Projections foresee growth in 2011 topping 12% across the Malaysian insurance industry. The Malaysian government has unveiled stimulus plans and other legislative initiatives which together with an historically low interest rate environment have lead to very favorable conditions for growth in the insurance sector. All forecasts however need to be tempered by an awareness of uncertainties about the outlook for a number of western economies and the possible resulting downward pressures on overall performance of the global insurance industry.
Malaysia’s economy grew 7.2 percent last year, the highest rate experienced since the year 2000. The Malaysian government has aggressively pursued substantial investment programs with the explicit goals of doubling GDP per-capita and turning Malaysia into a high income country by 2020. New parliamentary initiatives such as the New Economic Model (NEM), Economic Transformation Program (ETP) and the Tenth Malaysian Plan will, according to industry analysts, lead to a growth in demand for insurance products and services.
The Life Insurance Association of Malaysia (LIAM) held that in addition to these numerous initiatives announced in the Economic Transformation Program, including the private pension plan and worker insurance scheme, economic conditions in the country are ripe for further life insurance development. Consumer confidence in Malaysia has shown marked improvement, rising to 107 points on the latest Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index, its highest score since the third quarter of 2006. Around 41 percent of the Malaysian population is currently insured, according to the LIAM. This level of life-insurance penetration is low by a developed economy’s standards and will be an important factor in the further growth of the sector. The current low interest rate environment will act as an impetus to consumers seeking high-yielding products like insurance in Malaysia.
The LIAM reported that new business sales for life insurance rose 19 percent on a weighted premium basis during the first three quarters of 2010. This growth was accredited to strong performances in regular premium sales which were up 21 percent compared with the identical period in 2009. Single premium business, however, registered a small 1 point decline.
The LIAM’s views were supported by the General Insurance Association of Malaysia (PIAM), the Malaysian Takaful Association (MTA) and Allianz Malaysia Bhd (AMB).
The General Insurance Association of Malaysia (PIAM) executive director Mr. Lim Chia Fook reported that, in absence of any further adverse impacts on the world economy, the insurance association foresees the outlook for the general insurance industry this year to be very positive with an increased demand for insurance in all areas expected. The general insurance industry recorded that for the third quarter of 2010, gross direct premium estimates were 3.16B$, demonstrating a growth of nine percent over the same three quarter period during the previous year.
The Malaysian medical and health insurance sector (MHI) is likewise expected to sustain powerful development, driven by upward trends in consumer awareness coupled with an increasing want for cover against escalating healthcare costs. Mr. Lim added that the introduction of the health insurance plan designated for foreign workers would further drive growth in the MHI sector. PIAM anticipated new areas of industry growth through micro-insurance products, especially considering the rapidly developing small and medium enterprise and biotechnology sector in Malaysia.
The Malaysian Takaful Association (MTA) expects the Islamic insurance industry to continue to improve on its 10% market penetration, particularly by expanding into rural areas. The Islamic insurance market has grown due to more interest in shariah-compliant investments. The industry has experienced substantial growth after the Malaysian central bank issued takaful licenses to four established consortiums in 2006, which included HSBC, Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank and Prudential Holdings. Malaysia currently has eight takaful operators and trusts that the inclusion of new insurance players would increase industry competition, pushing players not only to capture new market share but also to develop fresh takaful products. Similar to general insurers, the islamic insurance sector operates through correlation with macro economic performance; hence the positive outlook for the Malaysian domestic economy will affect the development of both sectors.
MTA chairman Datuk Syed Moheeb Syed Kamarulzaman reported: “The significant growth in retail credit financing, especially in relation to home financing in 2010, may be curbed to some extent in 2011 and this should encourage takaful operators to diversify their business focus away from financing protection products to agency driven products.”
Allianz Malaysia CEO Jens Reisch remarked that apart from the initial low insurance penetration rate in the country, increase in consumer knowledge, greater demand for retirement savings, together with growing Bancassurance and takaful businesses from a more liberalized insurance industry, are some of the other factors that would advance the insurance sector. Mr. Reisch added that Allianz: “is undertaking numerous initiatives to improve its distribution capabilities and we hope to continue to strengthen the top line and sustain profitability.”
Mr. Reisch highlighted that the major challenges facing the insurance trade would be the provision of long-term assets for packaging insurance products, the low interest environment for insurers failing to manifest attractive guaranteed return products and the requirement to offer high guaranteed products into the long term future.
The LIAM assert that global economic uncertainty could restrain the growth potential of the industry: “While it is an external factor, the quagmire prevailing in the established economies of the United States, Japan, Europe and the reaction of the local share market towards such sentiments may have an indirect impact on the industry. It can cause a slowdown on external demand that will eventually influence consumers in terms of decision-making, thus making sales more difficult.”
The association’s president, Md Adnan Md Zain, believes the best actions to take to overcome these peripheral obstacles would be through prudent domestic policies, active oversight, working closely with regulators and better integrating as an industry. The Life Insurance Association doesn’t discount the potential for inclusion of new foreign insurance players that could invigorate the market as well as the continued implementation of the financial inclusiveness programs undertaken by both the authorities and financial institutions.
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