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MENAFN - Arab News - 05/10/2011

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(MENAFN - Arab News) Saudi Arabia's lucrative insurance market is expanding by leaps and bounds. It is not only attracting a continuous flow of investment, but also drawing attention from major national and international insurance entities.

One of them is AXA Cooperative Insurance Company, which is one of the major establishments that is steadily growing in the Gulf region. Its belief in the great potential of the Saudi insurance market remains strong. "We are currently the largest international non-life insurer in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) with premiums exceeding 480 million, 500,000 customers and 700 plus employees, but our aim is to become a leader in each market with a clear focus on health and motor sectors," Gary Lewin, CEO of AXA, said in an interview with Arab News.

"Saudi Arabia is one of the largest markets in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region. In 2010, gross written premiums (GWP) in Saudi Arabia reached SR16.4 billion, up from SR14.6 billion in 2009. This represents an increase of 12.2 percent, compared to a 33.8 percent growth rate in 2009," he said quoting the Saudi Insurance Market Report (2010).

When asked how AXA will tackle Saudization with the implementation of Nitaqat program, Lewin said: "AXA has been supporting the recruitment, training and development of talented Saudi nationals for many years. We are pleased with our progress to date not only with our first step to reach the 'green' band but in particular the appointment of Saudi nationals at senior levels in our organization which will be key to building our long-term success in the Kingdom. We continue to recruit Saudi nationals and AXA's expansion program will also offer excellent career development opportunities for young talents."

Alongside its expansion, AXA will direct its investment heavily across the Kingdom and the region, he said. Keeping in mind the burgeoning Saudi insurance market, AXA has signed a 10-year agreement with Wasilah Insurance Agency recently to exclusively market, distribute and sell insurance products offered by AXA in the Kingdom.

"Wasilah will help AXA to develop new lines of business and preferred customer segments faster, ultimately extending our presence in the Kingdom. It will also allow AXA to diversify its revenues in the Kingdom by developing personal lines and SME products," he added.

Lewin said: "We'll also leverage our international expertise to adapt our services and offerings to suit the local Saudi clientele. Up till now, we have tailored products across all sections - corporates, SMEs, individuals and families, and we aim to expand strategically in order to enable customers to access our insurance solutions across all the different sectors."

The agreement with Wasilah is a major step in achieving our strategy in Saudi Arabia and we expect that the premiums generated with Wasilah could represent as much as 15 percent of AXA premiums in the next 3 years, he added.

The insurance sector in the Kingdom is in constant evolution. This agreement should help insurance solutions to be more available to customers and hopefully increase awareness as well as the need for insurance solutions, he said.

"We'll use all the skills of our people as well as leverage the expertise and the investments of the group to continue to innovate not only in terms of product offer but also increase our quality of service," Lewin said. "All these initiatives will allow us to remain ahead of the competition and allow us to become the preferred company for our customers, intermediaries, employees as well as for our shareholders." Competition is healthy and inevitable in insurance, he added.

One key differentiator of AXA in the Gulf is its quality of service, he said. Through this agreement, AXA wants to become more available on the ground. Therefore, we have developed with Wasilah a common plan to open many point of sales throughout the Kingdom. Furthermore, as KSA remains a clear focus for AXA Gulf, we'll continue to innovate in terms of quality of service and you should see very soon launch of new services/products by AXA, Lewin said.

He added that insurance is a very specific industry and must remain solid as it is hedging against disasters, so it should take a more responsible approach in taking all aspects into consideration. "We think the regulators should continue the work they have done to build a better insurance market. We are of the opinion that the number of insurers is still very high in the region and that some consolidation will occur in due course. I hope that more regulation will happen on monitoring insurance companies that favors growth at the cost of risks," Lewin said.

On new products, Lewin added: "Innovation is the name of the game in insurance; and we'll not lag behind. Subsequently, we'll look into launching our new products in not only motor and personal accident but also in large risks and home insurance."


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