World Economy

Overcapacity Weighing Down MENA Insurers

Overcapacity Weighing Down MENA InsurersOvercapacity Weighing Down MENA Insurers

The influx of reinsurance capacity in the MENA region and the prevailing competitive market conditions has begun to place pressure on the technical performance of regional reinsurers, a report said.

The low level of insurance penetration seen in many MENA countries, combined with the robust, albeit deteriorating, profitability achieved by the leading primary insurers, has made the region a target for international and domestic reinsurers, explained A. M. Best, a US-based rating company, in its new report “Overcapacity Weighs on Technical Performance of Reinsurers in the Middle East & North Africa”, TradeArabia reported.

The report examines how insurance markets in the MENA region have grown significantly over the past decade. MENA insurance premiums surpassed $50 billion in 2014, with the main markets being the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey.

Many MENA markets, such as those of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council countries, are perceived to have relatively benign exposure to natural catastrophe events, allowing reinsurers to establish geographically diverse underwriting portfolios without exposing themselves to increased earnings volatility.

While the size and the sophistication of the MENA insurance market has increased notably over the past decade, it remains developing and dependent on international reinsurance support, with local and regional reinsurers generally acting in a follower capacity.

 More New Entrants

Mahesh Mistry, director, analytics, said: “Whilst some reinsurers have exited the market, the number of new entrants is far greater than those leaving. Reinsurance capacity–both from international and regional reinsurers–remains well in excess of local demand, resulting in the continued exacerbation of the current competitive pricing environment.”

The report discusses how the introduction of financial hubs such as the Dubai International Financial Center and Qatar Financial Center, alongside well-regulated offshore centers (including Bahrain under the Central Bank of Bahrain), have helped to open the market and encourage international players to establish a physical presence in the region.

Close proximity to clients is increasingly being recognized as a fundamental mechanism for (re)insurers to better understand the characteristics of the markets they operate in and ultimately the risks they underwrite.

A. M. Best also examines how domestic MENA reinsurers can be split into two distinct groups–established participants and new entrants–and whilst both groups have been faced with the prevailing landscape of overcapacity and soft premium rates, their profiles and performance vary considerably. For example, established participants typically benefit from local government support, whether via state ownership or through local legislation that generates compulsory cessions from the direct markets. By contrast, new entrants are more exposed to open market competition.