Overview of IFRS 17

In May 2017, the IASB issued IFRS 17, ‘Insurance contracts’, and thereby started a new epoch of accounting for insurers. Whereas the current standard, IFRS 4, allows insurers to use their local GAAP, IFRS 17 defines clear and consistent rules that will significantly increase the comparability of financial statements. For insurers, the transition to IFRS 17 will have an impact on financial statements and on key performance indicators.

Under IFRS 17, the ‘general model’ requires entities to measure an insurance contract, at initial recognition, at the total of the fulfilment cash flows (comprising the estimated future cash flows, an adjustment to reflect the time value of money and an explicit risk adjustment for non-financial risk) and the contractual service margin. The fulfilment cash flows are remeasured on a current basis each reporting period. The unearned profit (contractual service margin) is recognized over the coverage period.

Aside from this general model, the standard provides, as a simplification, the ‘premium allocation approach’. This simplified approach is applicable for certain types of contract, including those with a coverage period of one year or less.

For insurance contracts with direct participation features, the ‘variable fee approach’ applies. The variable fee approach is a variation on the general model. When applying the variable fee approach, the entity’s share of the fair value changes of the underlying items is included in the contractual service margin. As a consequence, the fair value changes are not recognized in profit or loss in the period in which they occur but over the remaining life of the contract.

The new standard is applicable for annual periods beginning on or after 1 January 2021. Early application is permitted for entities that apply IFRS 9, ‘Financial instruments’, and IFRS 15, ‘Revenue from contracts with customers’, at or before the date of initial application of IFRS 17. The standard can be applied retrospectively in accordance with IAS 8, but it also contains a ‘modified retrospective approach’ and a ‘fair value approach’ for transition, depending on the availability of data.