An overhaul of Malaysia’s Islamic finance regulations is expected to increase take-up of sharia-compliant insurance (takaful) products, although the new rules could encourage smaller operators to join forces with more established rivals.
New legislation came into effect on June 30, along with parallel laws revamping the operations and regulation of the conventional financial sector. The new Islamic Financial Services Act (IFSA) replaces previous legislation enacted over the past 30 years, strengthening regulatory oversight and boosting industry transparency.
According to a statement from Bank Negara, the central bank, the new rules will provide “a comprehensive legal framework that is fully consistent with sharia in all aspects of regulation and supervision”.
Under the new act, religious advisers will be held legally accountable for financial products. They will also be subject to monetary penalties and could face imprisonment if found to be in breach of the laws.
In the takaful sector, the IFSA will require insurers to separate their life and non-life business lines. Firms that hold composite licences will need to divide their operations within five years.
The new rules are expected to help ensure the rights of takaful consumers, setting out disclosure requirements and mandating that insurers provide a minimum level of information to customers at each stage of the contract process.
“The IFSA will lead to greater consumer protection and subsequently greater confidence in takaful,” Mohamed Rafick, CEO of Munich RE Retakaful, told OBG in an interview in mid-July. “It will also hold takaful companies accountable for their pricing strategies by ensuring that risk funds are sustainable.”
The stringent pricing accountability could put pressure on smaller operators in the industry, Rafick added. They could also face challenges in meeting the new higher capital requirements that are specified by the IFSA.
While there are around a dozen takaful operators in the market, the sector is dominated by a few firms that, between them, account for about 90% of the estimated combined $6bn worth of assets held.
Some of the larger players have expressed interest in acquiring smaller outfits in the wake of the new regulations.
In July, Hassan Kamil, group managing director of Syarikat Takaful Malaysia, the second-largest Islamic insurer, told Reuters his company might be in the market to absorb smaller rivals. “If their portfolio is attractive, we could be buying up business,” he said.
However, analysts are confident that the new regulations will help the sector to expand.
Ahmad Rizlan Azman, CEO of Etiqa Takaful, said the improved regulatory environment, alongside growing public understanding of takaful products, would help the sector to develop into 2015 and beyond.
“Recent reports indicate that the Malaysian takaful industry is expected to grow by 20% per annum for the next two years as consumer acceptance grows and regulatory changes provide a stronger and more stable infrastructure for the shariah-compliant insurance industry,” he told a conference in Kuala Lumpur in late June.
However, the takaful sector still lacks the level of consumer acceptance required to underpin strong growth. Many products in the takaful range, as yet, have limited exposure in the Malaysian market. The penetration rate for life takaful stands at 13%, considerably lower than that of conventional life insurance, at 55%.
According to a recent survey commissioned by Swiss Re, about 30% of Muslims in Malaysia have a good understanding of takaful, while 16.5% hold policies. Though this is a far higher rate than in Indonesia, where only 5% of the population were found to be familiar with takaful and 1% choosing to hold the sharia-compliant product, the survey indicates that more work needs to be undertaken to boost penetration rates.
By tightening up the regulatory structure of its takaful segment, Malaysia will further bolster confidence in both the product and the broader Islamic financial sector and may well set the benchmark for other countries seeking to boost accountability and transparency in their own sharia-compliant markets.