Insurance giant Allianz under investigation in Germany over investment funds

Investors have now lodged 25 lawsuits claiming US$6 billion in damages.
Investors have now lodged 25 lawsuits claiming US$6 billion in damages.PHOTO: REUTERS

FRANKFURT (REUTERS) - German regulators have launched an investigation into the country's biggest financial company, Allianz, after the demise of some of its United States investment funds last year, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The move heightens the pressure on the insurer, which is already facing a slew of investor lawsuits over its Structured Alpha Funds and related investigations by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission.

The German insurer is one of the world's biggest money managers, with €2.4 trillion (S$3.8 trillion) in assets under management through bond giant Pimco and Allianz Global Investors, which managed the funds at the centre of the probes.

The investigation by Germany's financial regulator, BaFin, is across multiple departments of the institution, several sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the investigation is ongoing.

BaFin officials are examining the extent to which Allianz executives outside the fund division had knowledge of, or were involved in, events leading up to the funds racking up billions of dollars of losses, the sources said.

An Allianz spokesman declined to comment on the BaFin investigation.

The sources said the German investigation was currently in a fact-finding phase and involved multiple people, but had picked up pace since Allianz announced the DOJ probe on Aug 1.

The insurer said last month that it had reassessed the risks related to the funds after being approached by the DOJ and had concluded that the matter could materially hit its future financial results.

The various investigations and lawsuits revolve around Allianz Global Investor's Structured Alpha Funds, which catered to US pension funds for workers such as teachers and subway employees. The funds were also marketed to European investors.

After the coronavirus pandemic sent markets into a tailspin, the funds plummeted, in some cases by 80 per cent or more.

The losses from bad bets on options were so extreme that Allianz closed two funds in March last year which were worth US$2.3 billion (S$3.1 billion) at the end of 2019. Losses at others caused some investors to withdraw what was left of their money.

Investors have now lodged 25 lawsuits claiming US$6 billion in damages, saying Allianz strayed from its strategy of providing downside protection for market crashes. Allianz's lawyers have said the investors were sophisticated and aware of the risks.