Sat, Apr 15, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Malaysian central bank mulls foreign insurer holding cap

LESS LENIENT:Governor Muhammad Ibrahim has said that foreign insurers ‘need to contribute more to justify their presence’ in the Malaysian market

Bloomberg

Malaysia is weighing tougher enforcement of a cap on foreign ownership of insurers as it seeks to boost local participation in the industry, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The central bank is considering more strictly applying an existing policy that foreign companies owning 100 percent of local insurance firms must pare their stakes to no more than 70 percent, the people said.

It could make an announcement on the matter as soon as this month, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Bank Negara Malaysia, which has routinely granted extensions to firms that did not comply, might be less lenient in the future and require such companies to show they have the nation’s best interests at heart, the people said.

While details are still being discussed, criteria that might be used include hiring more Malaysian workers for highly skilled jobs and creating products fulfilling the needs of niche local market segments, the people said.

Bank Negara Malaysia Governor Muhammad Ibrahim warned last year that foreign insurers “need to contribute more to justify their presence” in the Malaysian market.

Some participants’ undue focus on short-term profits had come at the expense of serving their customers, Muhammad said in a speech in October last year at an insurance summit in Kuala Lumpur.

The Southeast Asian nation’s life insurance penetration has remained stagnant at 55 percent in the past three years, after jumping from 33 percent in 2001 to 51 percent in 2010, Muhammad said.

The insurance penetration rate has remained fairly static within the range of 54 percent to 56 percent over the past five years, according to a central bank report.

Affordability and access required to service policies in under-served market segments remain key barriers to a higher level of penetration, the central bank said.

Initiatives taken to improve transparency, encourage product innovation and expand channels of distribution are expected to improve prospects of achieving the 75 percent penetration target set out in a 10-year blueprint that aims to transform Malaysia into an industrialized nation by 2020, it said.

AIA Group Ltd, Great Eastern Holdings Ltd and Tokio Marine Holdings Inc are among the foreign companies that have wholly owned general insurance and life insurance operations in Malaysia, according to their latest annual reports.

They compete with local participants including Malayan Banking Bhd’s Etiqa Insurance Bhd unit and Tune Insurance Malaysia Bhd, backed by tycoon Tony Fernandes.

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