MARKET FUNDAMENTALS

Oman 2018 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to A. R. Srinivasan, CEO of Arabia Falcon Insurance Company, on moving up a tier, market penetration, and the importance of consolidation.

A. R. Srinivasan
BIOGRAPHY
After graduating in commerce with honors from the University of Delhi, A. R. Srinivasan qualified as a Chartered Accountant (ACA) in India. Also a Chartered Insurer (ACII) from the Chartered Insurance Institute in London, he is also a Fellow (FIII) of the Insurance Institute of India, Mumbai. With over three decades of varied experience in every aspect of the insurance industry, for the past 23 years he has been in senior managerial positions in the Middle East, specializing in reinsurance, underwriting, and claims management. Having worked in India, Oman, the UAE, and Bahrain, he has extensive knowledge of Middle East market requirements.

How will the merger with Arabia Insurance impact your goal of becoming a top-tier insurer in Oman, and how will this merger impact the market?

The insurance market in Oman could be roughly classified into three tiers, and we are probably at the lower end of tier two. With this merger, we will move to the upper part of tier two. We are working on building a profitable portfolio with satisfied customers. We want to be the number-one 'go-to company' from a customer's point of view. As an insurance company, we are composite, i.e. we offer all kinds of insurance products, both life and non-life. With the merger, we will be increasing our retail presence. Whereas Falcon's strength was previously with corporate customers, we now expect significant progress in our retail segment.

What is your opinion of market penetration throughout the insurance sector?

It is clear that market penetration is low in Oman. If you take the insurance premium as a percentage of GDP, it appears to be flattering to most. Compulsory insurance is what people are taking, since there is not much penetration on a voluntary basis. Things will slowly change over the next five to 10 years. Firstly, the market has to become aware of insurance and insurance products. One of the main reasons there is not much penetration is due to the economy and demographics. There is not much insurance savvy among people. Slowly this will change. Over the last two years, the regulator, several companies, and the College of Banking and Financial Studies (CBFS) have given people the opportunity to take courses on insurance in London. The response has been so good that the CBFS asked me to teach one of the groups. It is a voluntary position so that I can give back to society. This is one side of it. The CMA also organizes a training plan for the insurance sector. It does approximately 12 high-profile courses a year, which are led by industry experts. This is the second side. From the Insurance Association, we have already gotten our own space where we have a training room with a seating capacity of 25. We are going to do classroom practical training on various operational areas for people to gain hands-on experience in how things are done from experts, including insurance underwriting and claims, Microsoft Office, and customer service, and more.

What are the main challenges that Falcon Insurance faces in Oman? How are you addressing them?

There are too many players, meaning there is not enough quality manpower for companies. The majority of the insuring public pays too much attention to the price alone, which then becomes the single marketing tool. Most products meet the standard. The population is also low enough, with less than 1 million, 40% of who are expatriates, and the majority of which are blue-collar. Nobody really has extra money to look at special insurance and saving products. With so many players in the sector, in theory the market is set up for consolidation. However, whether or not it actually happens is another matter. In a lighter vein, more companies are being formed in disputed boardrooms rather than being consolidated. The other major problem is with regard to the collection of premiums.

What are your main goals and objectives for this year?

The first major task is the integration with Arabia Insurance. We are going to have a much bigger workforce than clientele to manage. Therefore, the main objective is to ensure that no side's clients are affected, in addition to improving our client base. As for regional expansion, there are no current plans to expand outside of the country now that we are a part of the Arabia Group network, since it already has a large presence abroad. It is important to continue establishing our good name here as well as get the IPO up and running, and welcome our individual retail shareholders on board. That will involve certain changes to the way the company operates in terms of transparency and corporate governance.