INNOVATE AND CONSOLIDATE

Lebanon 2019 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

If Lebanon is to retain its traditional leadership role in the regional insurance market, its regulations must accommodate new sectors like online, bancassurance, credit, agriculture, and even life.

Antoine Issa
BIOGRAPHY
Having worked for 28 years with the Allianz Group in the Middle East, Antoine Issa possesses a deep knowledge of the regional insurance market and has held several positions in several countries, including and chairman and CEO of Allianz SNA in Lebanon, CEO of Allianz Saudi Fransi in Saudi Arabia, and managing director of Allianz Egypt in Egypt. He is currently Allianz Regional CEO for Middle East and North Africa. He holds a master’s in civil engineering from ESIB Lebanon and a master’s in finance from ESA Business School/ESCP.

How has Allianz SNA developed its regional presence?

Allianz SNA has a 56-year history, having begun with a company called Société Nationale d'Assurances, one of the first insurance companies in the country. In the 1990s, the Allianz group entered the company and gradually took a 100% stake, with the strategy of using Lebanon as a stepping stone into the wider Middle East. With a total premium of 146 million, Allianz SNA is market leader, with a strong coverage of both life and non-life. Through our presence in Lebanon, Allianz SNA intends to serve the region, focusing on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. Our strategy is focused. We do not aim for a general footprint in all countries, but rather a strong, market-leading presence in a few. In Egypt, we are number three in the market and hold a 95% stake in two companies, with a 75% concentration on life. In Saudi Arabia, we were the first listed company with a foreign market participation to advance to a majority shareholding (51%) in a joint venture. In the UAE, we work with several players and look forward to consolidating our presence there. Besides these core markets, we have a participation in Jordan and Bahrain. Lebanon plays a key role in our strategy as a regional hub from which we can export best practices and human talent, while maximizing synergies.

How does Lebanon compare to the region in terms of insurance regulation?

Between 10 and 20 years ago, Lebanon was at the forefront of the regional industry in terms of market size, expertise, and regulation; however, since 2007, Gulf countries started to open up their markets and establish their regulatory base. While they rapidly evolved and created a modern insurance framework—KSA and UAE now hold arguably the best regulations and regulators in the region—Lebanon lagged behind. Prevailing Lebanese insurance laws are 50 years old; few amendments have been made, and they do not accommodate new sectors like online, bancassurance, credit, agriculture, or even life. Moreover, the criteria for the solvency of insurance companies is completely obsolete. In order for Lebanon to become a proper insurance hub to serve the region, the regulatory framework must be updated and the process for hiring foreign workers liberalized. I partly disagree with the oft-mentioned statement that the Lebanese insurance sector is overcrowded. The high number of companies here is at the root of the sector's considerable innovation, which we have then exported throughout the region, and the highest penetration rate of the insurance market in the region (3.1%). What Lebanon needs is not fewer companies, but rather stronger ones; key to this is modern, up-to-date regulation to enable innovation and consolidation.

How would you describe your presence in the market?

As a multinational market player, we apply the Allianz standard and added value in each market we serve. Our presence in Lebanon is divided evenly into life and non-life. We are multi-segment operators, covering large corporate risks, mid-core and retail, thus serving the needs of all customers. We have a multi-access strategy, working with several distribution channels. Our own network of agents, representatives and brokers, and online sales reflect the ever-changing behavior and needs of customers. Our multi-segment and multi-access approach is key to our success.