Head of MENA specialties looks ahead to the next meeting of the GR MENA Broker50
Which sectors present the most promising opportunities today?
Financial risk is a big market out here and will prove a real area for growth. Power and energy are evolving lines of business but construction is still one of the biggest lines we focus on because of the large number of infrastructure projects taking place around the region. With Dubai recently winning the right to host the World Expo in 2020, among the numerous construction projects, we are hearing that there will around 450 hotels built in the city between now and then so expect plenty of growth in construction over the next few years as a result.
What role should the regulators play in facilitating sustainable premium growth in MENA?
The lowest insurance penetration rates are in this part of the world so the regulators play a major role in expanding the untapped opportunities that exist. Having worked across the region for a long time it is clear that the regulators want to implement best practice. But best practice should be adapted according to the local market practice and custom, rather than following the best in the world process. More open and honest dialogue and engagement between the industry and the regulators would help the industry as a whole to grow and mature in the long term. The relationship should be based on transparency and once a relationship of trust has been established then together with the right strategy this should help in growing premiums in the region.
What one piece of regulation concerns you the most?
One area within regulation that concerns me is cross-border restrictions. For example, if we are to operate in one country in the region and fully comply with the local laws and regulation, there is nothing stopping a foreign and unregistered broker entering that market and taking business from us. This is happening across the region and is frustrating to the legitimate brokers. I know many of the regulators are trying to eliminate this slowly.
Visas are also a big concern for us. Often the granting of visas for foreign workers is based upon your business employing a certain amount of local nationals. But the challenge we face is on the talent pool available locally which restricts growth and innovation. For instance, there are companies that employ local talent in non-core/ technical lines in big numbers in order to meet the nationalisation numbers and increase their intake on expatriate needs. There are cases reported, we believe, where employees are paid to not show up and then are paid monthly salaries in order to be included in the payroll. Rather than enforce quotas, why not roll out training programmes for the locals so that we can develop them and transfer the knowledge from the ex-pats and enable the domestic markets to expand? 50% to 60% of Saudis, for example, are below the age of 25, so this is a fantastic opportunity to train the new graduates up and develop them within the insurance industry where such skills are badly needed.
How can communication between insurers and brokers be improved in the region?
Communication can definitely be improved. The main problem between brokers and insurers is that there is a lot of distrust. This permeates between brokers and fellow brokers too. Insurers are hungry for business and this means that they are not differentiating between brokers. They often neglect the value-added aspects of working with an international broker such as Aon. There needs to be more transparency between the two parties on how they do business. More so that other parts of the world, trust is an important business consideration in the Middle East. Brokers should not display favouritism with certain insurers. Everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity and win the business on the best terms.
What will be the next big innovation/product in MENA insurance?
We have most lines of business in the region but there are certain areas which are being looked at in more detail. One example of this revolves around pensions. Across the region many countries offer an ‘end of service’ package which provides a lump sum upon retirement. In the Middle East there is a very young generation and pensions are not at the top of the agenda, but I expect to see an increase in pension demand going forward together with life assurance.
GR’s MENA Broker50 brings together the region’s leading insurance brokers. The group will next meet on February 3 in Dubai.