Abu Dhabi’s insurance sector has benefited from strong growth in the UAE’s overall economy following a recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, a trend that has been enhanced by a competitive market and a tech-savvy, financially literate consumer base. Gross written premium (GWP) and underwriting income increased across the board in the UAE in 2022, with GWP surpassing levels observed prior to the start of the pandemic.
Abu Dhabi’s insurers in particular are well placed to take advantage of the continuing expansion in compulsory health and medical coverage across the UAE, and are solidifying their reputations in other lines of business, such as motor, marine and property. There has been continued growth in the number of active policies issued, which reached 8.8m in the UAE in 2022, out of a total population of 9.3m. Conventional and takaful (Islamic insurance) players have also been moving to sounder reporting standards, and companies have implemented several measures to support financial stability, such as strong solvency ratios, and enhanced governance and consumer protection structures.
Looking ahead, continuing economic growth is set to have a knock-on effect for the sector, while digitalisation makes rapid advances. At the same time, competition among Abu Dhabi’s insurers and the wider UAE market may result in some consolidation in the years ahead. With some 62 insurance companies in the sector across the country at the end of 2022, such a consolidation may be in order, and Abu Dhabi – the UAE’s largest emirate – is likely to benefit significantly from such market developments.
Abu Dhabi’s insurers – both conventional and takaful – are supervised by the Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE). The regulator exercises its role through established offices within the bank, as well as via regular meetings with companies, sector associations and the Insurance Sector CEO Forum. The CBUAE took over the role held by the Insurance Authority (IA) until January 2021, when it was merged with the central bank.
The CBUAE has the task of developing the sector by ensuring fair competition, service improvement and further Emiratisation of the insurance market, in addition to its other supervisory and regulatory roles. Its duties include ensuring strict solvency guidelines, which are set out in the 2014 Financial Regulations for Insurance Companies and Takaful Insurance Companies, are adhered to. These established a minimum guarantee fund, solvency margins, solvency capital requirements and certain data transparency obligations. All insurers in the UAE are also required to adhere to the Insurance Core Principles of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors.
A key professional body for the sector is the Emirates Insurance Association (EIA), which includes representatives from the country’s insurance companies. The EIA lists 34 local insurance and takaful companies as members, along with 29 foreign entities, one of which is a reinsurance company. Its membership includes foreign and local company agents, consultants, loss adjusters and actuaries. CBUAE figures for 2022 show 168 insurance brokerages, 29 insurance agent companies, 51 individual insurance consultants, 136 loss adjusters and 74 actuaries licensed to operate in the UAE.
In 2022 the CBUAE issued a new takaful regulation and established the CBUAE Higher Sharia Authority as the body responsible for issuing standards of sharia compliance in the insurance sector, as well as general rules for takaful companies operating in the UAE. Insurers have also been required to go beyond the 2014 financial regulations and adopt International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 17. This has added a further layer of financial reporting obligations to the existing rules, while also altering previous accountancy practices in favour of enhanced risk mitigation. In addition, the adoption of IFRS 17 creates a more solid foundation for the sector overall by boosting transparency and solvency. It should also encourage growth in the reinsurance segment by providing reinsurers with better information and fewer risks when working with insurance companies.
In 2022 the CBUAE announced plans to establish the office of a sector ombudsman, in the form of a specialised unit known as Sanadak. This office will take on some of the responsibility currently undertaken by the central bank through its Insurance Disputes Resolution Committee. Sanadak will investigate consumer complaints regarding the insurance sector and ensure their speedy resolution, and the committee will continue as the appellate jurisdiction for such cases.
The CBUAE also introduced new regulations that year to counter money laundering and terrorism financing. These new guidelines have been specifically designed to assist the insurance and reinsurance sector in meeting their obligations under existing legislation and include standards for customer due diligence, risk assessment and reporting to the UAE Financial Intelligence Unit.
Structure & Key Players
In 2022 the UAE insurance sector comprised 50 conventional insurance companies and 12 takaful entities. In terms of lines of business, in takaful the health segment has long been the largest, representing 43.6% of the market in 2021, while family takaful and fund accumulation were the smallest, at 18.1%. The picture is similar for conventional insurance, and GWP in the sector overall – conventional and takaful combined – broke down into 46.2% health, 37.7% property and liability and 16.1% life in 2022, according to CBUAE figures.
Abu Dhabi-based insurers play an important role in the wider UAE market. Indeed, three of the UAE’s topfive insurance companies based on assets are based in Abu Dhabi. The largest local insurer is Abu Dhabi National Insurance Company (ADNIC), which was created in 1972. ADNIC is part owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council (ADIC), the investment arm of Abu Dhabi’s government, which holds a 24% stake. At the end of the first half of 2023 ADNIC reported total assets of Dh7.1bn ($1.9bn), insurance revenue of Dh2.1bn ($571.6m) and net profit of Dh204.4m ($55.6m), the last of which was up 15.5% year-on-year (y-o-y).
