ME insurance industry consolidation 'vital'
Manama, February 8, 2011
The regional insurance industry needs enabling legislation that will allow cross border business if it is to meet its potential across the GCC, a top official said.
'The GCC can be a growing insurance market if it acts as a block rather than operations in six separate states, but at present it does not,' said Bahrain Insurance Association chairman Ashraf Bseisu at the seventh Middle East Insurance Forum which opened in Bahrain yesterday.
'At present, the entire GCC insurance industry is about the same size as that of Singapore and it should be a lot bigger than that,' he added.
'There are a number of critical things we need. We need transparency if we are to attract capital and at present we do not have transparency.
'To attract overseas money everything has to be crystal clear. At the end of the day how can you manage risk without transparency?
'The other thing we need is consolidation,' he said.
'There are more than 400 insurance companies in the GCC, and that do not even include re-insurance.
Companies need to increase their capital to be effective and that can only be done through acquisitions and mergers,' Bseisu added.
'Unfortunately, we have a culture in this part of the world where people are attached to their companies and want to hold on to them.
'They need to take a longer look and appreciate that combination is necessary,' he added.
'Some of this has to be driven by regulators.
'In the GCC we have developed open cross border trading but when it comes to finance it is a different story.
'It is easier for an institution to open an office in Malaysia or the UK than in a neighbouring GCC country.
'The industry needs to become more proactive if we are going to compete globally,' he added.
'We need to foster more compulsory insurance.
'We already have this in the motor market but it needs to be developed in other areas like healthcare.
'At present medical insurance is compulsory for expats in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and that saw Saudi's annual insurance premiums jump 600 per cent in a year,' he said.
'The Bahrain Insurance Association is working on this with the authorities but ultimately we should have everyone requiring health insurance.
'We should be moving forward to a position where the government is not the health provider but the health regulator,' Bseisu added.
Bseisu, who is also Solidarity Group Holdings chief executive officer, was one of the key speakers in the industry leaders power debate.-TradeArabia News Service