Sunday, August 2, 2009

Factory bus operators fume over insurance ‘risk’: The Star

Bus operators ferrying factory workers are fuming with insurance firms for classifying them in the “high risk” category with express and tour buses.
Selangor Workers Bus Operators Association president Jackie Chew Soo Mee said factory buses should not be classified in that category, reports The Star ( July 31, 2009).
"Our operators have a set timetable and the distance is within a district or the next town. Our daily mileage is much lower and the condition of factory buses over a period of time is much better compared to express buses," she said.
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Chew suggested that insurance companies create a new scheme to accommodate factory buses in order not to burden operators. Of the 100 factory bus operators in Selangor, half are members of the association.
"With the tough economic period, factory bus operators should not be burdened further. If the new insurance structure is not created, several of our operators will be forced to wind up," she said at the association’s first annual general meeting (AGM).
Chew said the association would appeal to the General Insurance Association of Malaysia (PIAM), Bank Negara and Finance Ministry to create a new insurance scheme for factory bus operators.
She said buses over 12 years old were not allowed to take out comprehensive insurance, with such operators having to buy third party insurance with loading.
Road Transport Department director-general Datuk Solah Mat Hassan, who opened the AGM on behalf of Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, said discussions on the insurance scheme was going on with PIAM.

RHB Insurance Eyes RM1.2 Million Premiums From Maid Protector Policy

RHB Insurance Bhd is targeting RM1.2 million in premiums from its latest product, Maid Protector Insurance plan, within the first year of its launch.
RHB group managing director, Datuk Tajuddin Atan, said the premium would be as low as RM60 to RM95 per year.
"This product, which will be offered to only legal foreign maids, will receive an encouraging response from Malaysians who employ maids.
"As at May 2009, a total of 300,000 foreign maids are working in Malaysia," he told a media briefing after the launch of the product here Thursday.
The plan is offered jointly by RHB Insurance and Pos Malaysia Bhd.
It will provide employers with an attractive and competitive protection plan for domestic workers.
The product will provide insurance coverage for maids in the event that they meet with an accident or death, or in the event that an unwanted accident or damage happens to a third party due to negligence of the maids.
Tajuddin said the company was leveraging on Pos Malaysia Bhd's network to offer this product.
The plan will be available at 13 general post offices tomorrow and 671 other post offices nationwide from Aug 15.
The employers can opt for the 12-month or 24-month policy. -- BERNAMA

Finding the right pension model

While the Securities Commission (SC) says it is in the midst of finding successful private pension fund models that best fit Malaysia, fund managers want the models to be transparent and give investors the right to choose their fund managers. Financial planners, meanwhile, say the proposed funds should provide some form of incentives to ensure its successful implementation, reports The Star ( July 25, 2009).
Fortress Capital Asset Management (M) Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Thomas Yong said the proposed pension fund should be liberalised similar to models in many developed nations that allowed savers to choose whom they wished to manage their savings nests.
"If the fund is sufficiently liberalised like that in Australia, savers will have the choice of who manages their investments and what they invest in. While the message is clear that everyone including the self-employed should save for the long term, the issue is who should decide how these savings are managed.
"Should the savers be allowed to decide, with the fund providing adequate disclosures and information, or should the fund decide arbitrarily based on some national average," ,” he told the newspaper.
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In any case, he felt the regulatory framework and disclosure standards must first be put in place to ensure effective transparency and liberalisation. A fund manager, who wished to remain anonymous, said the SC while scouting for suitable fund models should ensure investors would be kept informed of the performance of the pension funds managed by all participating fund managers.
“It is not sufficient that the funds’ performance only be disclosed to the regulators, as this will cause doubts among the retirees and the self-employed,” he added.
To ensure the success of such funds, the SC also needed to have asset allocation limits and determine the type of investment instruments permitted for the fund, apart from an appropriate ceiling on fees that fund managers may charge, said Yong. The SC, as the regulator of the proposed funds, is currently gathering input from various jurisdictions to ensure the adoption of successful private pension fund models.
Malaysia is set to have private pension funds by the middle of next year and several fund managers have shown keen interest to manage these funds.
Great Vision Advisory Group head of tax and financial planning Datuk Chua Tia Guan said the funds should not be too flexible to enable contributors to withdraw a lump sum upon retirement as it would easily be exhausted in a short period as in the case of Employees Provident Fund (EPF) withdrawals.
“The government should also provide tax break for the participants of the private pension funds in addition to the current tax relief given on insurance and EPF of RM6,000.
“In Singapore, the government provides tax relief for those who participate in the Supplementary Retirement Scheme, which was introduced many years ago, in addition to the Central Provident Fund,” Chua noted.
He added that proper studies should also be conducted to ensure the funds did not experience similar fate as the disastrous insurance annuity scheme introduced years back. A licensed financial planner said it was meaningless for existing EPF contributors to invest in pension funds unless certain tax benefits were provided.
Licensed financial adviser Jeremy Tan of Standard Financial Planner Sdn Bhd, on the other hand, said the launching of these funds would not be an issue as there was sufficient existing regulatory supervising and monitoring of legitimate investment schemes in the country.

OCBC ties up with Great Eastern to offer bancassurance products

OCBC Bank (Malaysia) Bhd aims to be among the leading players in the bancassurance market following its partnership deal with Great Eastern Life Assurance (Malaysia) Bhd.
It aims to capture a 10%-15% share of the regular life insurance market in order to become a significant player in the field.
However, it did not reveal its current market share, saying that there were no accurate figures for the segment at the moment. OCBC which started operations in the bancassurance field under several partnerships six years ago, will market two Great Eastern bancassurance products, MaxMoney Plus and MaxMoney Back, beginning today (yesterday), said OCBC Bank director and chief executive officer, Jeffrey Chew Sun Teong.
He said this during a press conference following the launch of the products in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. MaxMoney Plus is expected to generate RM12 million in premiums by year-end, while MaxMoney Back is expected to garner about RM6 million.
Another product is expected to be launched next month. Meanwhile, Great Eastern Life Assurance (Malaysia) Bhd director and chief executive officer Koh Yaw Hui, said the tie-up will help Great Eastern to achieve its target of total weighted new business premiums of RM800 million this year. He said with a network of 29 branches throughout Malaysia, OCBC Bank's ability to mine its customer base rendered significant market potential for Great Eastern making personal visits to bank branches was still common.
Koh said the bancassurance arrangement with OCBC Bank was made possible through a combination of both the government's recent liberalisation initiatives and a strong partnership forged between the two companies over the past seven years.
In Malaysia, bancassurance forms about half of the new premiums collected annually in the life insurance market with more than 90% from single premium, he said.
He said Great Eastern also planned to expand its network of branches. In the Klang Valley, which contributes 38% to Great Eastern's business, there are plans to set up a big branch office in Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, he said. Its presence is more focussed in Kuala Lumpur at the moment. It also expects to open up branches in the states. — Bernama

Zainuddin: From humble beginnings to moving mountains


By Alfean Hardy
Options were not plentiful if you were a secondary school graduate in Rembau, Negri Sembilan, in the late 70s. According to HSBC Amanah Takaful (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd executive director and chief executive officer Zainuddin Ishak, the most most people could look forward to was working in a factory in Senawang.
"My father was a rubber tapper and my mother a housewife. There were eight of us in the family and life at that time was borderline poverty or poverty. I went to a kampung school in Rembau and graduated from a secondary school that was also in Rembau," he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.
With no career advisers around to guide an impressionable youth from a large family, perhaps that was where Zainuddin would have ended up. It was sound advice from his eldest brother, a former Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM) student, that changed his life. "He advised me to take up an insurance qualificaion. He told me it was a very difficult course, an external course with the professional papers coming from the UK.
"He said that amongst his friends who managed to clear some of the papers, and not the full syllabus, made it big time in the insurance industry. So, I said to myself, it sounds good, make money, why not," he added. This, Zainuddin said, was in 1984.
"To cut a long story short, I got accepted into ITM (now known as Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, or UITM). Prior to doing the associate (paper), you had to sit for the certificate. "There were 80 of us in that batch class of 1984 sitting for the certificate. Only 30 went on to do the associate. Of that, only four of us made it through," he added.
Zainuddin said, those who did not clear the associate papers could still get a decent job. For him, though, the challenge of being able to take on a difficult endeavour was a prime motivator and it was this drive within him, he felt, that helped him make it all the way through. "I made it, not because I'm clever, but because I've always had the tenacity and the stamina to complete any task placed before me. I guess that's my strong point. The more difficult it is, the more determined I am to clear the hurdles," he said.

