RIYADH: Islamic insurers in the GCC may see profitability wane in the second half of 2021 as they face a tough competitive environment amid weak performance in some sectors hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, according to S&P Global Ratings.
Some smaller Takaful companies will need to raise capital or merge, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where losses have persisted, S&P credit analyst Emir Mujkic wrote in a report.
“Our outlook on the sector for the next 12 months remains stable,” he said. “However, given that risks related to the pandemic persist, we could take rating actions in the event of a sharp decline in asset prices, unexpected and severe technical losses, or governance and internal control failures.”
Takaful insurers recorded modest growth of about 1.5 percent in 2020 and about 1.0 percent in first-quarter 2021 according to S&P Global Ratings calculations.
The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) in January reiterated the need for insurance companies to look at M&A deals since the sector was a key driver of the Kingdom’s economy and a pillar of the Financial Sector Development Program, one of 12 executive programs launched by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.
The sector has witnessed a number of agreements and mergers this year, including between Walaa Cooperative Insurance Co. and Metlife AIG ANB Cooperative Insurance Co., and between Al-Ahlia Insurance and Gulf Union National.
Profit in the Kingdom’s insurance sector, including conventional insurers, rose 96.1 percent in the first nine months of 2020 to SR1.32 billion, according to KPMG.
“Despite a recent material improvement in profitability in Saudi Arabia’s insurance sector, more than one third of insurers continue to report losses,” said Mujkic. “Pressure on solvency and certain regulatory incentives have led to a number of mergers in Saudi Arabia over the past year and we expect this trend to continue throughout 2021.”
A new insurance law in Kuwait that requires higher reserve requirements is due to come into force over the next year, putting pressure on small and unprofitable Takaful players in Kuwait, S&P said.
The pandemic did not only affect Islamic Insurance companies in the Kingdom, but also non-Islamic companies, and they are doing great efforts by attracting new subscriptions or new customers, to get a customer with a low risk level that will have a good profit return by the end of the year,” Faiz Alhomrani, a financial market analyst told Arab News.” Many companies and sectors have been greatly affected by the pandemic, thus it became very tough to collect mandatory premiums for these companies, which pressured insurance companies to put financial provisions for non-performing debts.”
Growth in the sector will be unevenly spread, with larger conventional insurers taking more of the gains, said Mujkic.