The insurance industry is strictly regulated in Austria compared with other European countries. As a result, there exists a very reliable fallback system and, for decades, not a single insurance company has been declared insolvent. There are currently 61 insurance companies and 55 insurance mutual licensed and domiciled in Austria. 25 insurance companies based in the European Economic Area (EEA) have a licensed Austrian branch.
Despite the difficult economic situation, the Austrian insurance business achieved positive results in 2010. According to the Austrian Insurance Association, there was an increase of premiums in 2010 by 2% to EUR16.75 billion (as at 1 January 2012, US$1 was about EUR0.8). Life insurance is part of the so-called “Three-Pillar-Model”, which encourages individuals to supplement their statutory pension with private insurance payments. Since its introduction in 2003, more than 1.3 million of these additional state-aided pensions have been concluded. Despite uncertainty brought about by the 2010 financial crisis, there was a 1.9% increase of life insurance premiums to EUR7.6 billion. Payments only increased by 1.2% to EUR5.8 billion. Life insurance is potentially a growth area as the ratio of statutory and private pensions is only 9:10.
The Insurance Supervisory Act (VAG) regulates insurance activities and states that the Austrian Financial Market Authority (FMA) is the competent authority to supervise insurers in Austria. The VAG contains the regulatory regime for insurance companies including, among other things, provisions regarding capital and liquidity requirements, as well as other ongoing requirements for insurers.
The Insurance Contract Act (VersVG) is the main piece of legislation governing insurance contracts. It contains general provisions regarding the rights and duties of both the insurer and the insured, as well as specific provisions for different insurance branches.
The Consumer Protection Act (KSchG) must be complied with, particularly in relation to single provisions in the insurance policy.
The Craft, Trade, Service and Industry Act (GewO), as well as the Broker Act, provide for the marketing of insurance services by brokers. The FMA ultimately decides on the applicability of the VAG in relation to single enterprises. Only companies subject to the VAG are entitled to offer insurance contracts. Additionally, all other regulatory requirements must be met. The terms “contract of insurance” and “contract of reinsurance” have not been specified in either the VersVG or the VAG. However, the following criteria have been established as the main elements of a contract of insurance:
- Legal Entitlement
- An Independent Transaction
Therefore, companies offering contracts meeting these elements are subject to supervisory insurance regulation. A contract of reinsurance is an insurance contract between an insurer and a re insurer, in which (part of) a taken risk from the insurer is transferred to the re insurer. A contract of reinsurance does not establish a contractual relation between the re insurer and the policyholder of the primary insurer.
Generally, all types of insurance contracts fall within the scope of the VersVG. Special legal regulations apply for:
- Casualty Insurance
- Fire Insurance
- Hail Insurance
- Animal Insurance
- Animal Transport Insurance
- Personal Liability Insurance
- Legal Expenses Insurance
- Life Insurance
- Private Health Insurance
- Personal Accident Insurance
Insurance contracts must contain a certain element of risk. If the assumed risk is comparatively low, these contracts may not be regarded as insurance contracts but, for example, as financial products by the FMA. In those cases, different provisions apply. Reinsurance contracts are expressly not regulated by the VersVG.
Insurance Premium Tax (IPT)
The payment of insurance premiums is generally subject to IPT. The IPT rate varies depending on the kind of insurance contract: 4% or 11% for life insurance. The applicable tax rate depends on the kind of insurance contract (for example, cash value life insurance, annuity insurance, and so on), the duration of the insurance contract (15 years or less) and when the premium payments are paid (single versus regular premium payments).
1% for health insurance. A general rate of 11% for most other insurance contracts. Premiums under a reinsurance contract are not subject to IPT. An additional fire brigade tax at a rate of 8% is imposed on premium payments that cover fire risk.