The start of a long and fruitful career in the industry began in 1989, as a management trainee at Aviva with the possibility of getting a full time job within six months. Unfortunately for Zainuddin, this opportunity came at the tail end of a recession, which spelled stiff competition for a permanent position. "When I first joined the industry, because (of the) recession, there were a lot of unemployed people in the industry. There was big competition to get a permanent position (in Aviva) but the internship gave me the opportunity to work in a world-class organisation.
"My first real job was after that, as a full executive, was with a company owned by Kompleks Kewangan in the early 1990s called Trust International Insurance (TII), developing a bancassurance channel for the company. "I got my exposure in sales in the insurance industry," he added. That break with TII was pivotal for Zainuddin. After three years, he went on to join Norwich Winterthur before moving on to Malaysia National Insurance Bhd (MNI) and eventually to American National Insurance, which was owned by the New Straits Times Press Bhd (NSTP) group at the time. "I stayed there for a long while. What changed was the company. Because of a series of acquisitions, from NSTP to Bank of Commerce to CIMB, I stayed with one company that changed its shareholders until I became chief executive officer of CIMB Bank Aviva Takaful," he added.

All in all, Zainuddin stayed with the firm for almost 14 years, slowly and steadily moving up the ranks every two years or so. Eventually, though, it was the challenge of something new that attracted him to make the change in mid-January 2009. "If you look at the takaful industry, there are various stages of maturities amongst the eight companies here. HSBC clearly has gone through its crucial, formative stage.
"When you're at the formative stage, it's good to have internal people because you understand the people and the culture.
"When you want to take it to the next stage, you need to get outside people and bring in the industry expertise to come in and take a company to the next level. "I felt that this was a good time for me to come in and bring the company to that next level. HSBC is an admired brand and it gives you more opportunities and avenues to grow," he said. Formed in 2006, HSBC Takaful is a joint venture (JV) that is 49%-owned by HSBC Insurance (Asia Pacific) Holdings Ltd, 31%-owned by Jerneh Asia Bhd and 20%-owned by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).
To Zainuddin, his challenge for this relatively new venture was to take it to the next level. "In everything, nothing is ever good enough. Every day is a challenge, nothing is ever good enough. Every day you're looking at opportunities to improve from yesterday.
"We're always improving. It's always the next level, it's always a moving target. You've got lots of room to improve. Every day is about improving what we are today," he said.
"Another challenge is to bring takaful to the HSBC world because Malaysia is the first takaful outfit (within the group) and vice versa. "We need, (and) the industry certainly needs, big names like HSBC to champion takaful so that it will make takaful very prominent. That's my challenge, how to fulfill the vision, the set of targets, etc," he added.
The task for the boy from Rembau is certainly a challenging one, what with a very competitive industry and a global economy that has a bad case of the flu but, somehow, you sense that, with his drive, determination and desire to succeed, Zainuddin will certainly move mountains to get the job done.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on July 22, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Prudential’s biggest ad campaign

Prudential Assurance Malaysia Bhd has allocated RM7mil for its biggest advertising campaign to-date to promote its new medical insurance plan, PRUhealth, reports The Star (July 18, 2009).
According to chief marketing officer Thomas Wong, the campaign starting July 20 via television, radio, print and outdoor advertising, is expected to generate a considerable amount of interest for the unique medical insurance plan, which rewards policyholders for staying healthy by giving them no claims bonus.
“We expect to secure a large proportion of new and existing customers for this first of its kind product in the market,” he said. One of the biggest medical insurers in Malaysia, Prudential paid a third of the industry’s medical costs last year, which amounted to RM900mil, the newspaper reported.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MMIP insurance covers now available at Pos Malaysia outlets

The Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia (Piam) last week announced that Malaysian Motor Insurance Pool (MMIP) insurance covers will be available to the public at Pos Malaysia outlets, confirming an earlier report by The Malaysian Reserve.
With effect from July 10, it said private car and motorcycle owners can purchase MMIP's insurance covers from Pos Malaysia outlets throughout the country including Sabah and Sarawak.
In order to immediately address accessibility problems in Sabah and Sarawak, it said insurance for taxis and buses will also be made available from the same day, while those in Peninsula Malaysia from July 24.
"In the current scenario where the motor insurance market is experiencing high loss experience, many insurers have either declined or are scaling back on underwriting risks especially third party insurance. As such, an increasing number of motorists are turning to the MMIP for insurance cover," Piam said in the statement.
On July 23, The Malaysian Reserve reported that the central bank was on the verge of appointing Pos Malaysia Bhd as the agent for motorists to buy motor insurance from the industry pool, now that most insurers have declined to underwrite directly that segment of the insurance market.
It was reported that Pos Malaysia, the national postal services provider which has been in the red for financial years 2007 and 2008, will secure the contract to ensure that motorists are able to secure the third party insurance cover.
In the past weeks, more and more motorists found themselves turned away by their insurer when they wanted to renew their third party cover. Instead, they were told to shop around at other insurance companies that may still underwrite that segment, but to little avail as most general insurers and takaful operators have stopped underwriting directly the risk due to the segment's high loss experience.
In light of the increasing difficulty, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) which regulates the insurance and takaful industry had turned to Pos Malaysia to act as an agent on behalf of the motor insurance pool, the insurer of the last resort.
In its statement, Piam said in order to provide convenience and accessibility to the public, MMIP and Pos Malaysia have formed a strategic partnership to capitalise on Pos Malaysia's extensive network of offices throughout the country, in both the urban and rural areas. Pos Malaysia has 684 outlets nationwide which will provide MMIP insurance with 578 outlets in Peninsula Malaysia and 106 in Sabah and Sarawak, it said.
Furthermore, it said Pos Malaysia already has the necessary experience, human resources and IT facilities in place to provide the MMIP's insurance covers.
"This service will be an extension of the existing insurance renewal service that is already available at Pos Malaysia outlets as it currently acts as agents for eight insurance companies and three takaful operators," it said. In addition to insurance renewal, it said Pos Malaysia also offers the renewal of road tax for private vehicles on behalf of Road Transport Department. The MMIP was formed in 1992 to ensure that all vehicles on the road would not be without access to the minimum motor insurance cover required by law.
The MMIP also provides insurance for vehicles that are considered high risks and are unable or have difficulty in securing motor insurance from the normal market.
The liabilities and expenses of the MMIP are shared equally by all the 33 general insurance companies. Currently, the MMIP utilises the branch office networks of two insurers, Multi-Purpose Insurans Bhd and Uni Asia General Insurance Bhd, who serve as the servicing insurers for MMIP. Both these servicing insurers will continue to provide MMIP insurance covers together with the Pos Malaysia outlets.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on July 13, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Stronger growth seen for insurance

The insurance industry is poised to show improvement in performance in the second half of the year on the back of the recovery in the country’s export sector. Many insurance players are optimistic the performance for the second half will be better than the first half of the year underpin by the pick-up in economic activities spurring stronger export growth, reports The Star (July 11, 2009).
Great Eastern Life Assurance (Malaysia) Bhd director and chief executive officer Koh Yaw Hui told the newspaper: "All recent economic indicators suggest that the worst is over as the most affected export industry has been seen picking up and many companies have started recruiting.
"We expect the life insurance industry for the second half of the year to do much better than the first half. Personally, I think this year, the industry should end up having double-digit growth."
The growth driver that will steer the industry in the second half, it quoted general insurer LPI Capital Bhd chief executive officer Tee Choon Yeow will be the export and construction sectors.
The growth in the export industry, he adds, will help in the development of the marine and manufacturing sectors, which in turn will create greater demand for marine insurance as well as fire insurance, it added.
Manulife Holdings Bhd Group CEO Michael Chan was quoted as saying he is positive of the outlook for the insurance for the second half as insurance plays a very important role in one’s financial planning portfolio regardless of the economic cycles.
“Manulife’s insurance business showed strong growth in the second quarter as we launched new products and new agency performance management standards.
“We expect to see continued improvement in the second half as we roll out more new products, further drive the agency performance management standards and continue with our recruitment programmes,” Chan adds.

