S'pore 'has what it takes to be global insurance hub'

PHOTO: S'pore 'has what it takes to be global insurance hub'

Singapore ticks most of the boxes when it comes to meeting the requirements of a global insurance hub, industry leaders told The Straits Times.

They cited the country's status as a wealth management and trading centre, which makes it easier to finance deals.

Its advanced infrastructure and strong connectivity also strengthen the country's credentials, as does the pro-business legal, tax and regulatory environment.

They all raise the odds of Singapore succeeding in its bid to be a global insurance hub, said Mr Leong Wai Ho, the director of research at Barclays bank in Singapore. "Our chances are above average, as the key ingredients are here, he said.

"We can build on these strengths to build a more vibrant insurance cluster."

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) managing director Ravi Menon laid out the ambition earlier this month for the Republic to become a global insurance marketplace by 2020.

Singapore is already recognised as a regional hub, where insurers, reinsurance companies and brokers gather to trade and manage risks.

Four of the world's top five brokers and 16 of the top 25 reinsurers have also set up their regional headquarters here, including Aon Benfield, the largest global reinsurance broker in the world.

Mr Kent Chaplin, head of Asia-Pacific and managing director at Lloyd's Asia, said: "While London and New York are global centres, Singapore is the international hub for Asia-Pacific."

But observers say that before Singapore can be mentioned in the same breath as London and New York, it must build up its capabilities in specialist areas of general insurance.

These include coverage for cyber risks and environmental liabilities which, as Mr Chaplin noted, are experiencing increased demand.

Cyber liability insurance protects companies or people from loss as a result of hacking or identity theft, while environmental cover is for companies that may face action for pollution, for instance.

Mr Lau Kam Yuen, head of the insurance practice at KPMG Singapore, added that highly specialised insurance intermediaries and professionals must be attracted here.

"These specialists would include those who have niche technical expertise in areas such as catastrophic modelling and internal capital modelling," said Mr Lau.

One example is AIG, the largest general insurer in Singapore with a market share of 13.07 per cent.

Mr James Shea, the company's president of global specialty lines, has been based here since last year.

The unit includes providing cover for the aerospace and marine sectors.

"Running a global business doesn't mean you need to be based in New York. With Asia being an important market for us and a continued focus on growth, it was decided I would continue my role in Singapore," said Mr Shea.

He added that more brokers and insurance carriers are basing themselves here, helping the country to boost the number of commercial general insurance bookings.

"Risks that historically went to places like London to access capacity expertise, have that available here."

Great Eastern chief executive Chris Wei said more big-name, multinational insurance firms should be drawn here to create that capacity to spread risk all over the world.

A spokesman from the MAS told The Straits Times that seven new registered insurers have been licensed this year, up from five for the whole of last year.

The insurance sector contributed about 1.3 per cent to Singapore's nominal gross domestic product last year.

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