Qatar: Reaching insurance potential

While the insurance sector continues to expand and post solid profits, Qatar’s policy writers are looking to improve profit margins by tapping into potential for further growth, particularly in construction and infrastructure insurance.

All five of Qatar’s domestic policy writers reported profits in the first half of the year, though two suffered a net earnings slip between January and July, due to a combination of lower revenue from investments and a dip in premium income.

The country’s largest insurer, both in terms of policies written and revenue, the Qatar Insurance Company (QIC), saw declines in core earnings cut into its net profits, which dropped 11% to QR302.76m ($83.07m) in the first half of the year, mainly due to payouts on special claims related to catastrophes, such as a fire at Villagio Mall, the company said. The QIC recorded a slight increase in net premiums, up by just under 0.3% to QR828.89m ($227.47m), while claims soared by 16% to QR662.9m ($181.92m), balanced by a 29% rise in investment earnings.

Doha Insurance Company also put in a solid performance in the opening half of 2012, posting net profits of QR41.4m ($11.36m), up from the QR37.5m ($10.29m) in the same period in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Qatar General Insurance and Reinsurance Company (QGIRC) reported a drop in revenue, though the firm was far from moving into the red. It saw net profits of QR67.5m ($18.52m) in the first six months of the year, compared with QR76.2m ($20.91m) in the first half of 2011, a retreat of 11%.

In its first-half results, issued at the end of July, the Qatar Islamic Insurance Company (QIIC) announced a 4.5% increase in profits to QR34.84m ($9.56m), coming on the back of total revenue of QR42.5m ($11.66m) and offset by expenses of QR10.89m ($2.99m). Though profits were up, the QIIC reported that its contributions fell 5% to QR57.16m ($15.69m), while claims had jumped to QR47.33m ($12.99m), with much of the firm’s profits coming from investments.

The country’s other Islamic insurer, Al Khaleej Takaful, notified the Qatar Exchange on August 1 that it recorded a modest improvement in profits, QR59m ($16.19m), for the first half of 2012 compared to the QR57m ($15.64m) for the opening six months of the previous year.

According to the Qatar Financial Centre Authority (QFCA), premiums for the country’s insurance sector grew by an average of 12% annually between 2006 and 2010, with total written premiums over $1bn.

While these growth figures are strong, and indeed would be the envy of many insurers in other countries, they do lag behind the overall rate of expansion of the economy, which saw GDP increase by an average of 13% between 2007 and 2011.

The overall penetration rate stood at 0.94% of the country’s GDP in 2009, com- pared to a global average of 6.9%. This does suggest that while the industry is still working to raise its profile among clients, both private and corporate, it needs to do more to achieve the success many industry players believe is possible.

One such firm is Qatar Holding, one of the investment vehicles of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). Qatar Holding is currently looking to lift its stake in the QIC from the present level of 12%.

In a communiqué issued to the Qatar Exchange in early August, the QIC said that Qatar Holding had expressed interest in buying further shares in the company and that initial steps had been taken, though no details were given as to what extent Qatar Holding wanted to buy into the insurer.

This bid could be a reflection on forward projections for the insurance sector. With an estimated $140bn of infrastructure work to be carried out through to the end of 2015, and more in the years leading up to the 2022 World Cup, demand for insurance products is expected to rise sharply, including for specialty segments related to construction.

By raising its stake in the QIC, Qatar Holding may be looking to buy in before the anticipated period of growth.

The coming months will tell whether other investors will seek to enter into the insurance sector − a move that could bolster the QIC’s competitors − or whether the market leader will further strengthen its position at the head of the pack.

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