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Koh says Great Eastern has done very well in the first half of the year registering more than RM360mil in total weighted new business premium, which was more than 50% growth compared with the similar period last year in line with economic improvement.
Riding on the momentum of its strong first half result, he adds the company should continue to do well in the second half and meet its goal of RM800mil in total weighted new business premium for this year.
Based on the company’s first six months results, Tee points out that Lonpac is still optimistic of meeting its target of 15% growth in gross premiums by year-end.
Despite operating in a competitive and challenging environment, it turned in an impressive underwriting surplus of RM35.5mil representing a significant jump of 55.7% over the corresponding period of 2008. It also recorded underwriting surplus in all classes of insurance for the period.
Tee attributed the improved performance to prudent underwriting which has help it achieve profit and premium growth year on year.
He stress for insurers to improve performance amid the tough economic environment, they need to also display a high degree of transparency, corporate governance and professionalism.
According to Bank Negara’s statistics, gross premiums for general insurance last year stood at RM9.73bil against RM9.07bil in 2007. Net premiums for the period was also higher at about RM9bil as oppose to RM8.2bil (in 2007).
The Life Insurance Association of Malaysia (LIAM), in releasing its latest figures, says the industry delivered a strong first quarter (January-March) performance with new business sales growing by 14% on weighted premium basis.
Weighted premium is calculated as 10% of single premium plus 100% of regular premium.
The growth, LIAM says, was contributed by a strong performance in regular premium sales which went up by 24% compared to the same period last year.
Single premium business, however, registered a decline of 43% due to the global financial crisis and the decline in interest rate.
By class of business, investment-linked business, normally perceived as savings related products, registered a sharp decline of 23% by weighted premium.
The sale of single premium investment-linked declined from RM584mil in the first quarter of 2008 to a mere RM48mil in the corresponding period in 2009.
Traditional business, normally perceived as protection related products, on the other hand registered a strong growth of 43% during the period as opposed to similar quarter last year.
The sales of group insurance business remained fairly static with total premium of RM652mil compared to RM653mil a year earlier, LIAM says.

Key growth drivers

Koh said the two key growth drivers for the industry for the second half will still be the distribution channel as well as products.
“For us, the second half of the year will be an exciting period. Apart from continuing with our strategy to further enhance the productivity and professionalism of our 17,000 agency force, we will be distributing our products through the bancassurance channel under the financial sector liberalisation plan.
“Great Eastern is now able to have bancassurance tie-up with all the banks including foreign banks in Malaysia and hope to sell its first policy within the next one to two months,” he adds.
As far as distribution channel is concern, Koh says bancassurance is set to grow faster after the liberalisation as there is now no restriction of insurance companies tying up with banks to enhance their sales.
On the possible and likely challenges for the industry, Tee says it is the increasing claim trends from motorists, especially on bodily injury as well as from motor theft.
“We believe that the most important step that needs to be taken to address these issues is to practice prudential underwriting and to have in place strong claims management and underwriting processes,” he adds.
Koh says one of the challenges is for agents to advise consumers on the importance of financial planning to meet their future goals since people tend to be very prudent in their spending during the current difficult times.
As such, it is important that agents are professional and have the required knowledge and competency to play that role, he explains.
Chan views the state of the economy as a challenge for the industry. “The positive news is that the Government has announced numerous stimulus plans to help drive economic growth but the pace of growth may be impacted by external factors among which is the recovery of our export markets.
“Also, equity markets have not stabilised and should they continue to be volatile, it will impact investment income for insurers,” Chan says.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Exim Bank to introduce takaful products next yr


Export-Import Bank of Malaysia Bhd (Exim Bank) is poised to expand its reach further by offering better options to customers via the introduction of Shariah-compliant products.
Islamic financing has been identified as a new area of growth for the bank in view that Malaysia is expanding trade involving the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) member states.
The bank has envisaged that by end-2009, it would have sufficient Shariah-compliant banking products to cater for the needs of its growing global customers, said managing director/CEO Mohd Fauzi Rahmat.
"We are also planning to introduce takaful (Islamic insurance) products by next year," he said in a statement on Monday.
Exim Bank supports the financing needs of Malaysian companies and investors with operations in four continents across two dozen countries worldwide. Asean and Middle East will continue to be major contributors to the bank's portfolio with about two-third of its exposures while Africa, Europe and Asia Pacific make up the rest.
According to Fauzi, the bank is committed to continue its drive to support local exporters and investors extending their international business by providing banking facilities and insurance coverage particularly those that significantly contribute to the extension and enlargement of Malaysia's export volume, value and markets.
While the bank recognise that 2009 would be more a challenging year amidst global economic uncertainties, it would continue to provide support to its existing and potential customers and partners who are willing to take the challenge and participate in the still significant global trade and investments and to be ready for future businesses when the economy picks up.
In 2008, Exim Bank approved a total of RM460.3 million direct loans and guarantees to customers in various sectors including construction, investment, manufacturing and commodity trading.
In addition, the Export Credit Refinancing, extended via participating financial institutions and by far the single largest product of the bank by volume, contributed a total of RM9.5 billion in loan disbursements compared with RM8.4 billion in the previous year.
In trade credit insurance, it has a total of RM2.43 billion business in force in 2008, against RM2.78 billion in 2007. As for commercial and political risk insurance business, the bank approved RM120 million worth of business last year reflecting it cautious approach in light of the global economic crisis.
The total Malaysian exports insured for 2008 amounted to RM2.55 billion and is spread over 72 countries primarily across Asia and Africa.
"Exim Bank maintained a positive and stable performance for both banking and insurance businesses although a more selective approach has been adopted to respond to the current global economic situation," Fauzi said.
To strengthen its capacity to undertake more businesses, the shareholders' funds of Exim Bank has increased to RM2.8 billion in 2008 from RM839 million a year ago. This would go a long way in ensuring that Exim Bank continues to thrive as a vibrant and active Development Financial Institution for Malaysian exporters and investors over the medium and long-term.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on July 8, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Takaful Malaysia eyes 50% market share in 2-3 years

By T Vignesh
Syarikat Takaful Malaysia Bhd (Takaful Malaysia) expects to capture slightly more than half of the takaful industry's total asset market share in the next two to three years despite the current economic crisis. Managing director Datuk Mohamad Hassan said the industry's total assets have reached RM12 billion and the company's share currently stands at RM4.05 billion.
"We are confident of achieving slightly more than the current takaful market rate, which is between 22% and 25% per annum," he told reporters after a signing ceremony with Standard Financial Planner Sdn Bhd (SFP) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Takaful Malaysia became the first in the takaful industry to add professional financial advisors to its existing portfolio of distribution channels following the appointment of SFP to market its products. SFP has a nationwide network of more than 300 representatives of whom 75 are licensed financial advisors with Bank Negara Malaysia.
Mohamad Hassan said that this will enhance the penetration of the company's family and general insurance products into the middle-upper Malaysian market, thereby makes Takaful Malaysia's products more accessible to a wider customer base.
He said the company is confident of the selection of SFP due to its position as a market leader and largest independent financial advisory group in Malaysia. S FP is also the first financial planning group in Malaysia to hold both Financial Advisors (FA) and Corporate Unit Trust Advisor (CUTA) licences.
At the signing ceremony, SFP's CEO Alfred Sek said the past ten years have witnessed fresh changes to the financial planning industry and its delivery of financial advice in Malaysia.
He said that Takaful Malaysia will greatly benefit from this arrangement as its potential customers will develop full confidence in the products offered, through high quality independent advice from these Financial Advisors.
Meanwhile, Takaful Malaysia has plans to undertake a rebranding exercise to reflect its fresh characteristics in conjunction with its 25th anniversary this year.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on July 8, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Axa Affin sees plenty of potential post liberalisation


By Alfean Hardy
Axa Affin Life Insurance Bhd, a local-international joint venture (JV), sees a lot of potential for itself going forward in the new climate of liberalisation in the finance and insurance sectors, and is making plans to tap into these opportunities, its chief marketing officer Nicholas Kua Choo Ming said.
Despite being a relatively young start-up, Axa Affin sees a lot of opportunities to tap into going forward.
"When the liberalisation was announced, there were reports that spoke of opportunities for foreign players and that local players would feel more pressure," Kua said. "For Axa Affin, we see it as an opportunity. Granted that we're a start-up and we're entering into a new era of liberalisation, (but) we have a head start over new entrants coming in.
"We are already operating and, with our business model, we can outpace our competitors in terms of growth and emerge stronger and in a better position," he told The Malaysian Reserve in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Axa Affin is 51%-owned by local giant Affin Holdings Bhd and 49%-owned by global financial protection and wealth management giant Axa Group. The JV was incorporated in early 2006. Previously, both parties had been collaborating in the general insurance area for many years. Under the liberalisation of the finacial sector announced in April 2009, foreign equity participation in insurance and takaful JVs was raised to 70%. In addition, locally-incorporated foreign insurance and takaful companiess are now allowed to establish branches nationwide without restriction, while the restriction for such firms to enter into bancassurance/bancatakaful arrangements with banking institutions have also been lifted. Axa Affin's strengths, Kua said, stemmed from having strong parents.

"We're part of a very strong group, the Axa Group, which is a leading global player, and we have a strong shareholder in Affin," he said. "We are able to leverage on Axa's expertise and its robust business platform. We have access to eight other operating entities in Asia like China, India and Hong Kong. "Whether it's product innovation, distribution management and customer services, we have best practices that we can follow," he said.

"As part of the LTAT Group, Affin's business is across almost the entire Malaysian landscape and there are major opportunities to work with local groups, either via their group insurance or banking group," he said, adding that about half of Affin Bank's 80-plus branches already have dedicated Axa Affin advisers attached to them, making it the only bancassurance relationship of its kind currently. "And, as Affin expands, we will expand with them," he said.

