Posted on Jun 27, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa
RFIB Group, the international Lloyd's insurance and reinsurance broker, has been approved for an intermediary license by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) to commence its insurance and reinsurance operations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
RFIB had been active in the Saudi Arabia insurance market for nearly three decades, but renewed regulatory efforts initiated by SAMA last year have required all foreign brokers operating in the Kingdom to attain a license.
Upon the successful receipt of the license, RFIB has now established a branch office in the Saudi capitol city, Riyadh. SAMA also required RFIB Group to select a Saudi Arabian business partner to set up its Riyadh unit. The company has partnered with Bassam Al-Dhabaan, which now owns 40 percent of the local business.
This move follows RFIB's entrance into the Russian market earlier this year, with the establishment of new Moscow-based retail broker Anglo Russian Insurance Broker (AnRu). AnRu operates as both an insurance broker and an agent targeting corporate retail business. AnRu already has several agency contracts signed with leading local insurance companies, and is expected to rapidly develop in 2011, according to RFIB.
At the outset, RFIB's new Saudi office will handle reinsurance business, but after its first year of operation the company intends to explore further opportunities in more specialized retail insurance businesses. The Saudi subsidiary will be headed by Anthony Harris, a former British Ambassador to the UAE who been working for RFIB in the Middle East since February 2006.
On the establishment of the new RFIB unit, Anthony Harris said in a statement: "RFIB has been handling reinsurance risks from the Saudi market for nearly 30 years, but our new insurance and reinsurance broking license is the final stage in our establishing a domestic presence in this important and growing market and we would like to thank SAMA for their help in working with us to achieve this license."
RFIB have also appointed Naji Tamimi, a Saudi national previously at local firm Malath Cooperative Insurance & Reinsurance Company, as the new office's deputy general manager. Currently the RFIB offices have four full-time staff members and will soon look to ramp up recruitment efforts. The company eventually intends to have at least 50 percent of its staff be comprised of Saudi nationals.
Adrian Spooner, RFIB's managing director in the Middle East, commented on the company's expansion strategy: "Naji's appointment as Deputy General Manager has been invaluable in establishing our new office in Riyadh. His long experience in the market and extensive contacts will be crucial in growing our business in the Kingdom. We now intend to seek further recruits from the local market, working closely with our international team in London to aid staff training and development."
Saudi Arabia's labor market has become a sensitive political matter in the Kingdom. In the midst of regional unrest
and a considerable 10.5 percent unemployment rate, creating job opportunities for Saudi nationals has become a priority. Various schemes are being discussed by the government that will evaluate the employment of native Saudis by private companies and differentiate between those that have achieved high 'Saudization' rates
, and others who have not; with stricter limits on foreign work-permits a real possibility going forward. Saudi Arabia employs around 8 million expatriate workers, 6 million of whom work in the private sector.
While foreign employees
may not necessarily be in demand, outside capital certainly is becoming more welcome in the MENA region. Insurance House, a recently launched Abu Dhabi based insurance company, agreed at a shareholders meeting to raise the limit on foreign ownership of the business to 25 percent of the company's paid up equity share capital. The move comes just days after Insurance House's public listing on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX).
Insurance House provides insurance services to Gulf businesses and individuals from its headquarters in Abu Dhabi, and branch offices in Dubai and Sharjah. It has a listed paid-up capital of Dh120 million (US$32.7 million). Last month the insurer raised an additional Dh66 million (US$18 million) as it sold 55 percent of shares to the public. The share issue was available exclusively to UAE nationals at a minimum subscription of 25,000 shares per investor.
Mohammed Alqubaisi, chairman of Insurance House, spoke admirably of the company's development. "[The IPO] is another milestone for Insurance House. We will always strive for excellence and will endeavor constantly to create value for our existing shareholders. Additionally, we will give an opportunity to foreign investors to participate in our promising venture by building a successful and established relation with them," he said in a statement.
The Insurance House's decision comes after a similar vote last week by First Gulf Bank, UAE's second largest bank by market capitalization, to increase foreign ownership limits from 15 to 25 percent. UAE firms are seeking an upgrade to "emerging-market" status from "frontier market" by international index provider MSCI.
The MSCI cited the UAE's tight limits on foreign ownership of listed companies as one of the key barriers currently preventing an upgrade to the market's status. An upgrade to emerging-market status could drive an increase in international investment in companies throughout the Emirates. The limit for foreign ownership of listed companies in the UAE is 49 percent.
At present, non-Gulf foreigners ownership accounts for 8.5 percent of equities listed on the UAE markets, with holdings of Dh12.4 billion (US$3.37 billion). UAE citizens hold around 91 percent of all equities and the remainder is made up by other Gulf nationals.
Opening up further foreign investment opportunities
in Gulf companies is expected to continue, according to market analysts. As more firms go public on local indexes they will need to amplify the visibility of their stock and increasing outside ownership limits is an effective way to get more attention.
RFIB Group is an international Lloyd's insurance and reinsurance broker. The company provides insurance for a variety of risks associated with both facilities and personal casualty. In addition, RFIB offers an assortment of reinsurance products; and acts as broker and consultant to other direct and reinsurance brokers. The company's clients include corporations, banks, insurance and reinsurance companies, captives, groups and individuals. RFIB was founded in 1980 and is based in London, the United Kingdom with branches worldwide.
Insurance House was launched in May 2011. The company provides a wide variety of insurance products and services to businesses, groups and individuals from its headquarters in Abu Dhabi, in addition to branches in Dubai and Sharjah.