Abu Dhabi’s second-largest insurance firm is Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company, established in 1975. Similarly to ADNIC, Al Ain Ahlia is 19.7% government owned through ADIC. It reported total assets of Dh2.7bn ($734.9m) as of the end of June 2023, along with insurance revenue of Dh689.8m ($187.7m), up 19.9% y-o-y. Net profit was down by 24.1% to Dh18m ($4.9m).
Emirates Insurance Company (EIC), a non-life firm with a 12% government stake through ADIC, secured third place. EIC reported total assets of Dh2.1bn ($571.6m) for the first half of 2023 and revenue of Dh563.6m ($153.4m). Net profit rose from Dh34.3m ($9.4m) in June 2022 to Dh60.1m ($16.4m) in June 2023.
A number of the UAE’s largest takaful players are headquartered in Abu Dhabi, including Abu Dhabi National Takaful Company, Methaq Takaful Insurance Company, Al Hilal Takaful, Insurance House and Watania. Abu Dhabi National Takaful Company reported total takaful operations assets of Dh1.3bn ($353.9m) for the first half of 2023. Total income for the period was Dh32.8m ($8.9m) – roughly even with the first half of 2022 – while total profit was Dh29.9m ($8.1m), down from Dh42.4m ($11.5m) in the same period of 2022. In 2022 the company announced plans to take over the takaful portfolio of Dubai Islamic Insurance & Reinsurance Company, commonly known as AMAN Insurance, which is looking to exit the insurance space.
Foreign insurance companies active in the UAE and Abu Dhabi include Generali Group, Friends Provident International, Zurich Insurance Group, Axa, Qatar Insurance Company, Life Insurance Corporation of India, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance and MedGulf.
The pandemic had a major impact on economic growth and financial stability, though Abu Dhabi’s insurance sector benefited from the UAE’s Targeted Economic Support Scheme. Despite major operational challenges, the sector was able to forge ahead with moves to adopt IFRS 17 in 2020, as well as see the establishment of the IA Professional Academy, which offers insurance training in cooperation with various international bodies such as the UK’s International Compliance Association.
In 2021 GWP in Abu Dhabi reached Dh11.9bn ($3.2bn), according to the most recent figures from the CBUAE. The health segment accounted for the bulk of that figure, or Dh6.9bn ($1.9bn), followed by property and liability at Dh3.8bn ($1bn) and personal and fund accumulation insurance at Dh1.2bn ($326.6m). Gross claims measured in at 7.4m, with health – at 5.2m claims – responsible for the majority. Out of the 7.6m policies across the country that year, 1.7m were held by entities and individuals in Abu Dhabi. Of that figure, 1.2m were in the property and liability line, followed by health (528,000 policies), and personal and fund accumulation (35,200 policies).
For the country as a whole, GWP totalled Dh47.2bn ($12.8bn) at the end of 2022, up 6.5% and surpassing pre-pandemic levels. This growth was mostly driven by property and liability insurance, followed by health insurance, which grew 15% and 9.7%, respectively, during the year. However, life insurance premium fell by 15.3% over the period. The categories with the largest premium were health insurance, at 46.2% of total premium, followed by property and liability insurance (37.7%), and life insurance (16.1%).
Aggregate gross claims paid increased by 2.6% that year, led by property and liability (16.9%) and health (2.6%), while life gross claims paid declined by 31.1%. The larger GWP growth relative to gross claims meant that overall the sector’s loss ratio improved y-o-y, ending 2022 slightly down from the end of 2021 at 54.2%.
The UAE insurance sector had a total asset size of Dh119.1bn ($32.4bn) as of the end of 2022, according to CBUAE figures. Solvency capital requirements remained adequate at 193.8%, almost twice the mandated minimum of 100%. This, however, was a marginal decline of 4.1 percentage points from 2021. The central bank said the increase in required capital was attributed mainly to credit risk and underwriting risks on the back of claims and expense inflation.
Overall profitability in the sector fell in 2022, as insurers were exposed to broader capital market volatility due to inflation and interest rate hikes, which negatively impacted equities in particular. Total profit fell by 25.1% to Dh1.9bn ($517.2m), underpinned by net unrealised losses from equity and bond investments. Insurers are often susceptible to market volatility due to sizeable bonds and equity investments. The UAE insurance sector’s investment portfolio amounted to about Dh62.8bn ($17.1bn) in 2022, according to the CBUAE. However, net underwriting income improved thanks to the increases in GWP and smaller relative increases in payouts, demonstrating that the core business of the insurers and takaful companies remained solid.