Kua said one of the challenges going forward was building its distribution channel, which mostly consisted of its agency force and its bancassurance relationship with Affin Bank and other bank partners. "One of the challenges is growing our agency manpower. We're above 300 now and we aim to hit the 1,000 threshold by the end of the year," he said. He also said that the firm is upgrading the capabilities of its agency force to eventually see a fully professional force. The target time frame is by 2012, to coincide with Axa's global aspirations to be the preferred company of choice by then. Kua said Axa Affin was also able to sign up with other banks under a multi-provider bancassurance model.

"We are currently working with three or four other partners. With liberalisation, the key now is how we work with these banks (who have other providers as well) and make ourselves the preferred provider," he said. "Axa, on a regional basis, has always believed in a multi-distribution platform. The same is true whether we're in Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong or Indonesia. "We have both bank partners and the agency force. The blue print is there, (and) the business model is there in every entity that we enter into," Kua said.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on July 8, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Insurers may be forced to cut costs, outsource

European insurers such as Allianz SE and Axa SA may be forced to cut costs, outsource more functions and boost revenue from emerging markets to maintain earnings growth as the recession in their home markets deepens, consulting firm Accenture Ltd sai, reports Bloomberg.
Insurers may gain from moving asset management, claims handling and the underwriting of insurance risks outside the company, Thomas Meyer, the Zurich-based managing director for Accenture’s insurance practice in Europe, Africa and Latin America, said in a telephone interview.
"Insurance is a 300-year-old industry and it hasn’t changed that much since its inception, with the average insurer still handling about 85% of its operations that create value inhouse," Meyer told the news agency.
In contrast, "car manufacturers nowadays only handle about 15% themselves," he said. Almost 16,000 people have been fired by insurers worldwide since the start of the financial crisis as they seek to trim costs to offset slower earnings growth.
Global life and non-life insurance premiums fell in real terms last year for the first time since 1980, Swiss Reinsurance Co, the world’s second-largest reinsurer, said last month. The industry has written down US$243 million (RM862.34 million) on credit and investment losses since the start of 2007.
"While the financial crisis will lead to declining premium income in developed and saturated markets, emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil will offer opportunities to grow," Meyer said. British insurers are among companies that have announced moves to outsource some services. Aviva plc reduced its workforce by 3,000, or 6%, and said it was scaling back operations that had been outsourced to India.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Perwakim submits memorandum on motor insurance rebates

PERWAKIM, an association of general insurance agents in Malaysia, has submitted a memorandum to Bank Negara protesting the central bank's proposal to give rebates on premiums for consumers that renew their motor insurance directly with insurance firms, reports Business Times.
They claim that the move, which takes effect from today, would adversely affect consumers, agents and the insurance industry in general.
Perwakim president Liza Lau said a copy of the memorandum was also handed to the office of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Human Resources.
Lau led more than 50 agents in a peaceful picket in front of Bank Negara yesterday. The crowd dispersed after about two hours.
She said there are a total of 50,000 insurance agents nationwide of which 40 per cent are full-time agents.
Insurance agents earn a 10 per cent commission from the insurance companies.

Allianz to launch Islamic pension product in 2010

Allianz will launch its first Islamic annuity product next year, the head of its takaful unit said, tapping into a growing number of clients in the Middle East keen to add to their state pensions. It has long been hard for takaful - or syariah-compliant - insurers to sell such products, because of the lack of long-term Islamic bonds with which to match pension liabilities, Abdul Rahman Tolefat said on Wednesday, reports Reuters (July 3, 2009).
The German insurer's unit had lobbied banks to issue long-term debt and unnamed banks had now issued 25-year to 30-year sukuk, Tolefat said at a conference.
"This is really a promising industry, especially in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) - people are looking for private pensions because state pension are not high enough," he said on the sidelines of the conference, the report added.
Allianz was one of the first Western insurance companies to venture into takaful, in which members contribute to a pool of funds which is used to indemnify participants who suffer a loss, much in the same way as with a mutual insurer.
Allianz Takaful already has a pension product which pays out over a pre-agreed number of years, but annuities that guarantee income until death are still an untapped market.

Sykt Takaful aims to be largest player

SYARIKAT Takaful Malaysia Bhd (STMB), which has RM4 billion in assets, aims to be the largest takaful insurer in the country in terms of assets within two years.
Group managing director, Datuk Hassan Kamil, said currently, STMB was in second position after Etiqa Takaful Bhd, which has 400,000 policyholders.
He said the company hoped to sign up at least 10 per cent more policyholders within a year of the launch of the one-stop Takaful myDesk in collaboration with Lembaga Tabung Haji.
"Through the Takaful myDesk, the company also hopes to achieve approximately RM1 million worth of contributions, also within the first year of operations," he told reporters after the launch of Takaful myDesk in Kuala Lumpur today.
Hassan said the contributions were expected to be much higher because the customers could also renew their motor policies, buy Takaful mySiswa (education plan) and Takaful myRawat (health insurance in preparation for them to go on haj).
He said the collaboration would also boost its presence with the establishment of Takaful myDesk at selected Tabung Haji (TH) branches nationwide in addition to its present 56 branches.
The TH branches are in Jalan Tun Razak (Kuala Lumpur), Penang, Pasir Puteh (Kelantan), Bagan Serai (Perak), Kuala Pilah (Negeri Sembilan), Kota Tinggi (Johor) and Bentong (Pahang), he said.
"It's a cost-effective distribution network. The partnership allows us to market our products through TH branches," he said.
Under the agreement, Hassan said, STMB would provide facilities such as computers, while TH the space to set up Takaful myDesk.
"We have been studying this proposal for the last six months where we actually identify together with TH the locations where we feel will have the maximum impact," he said.
Hassan said the set-up of MyDesk would be in stages. The TH Jalan Tun Razak branch started operation on June 1 while the Penang branch will commence on August 3.
"Hopefully in the next six months we will be able to cover all the locations," he said.
He said the cost was minimal because technically, what was needed was a computer and the connectivity.
"So, the person sitting at the desk will be online with our takaful system at the head office.
"They can actually issue the certificate and receipts on the spot," he said. - Bernama (22 June 2009)

Insurance industry to undergo transformation

THE Malaysian insurance industry is undergoing a transformation to provide a strong foundation for a more resilient and competitive industry in support of Malaysia's economic development agenda.
Bank Negara Malaysia's (BNM) assistant governor, Datuk Muhammad Ibrahim, said Malaysia has implemented the risk-based capital framework this year and new product regulations. He said these developments were part of a broader move towards introducing a more principle-based regulatory regime that would allow greater flexibility for insurers to compete and improve performance.
"Later this year, BNM will consult the industry on risk management standards that insurers are expected to observe as part of this evolution," he said in his keynote address at the LOMA/LIMRA 17th Annual Strategic Issues Conference here today.
The conference, themed "The New Global Economy: Resilience in Challenging Times", is jointly organised with the Life Insurance Association of Malaysia. It aims to serve as a platform for captains of the financial services industries operating in Asia to discuss the latest movements in the industry.
Muhammad said the distribution channels for insurance products and services had also been broadened significantly with the development of bancassurance and financial advisers.
"This will contribute towards enhancing revenue and reducing costs, while enhancing consumer protection and improving the insurance penetration rate in Malaysia," he said. - Bernama (22 June 2009)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BNM close to appointing Pos Malaysia as agent


