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French Version

With $8 billion at hand Arab insurance is set for the high life

Abdel Khaliq Khalil, secretary-general of the Arab Insurance Federation, noted there are 385 insurance companies in the Arab world, with premiums at more than $6 billion.

Insurance businesses in the Arab world are experiencing a boom in business despite the slump in the international economy heralded by the 11 September attacks on the United States.

Recent reports indicate most of the insurance companies in the Arab world are doing well. It was revealed last month Arab insurance companies have a capitalization of more than $8 billion. These stood at $7.5 billion three years ago.

Abdel Khaliq Khalil, secretary-general of the Arab Insurance Federation, noted there are 385 insurance companies in the Arab world, with premiums at more than $6 billion. Their investments are mainly in real estate, stocks and bonds and loans.

Most of the big companies are in Jordan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Kuwait, Tunisia and Algeria. Khalil said some of these insurance companies have large financial reserves, which is a major strength for their economies. He, however, noted the insurance business in Arab countries has its ups and downs.

"Despite the heavy financial reserve that Arab insurance companies have in hand, they still suffer from weakness in their basic capitals," Khalil explained.

About 35 percent of the operating insurance companies in the Arab world are international or foreign-owned. In Jordan, the 28 insurance companies, whose capital tops the JD 60 million mark, provide a diverse range of services. American Life Insurance is the only non-Jordanian insurance company in the Kingdom. However, only 10 of the Jordanian insurance companies are listed on the Amman Stock Market.

However, some of these companies face constraints by the fact that they are not able to meet the challenges of the open-market. Economists agree insurance companies in the Kingdom need to reconsider mergers to upgrade the quality and quantity of their different policies.

They believe investment is vital to give these insurance companies a competitive edge to allow them to develop a global outlook.

Reports state the insurance sector in the region may develop by three percent in the next two years. But this is linked to the fact companies must meet the demands of the market to provide different types of policies like life, car and health insurance.

Khalil pointed out some of the Arab insurance companies face unfair competition from big companies. He said some Arab insurance markets are open to international barter, while others are still limited by the lack of open-market policies.

"The Iraqi and Syrian insurance sectors, for instance, are closed markets," he said. They are national insurance companies owned by the state. On the other hand, there are other Arab states that have a more liberal, open-market policies towards insurance, Khalil said.

The Jordan Insurance Co (JIC) is certainly one of the success stories in the Kingdom. Founded more than 50 years ago, JIC makes around JD 12 million in premiums and JD 13 million in investments a year. It now has many branches in the Arab world. In a recent report, the company stated it wants to develop the idea of merging to serve the company's interests.

On the Arab level, the Allied Pickfords Co in the United Arab Emirates is working hard to create a regional insurance business environment. With over 1000 branches in 130 countries, the company acclaims "a worry-free well-organized transits, and free-low claims and damage incidence" for its logo.

But open-market policies requires greater public awareness to create a vibrant insurance sector. And this can be achieved through promoting the most the most popular programs in Arab countries, which sees insurance as indispensable to elevate the quality of life.

The most sought after insurance policies in the Arab world are health, life and car insurance. Although life and car insurance are in good demand particularly among young generations in the Arab world, and among Jordanians especially, health insurance policies does not have priority.

There are many obstacles faced by Arab insurance companies to promote their health insurance programs effectively.

Developing Arab health insurance programs requires organized markets which the regional private sector must play a greater role in, an Arab Insurance Federation study stated last month. In its annual statement, JIC noted it will continue to develop life and health insurance programs to meet the needs of the market.

Khalil, on the other hand, warns Arab and national insurance companies may face more financial hardship because of competition from their international counterparts.

"I fear local Arab investments will go abroad, while international capital would come in and use the Arab economies for their [international] interests," he explained. "This will certainly create more financial and economic imbalances in the Arab economies," he concluded.

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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