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Reinsurance Spotlight - SIRC: Meeting society's unmet needs in an uncertain world

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Dec 2015

Stronger forces of unprecedented change seen in any lifetime; the continued protection gap for catastrophe risks; the urgent requirement for insurance to be relevant and innovative as needs for covers are still unmet – these are some of the issues brought up at the record breaking 13th SIRC. Asia Insurance Review, the official media partner, brings you highlights of the conference themed “Managing Risks in an Uncertain World”, which was attended by about 1,000 participants. 
By Benjamin Ang
The uncertain world facing the industry was perhaps best highlighted by Mr Albert Benchimol, CEO, AXIS Capital, in his industry keynote address. He said: “The significant challenges facing the industry are forces of change that are likely stronger than most of us have seen in our careers.” 
   But he added that while these challenges may present significant difficulties, if the industry remains true to its creative capacity as demonstrated in the past, they will ultimately be seen as the roots of opportunities.
Unmet needs and emerging risks
Mr Benchimol also pointed to the declining relevance of insurance to the economy as measured by claims as a percentage of GDP – likely due to the gap between new risks in the economy and the insurance industry’s ability to develop new products to match new risks.
   “In order to thrive in the new century, we can and we must develop new products to address unmet needs and emerging risks, and increase our relevance and penetration in the marketplace. And as we do so, we should be mindful of the pivotal societal role that we can and should play in signalling risks such as those arising from climate change,” he said.
   For example, on excess capacity and alternative capital, he said the industry should come to terms with it, and should take advantage of the larger capacity and cheaper available pricing to deliver products to more people who need it. “The fact remains that large amounts of economic risks have remained uninsured in many parts of the world.”
   The influx of alternative capital has changed the game in fundamentally important ways too. “We have historically been limited by our own capital. Now, if you have a better product or approach, you can access all the capital in the world,” he said.
   We also  heard from Ms Jacqueline Loh, Deputy Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore about capitalising on the opportunities of new and emerging risks, and serving the wider society. (See “Message from the regulator: Capitalising on opportunities from new risks” below.)
Rising to the challenge
Meanwhile, at a panel discussion on innovation, Mr Marcus Taylor, Chief Executive of IAG Re, cited the Asia Insurance Industry Award’s “Innovation of the Year” and noted that since the event’s inception till now, “there has not been a reinsurance broker or reinsurer that has won the award”, and that spoke volumes about the state of innovation in the reinsurance industry.
   Innovation, panellists said, seems to be focused more on the process rather than the product; it was mooted that even Uber was about the process of getting a cab for the ride, and not changing the ride. So is it really possible to innovate the reinsurance product per se? This is something players will need to be clear on.
   Peak Re CEO Franz Hahn and Dr Jürgen Dümont, Head of Solvency Consulting, Munich Re, both mooted the point that if reinsurers are serious on pursuing innovation, then they should consider a “project-based” approach. Dr Dümont added that the innovation project or initiative will need to be “insulated” from the confines of traditional reinsurance processes and bureaucracy in order for it to effectively take root and flourish.
A market for all sizes
M&A and size of (re)insurers were also hot topics of discussion at the conference, given the recent spate of deals. Panellists at two of the breakout sessions said that while M&A in the industry is set to continue, size will not be the determining success factor as there is space for (re)insurers of all sizes.
   Mr Stephen Postlewhite, CEO, Aspen Re, at the breakout session on “Does Size Matter in Reinsurance?”, said the right question should be on diversification, particularly for reinsurers. “You can be a mid-sized reinsurer and have a lot of diversification, or you can be a large reinsurer and not be diversified. People often confuse size with diversification. If size equals to commoditisation, that is a losing strategy.”
   Dr Oran Vongsuraphichet, President & COO of Thai Re, said that small reinsurers have to find their niche. “You have to work more like a consultant and a service provider to the cedants and not compete on capacity,” he said. “Size matters but strengths such as local expertise to help cedants create better products suitable for the market, and claims expertise which understand the market better will make size less of a factor.”
   Mr Michael Gourlay, CEO, MSIG Singapore, said: “From a cedant’s point of view, we want to involve all the large and financially secured reinsurers, of course. However, we also need to diversify our panel of reinsurers for counter-party control and optimisation. We utilise all parts of the market. While large size is important, mid- and small-sized reinsurers have their places as well.” 
Finding a niche
Size was also a topic discussed in the breakout session on “Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community on the Insurance Industry”. 
   With AEC expected to result in fiercer competition among (re)insurers in the region, a question on the viability of smaller-sized (re)insurers was posed to the panel. Mr Augusto Hidalgo, CEO, National Reinsurance Corporation of the Philippines, said one can learn from the experiences of other economic blocs and insurers should invest in ERM and systems to meet global standards. 
   “Executives also have to decide what they can compete on. If it is not size and capacity, they will need to find a niche, or excel in other areas such as on the customer service front,” he said.