By HABHAJAN SINGH
THE central bank is on the verge of appointing Pos Malaysia Bhd as the agent for motorists to buy motor insurance from the industry pool, now that most insurers have declined to underwrite directly that segment of the insurance market.
It is understood that Pos Malaysia, the national postal services provider which has been in the red for financial years 2007 and 2008, will secure the contract to ensure that motorists are able to secure the third party insurance cover.
In the past few weeks, more and more motorists found themselves turned away by their insurers when they wanted to renew their third party cover. Instead, they were told to shop around at other insurance companies that may still underwrite that segment, but to little avail as most general insurers and takaful operators have stopped underwriting the risk directly due to the segment's high loss experience.
In light of this increasing difficulty, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) which regulates the insurance and takaful industry is understood to be turning to Pos Malaysia to act as an agent on behalf of the motor insurance pool, the insurer of the last resort.
As it is, Pos Malayia is already an agent for various general insurers who provide third party motor insurance, including the likes of Kurnia Insurance (M) Bhd and Allianz General Insurance Company (Malaysia) Bhd.
However, under the new proposed arrangement, Pos Malaysia would act as an agent for the Malaysian Motor Insurance Pool (MMIP), a high-risk insurance pool run collectively by the industry under orders from the regulators, and no longer as a direct agent for the insurers themselves.
At present, MMIP, which is a subsidiary of MNRB Holdings Bhd (MNRB), has appointed two insurance companies to act as its agents.
"With more and more insurers declining to underwrite third party motor insurance risk, their only other resort is the insurance pool run under MMIP. It only makes sense for the pool to be more widely accesible, and not limited to just two insurers who may not have branches throughout the country," said one industry executive.
Sources say BNM would be making the announcement on the alternate and new channels for purchasing third party motor insurance soon. Pos Malaysia seems to be the obvious choice simply due to its nationwide presence.
In 2008, the Government resorted to Pos Malaysia to disburse the fuel cash rebate. Pos Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Dr Aseh Che Mat in the company's 2008 annual report statement referred to this as a recognition that "Pos Malaysia has the widest retail footprint in the country."
On May 27, The Malaysian Reserve reported that insurance companies are no longer willing to provide third party motor insurance under their banner, and are instead sending their customers to a highrisk insurance pool.
The report also noted that a recent decision by two local insurers — Kurnia and Pacific & Orient Insurance Co Bhd (P&O Insurance) — to completely stop providing third party cover to commercial vehicles is set to see a higher volume of premiums going towards the insurance pool, which had already seen a big jump last year.
Even before the two local insurers made the decision, the motor insurance pool had collectively underwritten total gross premiums of RM13.33 million, which is four times more than the RM3.11 million in premiums in 2007.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 23, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Motor insurance premium rebate blindsides agents

COMMENT by Habhajan Singh
The central bank should have done better when managing the policy directive on rebates for direct purchases from insurance companies.
The directive is wonderful: It is pro-people and puts money into their pockets should they buy their policies directly from the insurer. It also fits perfectly with Bank Negara Malaysia's (BNM) liberalisation plans for the financial industry.
However, the move jolted some 40,000 insurance agents. They claim that they first knew of the directive when they read it in the newspapers. Little wonder then, that they had a hard time digesting the news that the central bank would now allow individuals to pocket up to 10% of the premium value the next time they renewed their motor insurance directly with the insurer.
At a press conference to announce the initiative last week, BNM deputy govenor Datuk Mohd Razif Abd Kadir used the weight of his office to announce the move, despite protests from various corners.
Effective July 1, individuals who purchase general insurance coverage directly from insurance companies will be eligible to receive premium rebates, with the quantum depending on the type of incover purchased, the central bank said in a statement.
For motor insurance, it stated that an individual would receive 5% of the premium within the first year of implementation and 10% thereafter. For others including businesses, insurance companies have the flexibility in providing these rebates. The direct purchase includes walk-in, through the internet, direct mailing and via the telemarketing channel. In relation to consumers, it is a laudable move.
Consumers will now be able to renew their insurance policies directly, if they choose not to engage an agent, thereby actually saving cost. For insurers', they can no longer book as revenue the commission should customers come to them directly.
But they have been in the loop all this while. Left out in the cold, it would seem here, are the agents.
When asked, BNM officials at the press conference confirmed that they have been talking to officials at the Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia (Piam), but not directly with any particular outfit representing the interests of the agents.
Here's the beef. Piam represents these companies, and not the agents. True, the agents come under the companies. Therefore, it is possible to argue that when the central bank talks to these companies, the message should reach the agents. But that does not seem to have taken place in this instance. With notice in advance, agents could have planned to weather a potential drop in income.
Some may have been spurred to add value in their offerings to customers. After all, not every customer is going drop their agent in light of the rebate. However if prior notice was offered, agents could have taken preemptive measures to keep their customers. One forward looking car seller cum insurance agent has, for example, been returning a portion of the commission earned to customers. This was to entice customers to stay with them.
With a little bit of warning, others may have come out with such simple but effective game plans.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 24, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Asia attractive to major players


IN THE PHOTOGRAPH: (from left) LIAM president Md Adnan Md Zain, Kerzner, Bank Negara Malaysia assistant governor YBhg Dato' Muhammad Ibrahim and Malaysian Host Committee chairman Ng Lian Lu at the 17th Limra/Loma Strategic Issues Conference held in Kuala Lumpur recently

By Alfean Hardy
Asia's relatively young and large population and its growing middle class have made the region an attractive venture for many North American and European life insurance companies looking for opportunities amidst the current economic downturn, Limra, Loma and LL Global Inc president and chief executive officer Robert Kerzner said.
Limra is an association that provides research, consulting and other services to the insurance and financial services sectors. Loma is an international association of insurance and financial services companies. LL Global is their parent organisation.
In his speech at the 17th Limra/Loma Strategic Issues Conference held in Kuala Lumpur recently, Kerzner said, over the last few weeks, capital has once again begun to flow and US firms like Prudential Financial and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co have been raising capital via stock and/or debt offerings, which he sees will help fuel future growth in the global insurance sector. As the sector transforms, he said many firms will begin to decide in which market and country they would want to play.
"Many will look to Asia. What we're seeing worldwide, major players are pulling out of some major green field markets and are choosing to play much harder in others. And it's clear that the growth of the next decade is clearly much more focussed in Asia than the US or Western Europe," he added.
Kerzner said, with the renewed capital within the system, many chief executive officers of major US companies have expressed an intent to make use of the global financial crisis to gain ground and grow market share over their competitors.
"In the US, 79% of chief financial officers (CFOs) say they want to buy life (insurance) companies and 75% want to buy the group operations.
"At the same time, they have their eyes clearly on Asia. Prudential has already bought one company in Japan and is rumoured to be looking at others. At the same time, the president of Metropolitan said he would sleep better at night if they owned another asset in Japan," he added. Speaking to reporters later, Kerzner said Asia's large population and not as mature markets meant there were more opportunities to sell a whole array of products.
"In many Asian countries, you have an ageing population and, there by all accounts, there's simply been not enough money saved for retirement, and this was prior to the crisis," he said.
"Also, Asia has many who are coming into the new middle market of having more assets and your economy is growing wealth at a faster pace and so there's a broad need for more products that life insurance companies have. When you look at the demographics across Asia, over time, the outlook is optimistic," he added.
All countries within Asia, Kerzner said, are attractive. "Japan is mentioned more often because, for some of the western companies have a better understanding of the Japanese economy and there's a more immediate need for retirement products (given its large ageing population) there," he said.
"But I think you're going to see the Europeans, in particular, and the North Americans look broadly within Asia. "When I talked about green field operations of the Europeans being closed down, that may mean more focus is given here in the Asian countries and choose to be a fierce competitor in the markets that they've decided are crucial.
"Also, there's also a history that shows that, when one or two of these (Asian expansions) are announced, then others will feel the need to get in before it's too late. "You could see, over the next year, as capital frees up and companies look to where they really want to expand strategically, then you will see Asia becoming a focus again," he added.
Kerzner said regulatory restrictions and competition would not be major hurdles for western life insurance companies venturing into Asia as many of these firms have already operated in regulated industries in the west.
"The major barrier to entry is culture and really understanding what's crucial within each individual Asian country," he said.
"If you look at history, many have entered the US and Western European markets, that's because that's where there's been a great deal of wealth. "I think companies have traditionally looked at where the needs are the greatest but where's the most activity versus longer-term involvements in countries that will be slower to grow.
"I also think, if you look at Asia, the companies that have done well in Asia for many years, particularly those not based within the Asia region have a stong base in (Asian) countries and, as the country grew, they grew as well.
"So, I believe the new entrants will tend to sometimes look for the more matured markets but those who look for a long-term view will look at the more emerging markets and take more of a five, 10, 15-years view," he added. Kerzner said it had been the European global players that have had the broadest reach worldwide.
"I can't comment on specific companies but if you look at announcements made last week in China and Taiwan, you are seeing and will see many, many more deals being announced or at least companies buying lines of businesses and licenses to expand and leave open opportunities for the future," he added

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 24, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

