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)