Mexico: Insurance hovers between the strict and the ambiguous
A decade of expansion has put Mexico’s insurance sector on a firm footing for solid growth in 2013, although the industry still has ground to cover if it is to catch up with some of its neighbours.
The insurance industry has regularly outstripped the economy in terms of growth rate over the past 12 years, buoyed by the country’s sizeable population. Figures from the National Commission of Insurance and Finance (CNSF) show that growth reached 9.8% in 2011, easing slightly in the first nine months of 2012 to 7.1%. The sector is now forecast to expand at almost three times the rate of the economy in the coming year.
The growing middle class has been a key factor in the insurance industry’s expansion, although an anticipated rise in penetration rates is likely to put more pressure on providers to offer better, cheaper services. Ensuring accurate risk assessment and analysis is also expected to become more important.
Recardo Arias, director-general of the Association of Mexican Insurance Institutions (AMIS), told the local press that the perspectives for the insurance industry in Mexico were “promising”. He added, “Growth in the sector will continue to outpace wider economic growth due to the demographic situation and development projects.”
While prospects for the industry’s expansion look bright, AMIS conceded that the industry remained somewhat undersized, partially due to restrictive government regulations. According to AMIS’s strategic document El Desarrolo del Seguro (The Growth of Insurance), just 7.8m people, or less than 7% of the total population, have a life insurance policy, while 74% of cars are insured.
The regulatory framework and public politics, which have been described as strict on some issues, yet ambiguous on others, are cited as key factors in limiting insurance penetration and investment. Mexico plans to implement regulatory reform in 2014, which will apply some of the same principles as Solvency II regulations in Europe, including changes to reserve requirements, risk margins, and capital and solvency requirements. While Fitch Ratings sees the changes as leading to a stronger financial outlook for the sector over time, it acknowledged that operational costs could increase in the short to medium term.
AMIS, meanwhile, highlighted the challenge that the industry faces in dealing with the lack of an “insurance culture” in Mexico, which is often viewed as part of the population’s unfamiliarity with the finance industry in general. However, observers suggest that some of the challenges the industry faces, such as low penetration and a lack of awareness, also serve as indicators of the strong potential for growth.
The association said the industry’s revenues could rise to 2.4% of GDP by 2016 based on figures from the Association of Insurance Supervisors of Latin America (ASSAL), up from 1.54% in 2005 and 1.97% in 2011.
The contribution that the insurance industry makes to the wider economy also compared well on a regional level, with the country ranked third behind Argentina and Colombia, where the sector contributed 2.47% and 2.61% to GDP, respectively, in 2011, according to ASSAL. However, data was unavailable for the insurance industry’s performance in Chile, Ecuador and Panama, which have all produced higher sectoral contributions than Mexico in previous years. Mexico’s per capita spending on insurance for 2011 stood at $180.76, putting the country second behind Argentina in the region, although again, there were notable gaps in the data available for other countries.
Life insurance policies have traditionally been the industry’s largest single revenue generator and continued to lead the pack in the first nine months of 2012, accounting for 40.3% of the industry’s intake. Damages (20.1%) came second, followed by auto (19.7%), accident and health (14.1%) and pension (5.8%) policies. In the third quarter of 2012, the CNFV reported that a total of 105 companies were operating in the sector, of which 45 were local. The remaining 60 were subsidiary firms, many belonging to larger international parent companies, it said.
AMIS has forecast the insurance sector to expand at 9.6% in 2013, nearly three times the 3.6% estimate for broader macroeconomic growth. The industry grew steadily at an average rate of 6.7% between 2000 and 2012, while GDP growth for the 12-year period averaged just 2.06%, according to data from the CNSF. Other sources have forecast higher, double-digit growth rates for the industry in 2013, including Fitch, which gave a figure of 11.5%.
While analysts agree that Mexico’s underdeveloped insurance industry has plenty of growth potential, there are concerns that its economic and social impact will be limited. Improving regulations and raising awareness about insurance products and services will help fuel expansion in the near term, with broader macroeconomic growth likely to boost growth further.