BNM: Trust and growth essential for insurance sector


By Alfean Hardy
Bank Negara Malaysia has identified four priorities that insurers should adopt and is itself undertaking more measures in the pipeline to insure the growth, and the public trust and confidence in the insurance sector, its Assistant Governor Datuk Muhammad Ibrahim said.
"The first area of priority is ensuring strong capital buffers and sound risk management by insurers. The second area of priority concerns the management of financial risks by insurers," he told delegates in his keynote address at the recent LOMA/LIMRA Strategic Issues Conference in Kuala Lumpur
"Thirdly, there is also a need for more uniform global approaches to the effective regulation of reinsurance activities. Fourthly, as part of the financial system, a key imperative for insurers is re-building the confidence of retail investors and consumers in financial institutions," he added. Muhammad said the recent decades had indicated that the significance of the insurance industry to financial stability has become more pronounced and the adoption of core fundamentals essential.
"Insurance and reinsurance companies have become an important and growing class of financial market participants," he said.
"The involvement of the insurance industry in the capital markets has both deepened and broadened substantially (and), from being important investors, insurers and reinsurers have evolved to become important intermediaries in a broad range of financial markets," he added.
Muhammad said recent problems indicated that the lines between the insurance and banking sectors had become more blurred amd that unregulated activities and failure in internal risk management of a large global insurance group could adversely affect derivatives, and bank counterparties in creditrisk transfer transactions on a scale that had led to unprecedented market failure.
"As an integral and important component of the financial system, building the resilience of the insurance industry is therefore, critical. Unless adequate attention is directed towards promoting resilience in all of the core components of the financial system, efforts to preserve financial stability and prevent the occurrence of a future financial crisis and its consequences would be jeopardised," he added.
Muhammad said achieving more meaningful and consistent protection for consumers was also critical to rebuild confidence. To that extent, he said that in July 2009, all licensed local insurers and takaful operators would be required to comply fully with its guidelines on the introduction of new products.
"A large part of the Guidelines is devoted to addressing the responsibilities of the operators towards consumers in ensuring that the needs and rights of consumers are respected, and that consumers are clearly and fully informed of the nature and risks associated with the products," he added.
Muhammad said the local industry was undergoing a transformation that would provide a strong foundation for a more resilient and competitive industry. He said that the introduction of the risk-based capital framework and other initiatives were part of a broader move to introduce a regulatory regime that would allow greater flexibility to insurers under a rigorous internal supervisory and oversight framework.
"These developments will create opportunities for insurers to build financial solidity, restore consumer confidence and respond proactively to changing consumer needs in a more uncertain environment. Later this year, the bank will also consult the industry on risk management standards that insurers are expected to observe as part of this evolution.
"The priorities of the industry should be equally weighed between preserving the inherent strengths and original purpose of insurance, while committing to meaningful change that is needed to secure long-term viability and contribute to financial stability," he added.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 24, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Life insurers urged to focus on fundamentals to ride out storm

By Alfean Hardy
The Life Insurance Association of Malaysia (LIAM) is calling upon the life insurance sector to remain focussed on the industry's key fundamentals in order to ride out the global financial crisis and its president, Md Adnan Md Zain, is predicting single digit growth for the sector in spite of the current economic climate.
In a speech at the 17th Strategic Issues Conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Md Adnan said 2008 had been a challenging year for the indusry, given a global financial turmoil that has been considered the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"Nevertheless, there are always sliver linings that will appear with untapped business opportunities, multiplied with unexpected growth possibilities. By focussing on key fundamentals, including sound risk management, highly prudential and regulatory standards, and strong corporate governance, we are confident that we'll be able to ride out this stormy crisis," he added.
Speaking to reporters later, Md Adnan said that the country had benefited from steps undertaken by the authorities, like the adoption of the risk-based capital framework in January 2009, which aimed to create a strong risk management structure.
"Players are now more mindful that of ensuring that they put in place good processes and proper management practices to be able to bring out strengths in various areas for the betterment of themselves and their policyholders and, that in itself, will make the players perform at far higher standards," he added.
Md Adnan, who is also the chief executive officer of MCIS Zurich, said the life insurance sector has also been helped by a public at large that has come to a great understanding on the importance of life insurance in their lifes, barring investment-linked products.
"Even as we speak, the economic situation is the one that is not encouraging. Yet, there's still growth in the life insurance industry. Perhaps, because of the investment climate, investmentlinked products may not be featuring very well in terms of growth but the traditional life insurance is still showing good developments. People are still buying insurance. That clearly shows the knowledge, the awareness and people are recognising the importance of life insurance, both in terms of protection as well as savings. Medical is also another area that is shifting up well. And, for a country like ours, these are areas that will really see more growth opportunities with the growing population and the understanding of needs of people protecting themselves. Medical costs are also increasing and people have become more conscious of the good of insurance to provide them with a good position to provide for themselves and their families through insurance coverage," he added.
Md Adnan said, to question about growth forecast for the sector this year was his personal view that the life insurance sector would see single digit growth this year.
"We have been having some double digit growth in the past. You will see growth but it will be single digit growth," he said. "For traditional life insurance, growth is fairing much better. but investment linked is slowing down. It's cyclical and with the measures being undertaken by the authorities, in ensuring the stability of the economy, it's a matter of time that you will find the positive changes taking place and that will again bring back the confidence in the investmentlinked segment," he added.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 23, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Insurance premium rebate to go ahead, says BNM

By JASON NG
Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) will proceed with insurance premium rebate, a move that would give “millions of ringgit” back to consumers, said deputy governer Datuk Mohd Razif Abd Kadir.
The latest policy has come under protest from various quarters as it would effectively give consumers the incentive to bypass the use of agents by mandating insurance companies to give rebates for a direct purchase from insurance companies.
"We should look at the broader perspective particularly in fairness toward consumers," Mohd Razif said in a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur last Friday [June 19, 2009].
The policy for direct purchase channels will be effective July 1, 2009 and the quantum of rebates will depend on the type of insurance covers purchased.
Direct purchase includes walk-in, via internet, direct mailing and telemarketing. For motor insurance, individuals will receive 5% premium rebate in the first year of implementation and 10% subsequently. For others including businesses, insurance companies have the flexibility of providing the rebates.
Last year, the general insurance industry recorded gross premiums of RM4.4 billion, half of which are from the motor insurance segment.
According to BNM, about 15% of the gross premium collected are via direct channels.
"This is part of our fine-tuning of policy to put cash back in consumers' pocket. It is not necessary that the livelihood of the agents would be affected. People will still use the service of the agents if (the service) are value-added," Mohd Razif said.
It is understood that insurance companies pay 10% of the premium to agents, numbering around 40,000 with 15,000 working full time, as commission and consumers should be entitled to enjoy rebates that would otherwise, be pocketed by the insurance companies, he added.
Among those reported to be unhappy includes Proton Dealers Association Malaysia that claimed the policy would "destroy" the automotive dealers network while General Insurance Agents Association Malaysia organised a meeting recently to protest the implementation.
"We had a lot of protest and pressures for us to withdraw," Mohd Razif said, adding that "there is nothing much BNM can do" should there be further protest from any quarters.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 22, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Motor insurance needs an overhaul


By Habhajan Singh
Motor insurance in Malaysia requires a serious overhaul, with the perennially unprofitable third party coverage demanding a separate treatment altogether, says a senior industry executive.
The issue has come to a boil for general insurers and takaful providers active in the motoring sector, with most of them now no longer providing third party motor insurance coverage due to the high claims ratio.
"I'm proposing a rethink of our Road Transport Act 1987 and a review of the motor insurance policy. A new government agency should be set up to handle at least the Act cover, while redesigned insurance policies should only cover one's own damage, leaving third party claims to the agency. An industry pool could provide base underwriting," said Datuk Syed Moheeb Syed Kamarulzaman, the newly appointed chairman of the Malaysian Takaful Association (MTA).
Under this proposal, a new industry pool would be setup to manage third party made compulsory by the Act, commonly referred to as the Act cover.
Here, Syed Moheeb proposes that each vehicle licensed holder should contribute individually to the pool. Currently, third party insurance is pegged to the vehicle, irrespective of the number of drivers nor the name it is insured under. A family car may be insured under the head of the family, when in fact it could be driven by all children. This could result in a situation of inadequate premium against the risks exposed.
The suggestion by the seasoned insurer is for everyone with a valid licence to bear a portion of the risk.
"When you pay for your motor licence, a portion automatically goes to cover third party claims. This way, the third party risk is automatically handled by the new pool," said Syed Moheeb who is also the president and chief executive officer of Takaful Ikhlas Sdn Bhd.
This would also mean insurers and takaful operators will only provide coverage for claims other than those mandated under the Act.
The pool could replace the Malaysian Motor Insurance Pool (MMIP), a high-risk insurance pool run collectively by the industry under orders from the regulators, which acts as the insurer of last resort.
Under the present set-up, when a vehicle owner is unable to get any insurer to provide him liability cover for third party, MMIP would step in to provide the cover, at a rate higher than what insurers are allowed to charge. Industry players have been lobbying for years to change the tariff-driven premium structure for motor insurance, claiming that providing coverage mandatory under the Act is almost a sure loss-making proposition.
The move has not yielded results thus far, industry executives said.
"So far, we have been looking at tweaking insurance premiums rather than changing the whole structure. Perenially, we have a problem of inadequate premiums to pay for the increasing third party claims.
"This year, several insurers have found it difficult to continue writing third party risks. So, if we want different results, we need to do things differently. We need to reengineer. This suggestion, if it happens, will be headed by a new body supported by the government," said Syed Moheeb.
Syed Moheeb, a seasoned insurer with experience in reinsurance, was involved some years ago when the general insurance association, Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia (Piam), was actively discussing with Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) suggested changes to the motor insurance premium tariffs.
In the meantime, industry executives said writing third party motor cover had become more and more untenable from the profit standpoint, forcing players to steer clear of the segment.
On May 27, The Malaysian Reserve reported that insurance companies are no longer willing to provide third party motor insurance under their banner, thus sending their customers to the highrisk insurance pool instead.
On June 1, this newspaper also reported that Pacific & Orient Insurance Co Bhd (P&O Insurance), one of the local top guns in motor insurance, was set to pull out completely from the third party motor insurance segment, following the trend of other insurance providers in Malaysia who have stayed clear of the sector.
The general insurer, a subsidiary of listed Pacific & Orient Bhd (P&O), was second only to Kurnia Insurans (M) Bhd for underwriting third party motor insurance covers in 2008.
From latest figures released, Piam said combined loss ratios for the motor insurance business in 2007 and 2008 stood at 114% and 115% respectively. It said insurers have also expressed their concerns over the rapidly increasing claims pay-outs especially for third party bodily injury claims. The claims ratio for third party bodily injury claims skyrocketed to 262% in 2007 and 288% in 2008, it added.
Industry sources estimate that the standalone motor 'Act' insurance, which is the portion compulsory for all motorists, has generated gross premiums of close to RM600 million last year, with Kurnia Insurans and P&O Insurance conducting close to half of the industry's total.
The motor 'Act' insurance policy provides protection against death and injury to third parties. The third party motor insurance also provides protection against other legal liabilities such as damage to the property of a third party (usually somebody else's car or motorcycle or a neighbour's gate) and certain specified legal costs.
Under the third party cover, a policyholder may opt to include protection for loss or damage to his own vehicle due to fire or theft only.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 15, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Motor claims a major drag on profits of insurance firms

