but also to all mutual insurance companies in Japan.
Furthermore, when the prohibition for domestic life and non-life insurance companies to offer “third-sector” insurance products including accident/medical insurance was removed in July 2001, Mr. Uno exercised leadership as Chairman of the Life Insurance Association and worked with supervisory authorities to establish a “standard policy reserve system” for these products in order to protect policyholders and other relevant parties by ensuring the financial soundness of life insurance companies. From a similar perspective, when Mr. Uno assumed the office of Chairman of the Life Insurance Association for the second time in July 2004, he collaborated with supervisory authorities on a commitment to introducing new rules that require policy reserves to cover the minimum guarantee risk to be set aside for variable annuity and other similar products with a minimum guarantee equivalent to the principal upon death or at the start of the annuity payments, while imposing the asset management risk on policyholders. Following development of these rules, life insurance products have grown in a sound fashion over a long term in the Japanese insurance market.
Other major achievements in the life insurance industry
During Mr. Uno’s two tenures as Chairman of the Life Insurance Association (2000-2001 and 2004-2005), the Japanese financial market was simultaneously liberalized/globalized through the Japanese financial “big bang” policy, starting from the Financial System Reform Law in 1998 and subsequent deregulation and reforms. In such context, association Chairman Uno worked with supervisory authorities to establish important markets and develop rules, as described below, aimed at realizing both policyholder protection and sound development of the industry from a long-term perspective, together with market activation through competition and improved customer convenience.
In 2001, in order to promote policyholder protection by ensuring, in a timely manner, financial soundness of third-sector life and non-life insurance companies, he spearheaded establishment of a “standard policy reserve system” for products in relevant areas.
With regard to “bancassurance” (over-the-counter selling by banks), which was one of the features of the financial “big bang”, he initiated relaxation of the regulations on a number of occasions after 2001. He also advocated for appropriate measures (such as prohibition against cross-selling, limitation on solicitation of borrowers for insurance, etc.) to prevent abuses by banks that might result from their influential position as lenders and takers of deposits.
Given the issues, including disclosure of underfunding amounts in corporate pension accounting (identification of the problem), he initiated research on U.S. defined contribution plans/business models at an early stage, with a view to introducing Japanese 401k plans in 2001. Through the company’s U.S. subsidiary, he brought into Japan know-how obtained from a partner life insurance company in the U.S. and took the initiative to create a new market.
In addition, for operation/penetration of the Japanese 401k plans, he worked with Nippon Record Keeping Network Co., Ltd. to jointly develop a record-keeping system and succeeded in establishing a common social infrastructure to provide inexpensive and highly convenient services.
In 2004, he introduced rules to set aside policy reserves commensurate with the minimum guarantee risk of relevant variable annuity products whose sales have increased to the extent of making them a major product for over-the-counter selling by banks.
Civic, Cultural and Humanitarian Activities
Actively engaged in a wide range of social contribution activities in cultural, educational, medical and other fields, Mr. Uno has led many important initiatives as described below.
Assisted with the initiative led by world-famous pianist Ms. Martha Argerich to host an international music festival in Oita Prefecture. Now in its 13th year, this event has become one of Japan’s most prestigious music festivals.
Annual presentations of musical performance as features of the “Nissay Masterpiece Theater”, aimed at cultivating artistic appreciation in children. More than 7 million children have been invited to enjoy, free of charge, a world of fantasy and excitement.
Dedicated to promotion and conservation of an important Japanese traditional performing art, the Bunraku puppet show.
Providing support and cooperation for the NPO’s program aimed at providing opportunities for high-caliber junior high school students to meet with Nobel Prize laureates and other notable scientists, etc. The objective of the event is to foster the development of young people who will assume responsibility for the future of science and technology in Japan, and may go on to make international contributions in these fields.
Born in Oita, Japan in 1935, Mr. Uno earned his Bachelor of Law degree at the prestigious University of Tokyo. Truly a renaissance man, he is known for his inquisitive and charming personality. For example, while a trainee in London his great desire to see Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) led him to travel there aboard a Finnish cargo ship. Thus, he was one of the few Japanese to enter the city during the cold war. Married with two sons, Mr. Uno enjoys music, reading, and photography.
Mr. Takashi Onoda
Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co., Ltd.
Mr. Eduardo Dorado
Chairman Iberian Peninsula & SVO International
RGA International Reinsurance Co., Ltd., Sucursal en Espana
Mr. Katsuo Matsushita
Special Advisor and Liaison Officer for Japan and East Asia
The Geneva Association