Mergers & Acquisitions
In 2020 one of the UAE’s largest takaful companies, Dar Al Takaful (DAT), completed the acquisition of its rival Noor Takaful in a Dh215m ($58.54m) deal. The companies offer a range of Islamic insurance products, including motor, medical, commercial, travel and personal insurance. The deal forms part of DAT’s plans to scale up and build market share in the highly fragmented UAE market, as well as to increase its scope of products. In mid-2022 DAT announced it had also completed a merger with National Takaful Company (Watania), to create the largest sharia-compliant insurer in the UAE. In 2023 the joint stock company changed its name to Watania International Holding and its insurance licence was cancelled. Instead, the company became the sole shareholder in Watania Takaful General and Watania Takaful Family, which provides sharia-compliant services throughout Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.
The crowded landscape of the Abu Dhabi insurance market has created fierce competition among sector players. “While competition in the market can benefit consumers through greater choice and lower prices, it can also put pressure on margins, particularly in a market where price is often a key factor in decision-making by customers,” Charalampos Mylonas, CEO of ADNIC, told OBG.
This is particularly the case in the motor segment, a line of business estimated at around $1.5bn in size for the UAE overall as of mid-2023. Third-party liability insurance is mandatory in the UAE, meaning that automobile insurance is one of the most popular lines of business, as well as one of the most competitive and complicated for insurers to navigate.
The pandemic has also impacted the motor insurance market, as a decline in automobile sales heightened competition, and drove down prices and margins. As a result, a proposal by the CBUAE to increase the discount firms could allow motorists with good records from 30% to 50% was greeted with some alarm by sector players, and the proposal’s withdrawal in 2023 was greeted with relief. A further development in the motor segment came in June 2023, when a new regulation was introduced making insurance for imported foreign vehicles arriving by land compulsory. Policies can be purchased online with any of the UAE’s locally based insurers or takaful companies.
Going forwards, another major line – health – is set for expansion across the UAE as compulsory medical insurance for residents is rolled out. Abu Dhabi and Dubai already have such schemes, and Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah – collectively around one-third of the UAE’s population – are expected to join the compulsory health insurance programme in future, which could double the size of the UAE’s health segment. Abu Dhabi insurers will likely be bidding for customers as these plans roll out, in what will also be a highly competitive market.
In February 2023 the Department of Health and Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development launched a new health insurance plan, which aims to cut the costs of doing business in the emirate by offering a basic, Dh750 ($204) per year scheme. The plan is available to those earning more than Dh5000 ($1360) a month.
Online insurance and takaful facilities have been expanding rapidly in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The government and the CBUAE have taken leading roles in encouraging this, and have introduced a raft of regulations to provide a framework for financial technology (fintech). To that end, the CBUAE established a dedicated Fintech Office to foster the segment.
The then-IA issued Electronic Insurance Regulations in 2020, requiring prior approval from the authorities – now the CBUAE – before undertaking electronic insurance transactions. The 2014 Financial Regulations for Insurance Companies and Takaful Insurance Companies also set out a system of safeguards and contingency plans for potential system outages.
To further foster digitalisation, in February 2023 the CBUAE launched a financial sector digitisation support strategy, known as the Financial Infrastructure Transformation (FIT) programme. It has nine key initiatives, all of which are likely to have an impact on insurance sector activity, from the introduction of advanced supervisory technology to the enhancement of customer experiences via digital platforms. The FIT programme also seeks to boost interoperability and interconnectivity among insurers, banks, finance houses and other financial sector institutions, and has a target completion date of 2026.
Indeed, the digitisation of the insurance sector has been developing at a rapid pace. While four insurance policy price comparison websites were in operation as of 2021, this number rose to 13 by 2022. Fintech start-ups in the emirate include Hala, an online motor insurance platform, which has EIC as its underwriting partner and is part of the portfolio of Abu Dhabi’s private investment vehicle, Mubadala Investment Company. At the same time, insurers and takaful companies have been keen to introduce online solutions, and websites and apps are growing in sophistication. Another area for growth is online aggregators, which allow customers to compare quotes and seek out tailor-made insurance products. As of mid-2023, around 90-95% of total sales through these sites were motor-related. Examples of these include InsureAtOasis, Shory, Souqalmal, yallacompare and Compare4Benefit. A further advancement in digitisation within the industry that could facilitate motor updates is XA Group’s Addenda solution, launched in September 2022. This blockchain-based, end-to-end solution enables different insurers to reconcile motor recovery receivables, centralising and streamlining the reconciliation process.
With the UAE economy showing robust growth of 7.6% in 2022 and forecasts of 3-4% for 2023 and 2024, this should translate into continued expansion for insurance, with Abu Dhabi-based providers poised to benefit. The widening of compulsory medical cover across the UAE will also broaden the market, and the impact of IFRS 17 transition and post-pandemic medical costs could also lead to improved bottom lines.
Competition will, however, remain fierce. Companies that are able to reduce costs, aggressively pursue claims and provide high-quality customer service in lines of business such as motor, in particular, are likely to benefit most – particularly if they can adapt to stricter regulatory controls and solvency requirements.