IN THE TRENCHES

Lebanon 2017 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Max. R. Zaccar, President of the Association of Insurance Companies, on the importance of insurance to the entire financial infrastructure, opportunities in Syria and Iran, and the need to educate the public on the importance of the industry.

Max. R. Zaccar
BIOGRAPHY
Max R. Zaccar received a degree in electronic engineering from the Institut supérieur d’électronique de Paris and has been chairman and general manager of commercial insurance since 1971. He also managed the Saudi Arabia branch of Commercial Insurance from 1974-1993. He is a member of several associations, including the Institut Technique Franco-Libanais, Oum El Nour, and the National Establishment for the Compulsory Motor Insurance in Lebanon. Zaccar has been a member of the board of ACAL since 1978 and was elected president in 2015.

Lebanon has been the pioneer of the insurance industry in MENA for more than 75 years. What main initiatives has the association taken in terms of conferences or partnerships?

The association has been active. In May 2016, we had the General Arab Insurance Federation conference, where we had 341 insurance companies from 20 Arab countries. The conference was held here in Lebanon with about 1,400 participants. We have a lot of training courses here in the association, and next year in May we have the conference on digitalization and the future of cyber. We are always in contact with all the ministries to develop and defend the insurance sector. We have been able to create a good relationship with our regulator, the Ministry of Economy and Trade.

How do you approach a highly saturated market?

It is true that the market is saturated; we have 50 companies. Until now, it has been a profitable market for insurers. We have niche markets that were developed in Lebanon, one of them being microinsurance. Microinsurance is linked to microfinance, and because the segment developed a lot in Lebanon we followed the trend and ourselves established microinsurance. We are now preparing ourselves for cyber-crime insurance. We have event cancellations insurance as well; we have a lot of events in Lebanon, many of which are quite expensive, and we insure those. We have extended warranties and are always on the forefront of new insurance coverage.

Despite having a relatively high insurance penetration rate of 3.3%, there is still work to do. How does the sector work to increase awareness?

One thing we have been trying to do for the last couple of years is improve the image of the insurance sector in Lebanon. Worldwide, insurance companies do not have a good image, and it is the same here in Lebanon. Insurance is the second pillar of the financial sector. It is important because without insurance there is no financial security, for people, for banks, for loans, for marine, for fire, and so on. We are telling the country that we are extremely important; we process USD1.5 billion in insurance premiums, out of which we pay back USD1 billion. It is not from our money that we pay claims—we pay claims from the money people pay as a premium. We are trying to get these messages across.

Where would you like to see the sector and the association in the future?

We would like to see some mergers and acquisitions because we need fewer and stronger companies for the simple reason that if we want to expand abroad we need to show some capital strength. We talked about Iran, a country of 81 million people, and although we agreed that the market there was able to find solutions inside the country, it still needs to update its talents, coverage, and so on. This is why we need to have stronger companies that can take partnership shares in places such as Africa and Iran, for example. We also hope to play a major role in the reconstruction of Syria, whose war we hope will soon end. Iraq is a country where we cautiously started a business but the problem that there is not the necessary capital was not clear until now. We have the oil and gas industry coming and want this industry to be insured through an insurance pool with all the members of ACAL and to have ACAL run this pool for the entire market. Sharia-compliant insurance is also important, so we want to establish a partnership with an insurance pool in Lebanon and worldwide that will be run by ACAL.