What are your expectations for consolidation in the insurance landscape following the new regulations issued by SAMA?
We hope to increase the depth of the insurance sector. Compared to other countries, the insurance sector in Saudi Arabia is smaller than it should be. At present, it makes up only 1.5% of GDP, while the global levels of this sector are much higher. We do not have an exact figure in mind, but we benchmark this with peer countries. Increased activity in the sector will ultimately better serve the Saudi economy. We strive for a broadening of insurance offerings, and our regulations are intended for that. Consolidation will also make the insurance industry stronger and ultimately better serve the Saudi economy. Thus far, four companies have approached us for a merger approval. One is at an advanced stage, while the others are still in the exploratory phase. Although we have issued more stringent regulations for companies operating in the insurance spheres, not all have responded to our suggestion of exploring possible mergers to strengthen their financial positions. Therefore, we are now considering raising the capital requirements for individual companies.
What is your approach to combating insurance fraud, and what role can SAMA play?
Insurance fraud is present in every country. The health and vehicle insurance activities are the most widespread, representing almost 85% of insurance fraud. We work with the insurance companies to combat this, hoping that we will strengthen coordination with law enforcement bodies to eliminate or mitigate such fraud. It ultimately weakens the sector's competitiveness, reduces sector confidence, and weakens the sector's credibility. That also means higher prices for customers.
How many international banks have applied to SAMA to open branches in the Kingdom?
We recently issued a license to a British bank. We have also provided our recommendation for another one, as well as to a foreign bank, as the final approval is issued by the King. We also have two requests for national banks, but these are still in the initial stages.
What is your strategy to strengthen or stimulate the insurance sector?
We are working on a financial sector development program to strengthen the insurance sector by increasing the number of insurance products. Compared to the much higher rates in many other countries, our production and saving programs are still weak. We need to promote awareness and the importance of saving and protection. We want to encourage people to take out insurance on properties, in particular.
Can you tell us more about SAMA's approach to funding and capacity building, including the launch of a sandbox?
The purpose of the sandbox is to strengthen the work on financial technologies, giving all business people, in particular small businesses, the chance to enter the financial services arena. We have many participants in this field. But, more importantly, the sandbox is a place to learn and exchange experiences for the academic, government and private sectors, and the business community. Some of them may soon graduate and become entrepreneurs in the financial services industry.