By Habhajan Singh
Claims for motor insurance were a major drag on the operating profits of general insurance and takaful operators last year, according to an analysis of statistics released by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM).
For 2008, operating profit of the general insurance and takaful business, which declined by 44.5% to RM0.7 billion, was affected by a higher claims ratio of 84.2%, mainly from due to claims by motor vehicle.
Last year, the claims ratio stood at 79.6%, which meant that for every ringgit of premium collected by these insurers and takaful operators, close to 80 sen went to claims. And the situation is expected to worsen, going by the caution thrown in by the the central bank's Financial Stability and Payment Systems Report 2008 released in March.
The BNM report said claims are expected to intensify due to higher incidences of theft and fraud as well as less regular maintenance. This will certainly put more pressure on providers of motor insurance, many of whom are pulling the plug when it comes to providing third party motor coverage.
"Bodily injury makes about 90% of third party claim. It is increasing, making it very painful for insurers.
"To make matters worse, there are fears that fraud syndicates are reaping big, big money from fraudalent third party bodily injury claims," said Takaful Ikhlas Sdn Bhd president and chief executive officer Datuk Syed Moheeb Syed Kamarulzaman.
Major players in the motor insurance sector include Kurnia Insurance (M) Bhd, Allianz General Insurance Company (Malaysia) Bhd, AmG Insurance Bhd, Tokio Marine Insurans (M) Bhd, Pacific & Orient Insurance Co Bhd, Berjaya Sompo Insurance Bhd and Uni.Asia General Insurance Bhd.
The high claims ratio has seen insurers steering clear from underwriting third party liability coverage, the minumum insurance cover mandated by the Road Transport Act 1987. Besides providing insurance protection against death and injury to third parties (which is provided under the 'Act Only' motor insurance policy), third party motor insurance also provides protection against other legal liabilities such as damage to the property of a third party (usually somebody else's car or motorcycle or a neighbour's gate) and certain specified legal costs.
Under the third party cover, a policyholder may opt to include protection for loss or damage to his own vehicle due to fire or theft only.
"It is the Act claim that is rising, and rising fast," Syed Moheeb said.
For this year, the central bank report released three months ago noted that the Malaysian insurance and takaful sector will also be affected by the potential lower demand for protection and related products in a highly competitive industry.
"In particular, the expected decline in vehicle sales will negatively impact the motor insurance and takaful business which constituted 45% of gross insurance premiums in 2008. Premiums are also likely to be affected due to an increase in surrender rates and lower sums insured as a result of policyholders' efforts to reduce costs during these difficult periods.
"In addition, claims are expected to intensify due to higher incidences of theft and fraud as well as less regular maintenance," the report said.
In the report, the central bank also noted that the insurance and takaful sector, while maintaining a comfortable solvency position, faced challenges in maintaining the growth in premiums and contributions from new businesses, compounded by intense competition in the industry. It said total net premium and contribution income grew by 2.4%, mainly attributed to the expansion in takaful business.
It also noted that demand for general insurance and takaful coverage on motor and marine, aviation and transportation related businesses moderated in tandem with the slower trade activities and a more subdued automotive demand outlook.
It said the gross direct premium and contribution for the general insurance and takaful business registered an increase of 5.5% to RM11.5 billion, driven mainly by the expansion in the fire segment.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 15, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Takaful Malaysia sees light at the end of tunnel


By Alfean Hardy
Syarikat Takaful Malaysia Bhd is seeing the light at the end of the global economic crisis tunnel and is planning to leverage on the improving e conomy and increasing customer appetite for investment products, its group managing director Datuk Mohamed Hassan Md Kamil said in a recent email interview with The Malaysian Reserve.
"We are of the view that the global economy will slowly stabilise towards the end of this year considering the massive stimulus packages and accommodative monetary policies introduced worldwide to support the downturn," he said. "Since equity markets normally recover a few months ahead of the economy, we expect the local market to steadily recover in the second half of this year.
"Hence, it is timely to offer an investment-linked product with equity exposure to take advantage of the upside when market recovers.
"We believe that investors are constantly looking for the best investible asset to invest in and Takaful myInvest provides them more alternatives to diversify their portfolios while at the same time obtain takaful protection," he added.
Takaful Malaysia recently launched an open-ended investment-linked product, Takaful myInvest, to cater to investors who want takaful protection while looking for alternatives to diversify their portfolios.
The product offers takaful protection in the event of death or total permanent disability during the investment period. It has four different investment funds — Dividend Fund (Irad), Blue Chips Fund (Istifad), Index Tracker Fund (Ihfaz) and Growth Fund (Ittihad) — that can be mixed to suit different investment appetites.
The funds will be invested in Bursa Malaysia-listed Shariah-compliant stocks approved by the Securities Commission's Shariah Advisory Council. The product is also designed to be invested in Islamic deposits and the money market.
Mohamed Hassan said Takaful myInvest is for all types of investors who hold an optimistic view on the equity market's recovery locally and would like to position their investment portfolios to take advantage of that recovery as well as the unlimited upside of potential returns that equity investments offer.
"While we are aware of the opportunities offered in the overseas markets as a result of the financial meltdown, we opine that the risks are also higher, which we need to avoid.
"The local market is more defensive in nature but it also offers tremendous growth," he said. "With the current economic condition, domestic investments would be the most prudent and best way to contain risk exposure.
"The domestic equity market still offers decent earnings in terms of dividend as compared to other regional markets, and money market investment ensures that liquidity is intact while at the same time offering the opportunity of stable returns," he added.
Asked whether Takaful Malaysia had an overseas variant of Takaful myInvest in the pipeline, Mohamed Hassan said the company was constantly working to offer innovative products to its valued customers.
"As such, there are plans on launching more investmentlinked products that will be associated with the performance of foreign investments, for example, structured products, provided that the global sentiment improves and that economic recovery is forthcoming," he said.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 10, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Malaysian Re’s IFS rating affirmed by Fitch

Malaysian Reinsurance Bhd (Malaysian Re) has had its A — insurer financial strength (IFS) rating — affirmed by Fitch Ratings with a stable outlook, incorporating the firm's dominant position in the local market, its healthy capital position and prudent management.
A unit of MNRB Holdings Bhd, Malaysian Re is the country's leading reinsurance company and is an underwriter of general reinsurance business. Fitch is a global rating agency that covers entities in 90 countries, including IFS ratings of about 2,000 insurance companies worldwide.
In a recent statement, Fitch Ratings said Malaysian Re, as the national reinsurer, is the largest player in the local maket and it believes that its dominance is likely to remain unchallenged, mainly due to the voluntary cession arrangements that exist in the local market, which provide a sustainable premium base.
"Under the existing voluntary cessions market agreement, all local general insurance companies are required to cede a portion of their business to Malaysian Re.
"Consequently, Malaysia is the core market for (the firm), constituting over 80% of its total business. The company also actively participates in various local industry initiatives, which has helped strengthen its relationships with domestic insurance companies," it added.
Fitch said it viewed Malaysian Re's capital position as healthy and of very good quality, which consists of ordinary equity and retained profits with no debt issuance.
It said a RM20 million capital injection from its MNRB parent in April 2009 had further boosted paid up capital to RM500 million from RM480 million previously.
"Additionally, at the holding company level, there is above RM500 million of surplus capital, which could be a source of support if required," it added.
However, Fitch warned that, due to Malaysian Re's limited business geographical diversification, it faces the challenge of maintaining its good operating performance under current market conditions as well as the potential risk that the existing voluntary cession agreements could be reduced due to market liberalisation.
"Against the backdrop of a challenging business environment with poor investment sentiments, Malaysian Re's net income for its financial year ended March 31, 2009, is estimated by the company to reach about RM40 million, compared to RM85.1 million for FY08," Fitch said. — by Alfean Hardy

