The International Insurance Society seminar in Jordan has come at the perfect time for the Middle East and international markets. David Banks spoke to outgoing IIS president and CEO Pat Kenny.

They say timing is everything. And what better time for world insurers to gather in the Middle East than now? After all, there are several reasons why insurance practitioners from the region wish to engage with the international market and vice versa.

As Pat Kenny, outgoing president of the International Insurance Society, explains, this “mutual bond” has encouraged insurers to attend the society’s seminar in Amman, Jordan this summer.

“There is a hunger for information and meetings among insurers in this part of the world. Likewise, people outside of the Middle East need information about the region,” he said. “It is perfect timing for people to get together from around the world.”

The mutual bond can be explained as a number of concurrent influences. First, the major financial free zones in the Arabian Gulf wish to attract international (re)insurers, brokers and captive managers. Second, regional insurers aim to publicise their increased technical ability and are making a case that their risks are well managed. Indeed, the GCC market has been at pains to point out that their underwriting deals should not be governed by other international trends and major losses.

Thirdly, international companies are entering the Middle East market.

Last but not least, (re)insurers in the region and around the world would welcome Arab capital.

It all makes for a fascinating cauldron of discussions at the International Insurance Society seminar in Amman. Kenny adds that the discussion topics are the same all around the world – it’s just that the backdrop that changes.

“Whether it is encouraging communication between industry and regulators, growing the skills base or expanding insurance penetration, the topics tend to be similar from one part of the world to the next.”

Contrasting experiences

Other priorities for seminar delegates will be: providing value, maintaining discipline and finding new opportunities and in all these matters. Kenny expects that comparing the experience of insurers from different parts of the world will yield interesting results.

And the International Insurance Society has gone one step further in encouraging a more accurate analysis of the industry: by inviting people from far outside the industry to give their assessment.

“There are speakers who are not from the insurance industry. We said, let’s step back from the insurance industry and allow someone else to speak or chair the debate.

Another key focus of the seminar is the insurance leaders’ debate, featuring Nikolaus von Bomhard, chairman of the board of management of Munich Re, Brian Duperreault, president and CEO of Marsh, and Bijan Khosrowshahi, president and CEO of Fuji Fire and Marine.

“We have heard different things from all three of them, so it will be interesting to hear here them speak together about the opportunities going forward.

“We will see some directional movement and how the industry is going to react. Hearing that information from them will be interesting.”

Commentators have said the global downturn presents an opportunity for GCC capital beyond their home markets. Does Kenny believe this will affect insurance markets globally?

“You would have to look at outward investments and that is hard to judge right now. Outward investments by sovereign funds were a big issue, but they pulled back a couple of years ago,” he says.

“It is a little premature but we might see it in the next few years. Capital is being very cautious, investors are still concerned. Sovereign funds are not so aggressive.”

But Kenny adds that some insurers attending the Amman seminar have been investigating capital sources in the Gulf region. “I can’t give you names, but I have had CEOs asking me for meetings with certain people,” he says.

Meanwhile, the GCC market – another focus of the seminar – has been a cause for optimism.

Learning lessons

In the difficult economic climate, Kenny expects insurers around the world to take note of the lessons learnt at the IIS Seminar.

But will the messages filter down to the average underwriter in London or New York, for example?

“I hope so, because if things don’t change we might lose the average underwriter because the capital won’t be there to write business,” he concludes.

IIS?president and CEO?Patrick Kenny will be succeeded by Michael Morrissey during the Jordan seminar.

Morrissey was formerly chairman and CEO of Firemark Investments, where he advised insurance company managements and served on several insurance company boards, including Selective Insurance Group and CGA Group.

The IIS annual seminar 2009

• Titled ‘Maintaining Sustainability in a Changing World’, the International Insurance Society Annual Seminar in Amman Jordan from 7-10 June will address such topics as reform in the financial system, new business models, the image of the industry and Middle East prospects.
• It is the first time the IIS Annual Seminar has been held in the Middle East and reflects the organisation’s increasing focus on emerging markets. Organisers hope the event will have a lasting legacy for the Middle East insurance markets, hence the IIS Annual Seminar will be held in Brazil in 2011.
• The 2009 event is hosted by the Insurance Commission of Jordan under the patronage of Queen Rania Al Abdullah.