   Mr Matthew Harris, Chief Executive, AIG Asia Pacific, concluded by saying that AEC is just one of many external factors that (re)insurers have to cope with. A (re)insurer will have to be clear on its strategy, and how to deal with external factors or it will be relegated for failing to cope with changes, size notwithstanding.
Asia Reinsurance Pulse
The 1st edition of Asia Reinsurance Pulse was launched at the 13th SIRC. 
   Some of the key findings include: 
• Overall reinsurance market sentiment remains moderately positive. 
• Rising protectionism in emerging Asian reinsurance markets is the biggest single concern of interviewees. 
• The downward pricing trend in regional reinsurance markets is expected to continue, albeit at a decelerating pace. 
• Aggregate reinsurance capacity in Asia-Pacific will continue to increase moderately, with a slightly higher expected share of regional capacity . 
• The region’s reinsurance markets are expected to grow at a slower pace than direct insurance. 
   The Asia Reinsurance Pulse is a new annual research publication, sponsored by the Singapore Reinsurers’ Association (SRA) and prepared by Dr Schanz, Alms & Company. Based on in-depth interviews with almost 50 regional and international reinsurance executives, it offers an overview of the current state and future prospects of Asia-Pacific’s US$50 billion non-life reinsurance market.
Message from the regulator: Capitalising on opportunities from new risks
Ms Jacqueline Loh, Deputy Managing Director of the Monetary  Authority of Singapore (MAS), shared observations on how the Singapore insurance industry can capitalise on the opportunities created by new risks in Asia, and the support that MAS is providing.
New and emerging risks in the rapidly changing global landscape are mostly intangible, such as cyber, liability, supply chain, and reputation. Describing cyber risk as “the new catastrophe”, she said that it is estimated to cost the global economy between US$300 billion and $1 trillion annually, which is much higher compared to the average annual cost of natural disasters at US$200 billion. 
   Cyber risks thus present an enormous potential for insurance players. But more than just to capitalise on this insufficiently-tapped space, the industry can “play a vital risk management role for the wider society”.
   To further the development of cyber insurance in Singapore, the MAS is supporting the Cyber Risk Test-bed project with SCOR as the first founding member to join the alliance. The project seeks to create a common data sharing platform to encourage pooling of claims data and also corporates’ potential loss data simulated through hypothetical events, as well as to establish industry standards on clear-cut definitions of cyber risks, coverage limits, and terms and conditions. 
Bridging the protection gap
The MAS is also supporting a Natural Catastrophe Data Analytics Exchange (NAT CAT DAX) for Asia Pacific – in collaboration with pioneer industry founding members Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group, Renaissance Re, RMS and Aon – in order to expand the insurability of catastrophe risks in the region and bridge the protection gap. 
   This common data analytics platform will enable industry to pool insurable claims data. More importantly, this platform will unlock new economic exposure and loss datasets through the use of new technologies such as satellites, remote sensors and drones. 
   “With a comprehensive and integrated economic and insurance database, this will form a strong data backbone for the industry to not only underwrite traditional reinsurance better, but also catalyse new product innovation, such as government pools, and alternative risk transfer products, which will push the boundaries of insurability further,” said Ms Loh.
Creating a “Smart Financial Centre”
In line with Singapore’s national vision to be a Smart Nation, MAS is also seeking to create a “Smart Financial Centre” – one where technology and innovation are used to increase efficiency, create new opportunities, manage risks better, and improve lives.
   Other than a calibrated regulatory approach conducive to innovation, MAS is also working on augmenting the Fintech ecosystem in the country. The cluster of innovation labs that have steadily been hubbed here over the years is a reflection of this. 
   “We have launched a Financial Sector Technology & Innovation scheme to provide financial support, and will work closely with the industry and educational institutes to build competencies in Fintech and innovation,” she said.  
   This is an important step towards unlocking untapped insurance solutions and markets, and will go a long way in managing risks in this uncertain environment. “To reinforce this Fintech ecosystem and as part of our broader efforts to modernise the insurance marketplace, we are supporting the establishment of an electronic reinsurance trading platform to enhance the efficiency of trading risks electronically.”
Building the talent pipeline
Ms Loh also announced that Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University will be launching the “Risk Management and Insurance” major in 2016, which is expected to produce 50 new graduates every year from 2018 to provide a strong and sustainable talent pipeline to support industry growth. 
   “It is critical that the right talent and skills are available to support this. In the face of new and emerging risks, as insurance roles evolve and become more complex, different and deeper skillsets will be essential. Skillsets will also need to be widened as technology and financial services converge,” she said.
Forging a blue ocean strategy
Insurance will continue to increase its relevance in an uncertain world. In these times of new risks, capital and technology, it is not sufficient to rely on a red ocean strategy, she said. “We need to open new horizons, and open them together. MAS will be a partner of the Singapore insurance industry as you forge a blue ocean strategy, manage risks and capitalise on the opportunities in the new reality.”


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