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 10, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

TM Asia Life targets RM40m premiums in 3 wks


TM ASIA Life Malaysia Bhd is confident of locking in RM40 million in premiums within three weeks of the launch of its short-term single premium capital protected investment-linked product, Asia Jade.
Asia Jade is strategically designed and offers a 3.75-year capital protection investment plan with 20% Head Start Coupon and potential Maturity Bonus of 10%, issued by HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd. The product is available from June 8-30, 2009.
TM Asia Life deputy CEO Jun Tokura said that Asia Jade is a close-ended fund that offers life protection insurance and the opportunity to invest into three promising stocks in China.
"We are very optimistic about this fund as it is specially selected to capitalise on the strength of China's economy and the stimulus package offered by the China government targeting on infrastructure development. "With this, we have carefully chosen three promising stocks, which are China Mobile Ltd, China Railway Group Ltd and China National Offshore Oil Corp Ltd," he said.
Following the successful launch of Asia TriMax in October last year and due to popular demand from our customers, Tokura said TM Asia Life has chosen to tie up with HSBC Bank Malaysia again to introduce Asia Jade, its second investment plan. The company is confident that the new product will appeal to many investors as it offers life protection and potentially high capital growth within a short time frame.
"Based on the back testing results of China Mobile and China National Offshore Oil Corp from July 1, 2002 to April 7, 2009, investors can expect average returns of 29.33% at maturity", he added.
Asia Jade fund requires a minimum investment of RM10,000. Investors will be assured of 100% capital protected returns upon maturity, which will be in 2013.
The life insurance will offer financial protection of up to 125% of basic premium against death and TPD (Total and Permanent Disability). Potential investors as young as 19 years of age are eligible to invest in Asia Jade, while life assured can be as young as one month to 75 years old.
TM Asia Life also offers education, endowment, whole life, term, medical, investment linked and group insurance solutions, covering a range of over 20 products.
It is the first Japanese owned life insurance company in Malaysia following the acquisition of Asia General Holdings by Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co Ltd, a unit of Japan's largest insurer, Tokio Marine Holdings, Inc.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 9, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)

Another local party keen on PacificMas’ insurance biz: FD

PacificMas Bhd has found another interested party to acquire its insurance business and an application has been made to Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) to enter into negotiations, PacificMas non-independent director George Lee said.
“It’s pending approval,” he told reporters after the company’s AGM in Kuala Lumpur on June 10, 2009, reports The Edge Financial Daily.
He did not name the interested party, the report added.
THE REPORT GOES ON:
Lee expressed confidence that the impending round of negotiations would work out, as the interested party is believed to be prepared to pay PacificMas’ asking price — a price tag which is pegged at a premium of the insurance business’ net book value of RM123 million as at March 31, 2009.
“It’s a local party and they are prepared to pay. After having failed on two previous occasions (due to pricing), we would not want to go into discussions with this party if we don’t have a fairly good indication that they are at least prepared to pay the price that the board feels is a fair price,” Lee said.
Lee is also the executive vice-president and head of group investment banking of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd (OCBC).
“We have a certain price in mind as we think it’s a profitable business. Therefore, it should be sold at a certain premium to book value and we are looking at a certain valuation,” he added.
The previous interested parties included EON Capital Bhd, OSK Holdings Bhd and even T Ananda Krishnan’s company — Usaha Tegas Sdn Bhd.
On PacificMas’ plans for the cash from the sale, Lee said the board may look at alternative investments, principally in finance services. “Also, we will definitely look at growing our fund management and leasing businesses,” he said.
“After careful evaluation and if the conclusion is that we can’t find a viable alternative and the money is put in fixed deposit, then it’s better we return the money to the shareholders than to put money in the bank,” Lee added.
For the year ended Dec 31, 2008, its insurance business contributed 29% to the group’s profits while its leasing and fund management businesses contributed 34% and less than 1% respectively. In 2007, the fund management business contributed 15% to group profits.
“Immediately after we sell the insurance (business), group profitability will shrink. What we are looking at over time is for the fund management and leasing businesses to contribute incremental profit on an absolute basis,” Lee said.
He added there was potential for the businesses to develop as currently the group’s fund management segment managed RM1.7 billion while the biggest fund in the country managed close to RM30 billion. The leasing business has a 1.5% market share of the RM50 billion market.
Industry observers believe PacificMas’ plan to grow these businesses has potential given that the group would also be able to leverage on OCBC.
On speculation of OCBC injecting Great Eastern Life Malaysia (GELM) into PacificMas post-disposal, Lee said the exercise was proposed twice but had failed.
“Nothing came out of the discussions and there must be very valid reasons why such mergers could not be consummated and I believe after two unsuccessful attempts… but I can’t speculate,” he said.
As OCBC has a 63.5% stake in PacificMas following its takeover exercise early last year, BNM imposed a condition on OCBC that it could not own two insurance companies in Malaysia. PacificMas has until October this year to sell its insurance business.
Meanwhile, on the company’s performance this year, PacificMas chief executive officer Ng Hon Soon said: “We expect better profitability.”
He added the second quarter was expected to see the same performance as its first quarter ended March. For its 1QFY09, PacificMas registered a net profit increase of 200% year-on-year to RM8.4 million.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Piam welcomes proposal to limit liability claims


by Habhajan Singh
Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia (Piam), the association for general insurers operating in Malaysia, welcomed a proposal to limit the liability shouldered by insurance companies for motor insurance claims.
It is timely that the proposal to limit liabilities on third party motor insurance covers be considered seriously in order to ensure the viability and availability of third party insurance protection for vehicle owners, Piam said in a statement released yesterday [May 4, 2009], affirming a position long held by the grouping.
This was in response to a statement by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz on Wednesday.
One newspaper quoted the minister as saying the ministry would look at amending the laws covering motor insurance to resolve the matter. The report said public transport operators have been crying foul as insurance companies no longer want to insure taxis and buses.
Nazri said this was because the insurance companies claimed that they were losing money by insuring commercial vehicles. Nazri, the report added, said that at present operators could sue the insurance company for millions. The amendment would limit the liability shouldered by the insurance companies.
"This way, the vehicle would be insured, the operator would be able to claim during any accident and the insurance company would also be protected," one newspaper quoted the minister.
On May 27, The Malaysian Reserve reported that insurance companies are no longer willing to provide third party motor insurance under their banner, and are instead sending their customers to a high-risk insurance pool run collectively by the industry under orders from the regulators.
The report also noted that a recent decision by two local insurers to completely stop providing third party cover to commercial vehicles is set to see a higher volume of premium going towards the high-risk insurance pool called the Malaysian Motor Insurance Pool (MMIP), which had already seen a big jump last year.
On June 1, The Malaysian Reserve reported that Pacific & Orient Insurance Co Bhd (P&O Insurance), one of the local top guns in motor insurance, was set to pull out completely from the third party motor insurance segment, following the trend of other insurance providers in Malaysia who have stayed clear of this sector due to the high claims ratio.
The general insurer, a subsidiary of listed Pacific & Orient Bhd (P&O), was second only to Kurnia Insurans (M) Bhd for underwriting third party motor insurance covers in 2008.
In its response, Piam said for most countries in Europe, US and even Asean (except for Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia), the law provides for limited liability for third party risks arising out of the use of motor vehicles.
"In Malaysia, provisions for limiting liability will involve amendments to the Road Transport Act, 1987 and consultations with the Insurance Regulator on suitable amendments to the motor insurance policies to cater for the changes in limits of liability under the policy contract," it said.
Earlier, Piam had announced combined loss ratios of 114% and 115% for motor insurance business in 2007 and 2008 respectively. It said insurers have also expressed their concerns over the rapidly increasing claims pay-outs especially for third party bodily injury claims. Claims ratios for third party bodily injury claims skyrocketed to 262% in 2007 and 288% in 2008, said Piam.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on June 5, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on insurance & takaful called UNDERWRITER, appearing on alternate Wednesdays)