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Insurance & Takaful Sector Resilient Against Headwinds

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RAM Ratings has maintained a stable outlook on the Malaysian insurance and takaful sector. “Despite volatilities on the investment front and the normalisation of claims experience on the road to endemicity, the insurance and takaful sector is expected to remain resilient,” said Sophia Lee, RAM’s co-head of Financial Institution Ratings.

Key expectations for the sector, detailed in our latest commentary – Insurance and Takaful Insight: Raising the Game – are outlined below:

  • New business (NB) growth in the life and family takaful segments to come in at 10% and 20%, respectively, in 2022 (2021: +12% and +29%) as the sector rides the recovery wave.
  • The profitability of life and family takaful players will stay pressured by uncertainties on the external front.
  • The claims experience of general insurance and takaful players is anticipated to normalise upward.
  • Competition in the motor and fire segments will intensify, with further liberalisation still on the horizon.
  • Capitalisation will remain sturdy, staying adequate against downside risks.

The life and family sector’s NB generation rebounded strongly in 2021 after having been subdued by the pandemic in 2020 (mostly in 2Q). Investment-linked plans continued to be the main growth driver in terms of new business premiums and contributions, although the number of new ordinary life/family policies spiked. The increase mainly stemmed from the take-up of Perlindungan Tenang policies by individuals in the bottom 40% (B40) income group who received RM50 vouchers from the government for the purpose (1,710,877 vouchers redeemed amounting to RM85.4 mil in premium/contribution value). As these are generally smaller-ticket policies, they only contributed 0.4% to aggregate NB premiums and contributions in 2021.

Notwithstanding the turnaround in NB growth, unfavourable investment valuations and some cost pressures weakened the life and family sector’s profit performance. Excess of income over outgo – a proxy of the sector’s bottom line – almost halved to RM13.1 bil in 2021 (2020: RM22.3 bil). The main culprits were domestic equity valuations which were dampened at the close of 2021 due to the emergence of the Omicron variant, as well as revaluation losses on insurers’ bond portfolios given higher
Malaysian government securities yields. The latter largely resulted from the expectation that interest rates would rise in tandem with economic recovery.

“Going forward, external uncertainties – including but not limited to the Russia-Ukraine war and the pace of interest rate normalisation in advanced economies – could heighten volatilities in financial markets. These will exert pressure on the bottom lines of life insurers in 2022, even with our NB growth expectation and in-force business holding its ground,” said Lee.

The general insurance and takaful sector’s underwriting performance improved for the second year straight in 2021. Better claims experience – largely from motor covers in view of reduced road activity – lifted the underwriting margin of general players to 13% (2020: 10%; 2019: 6%). The improvement would have been more significant if not for higher flood-related claims seen in December. The estimated gross insured loss of around RM2.2 bil, at a third of the aggregate RM6.1 bil of economic losses is telling of the fact that many homes and vehicles in Malaysia are uninsured or underinsured.

“Greater awareness of the availability of flood and special perils (natural disaster) cover among households and businesses, particularly small-medium enterprises, could shield them from the sudden impact of such events and help safeguard financial wellbeing,” Lee highlights. The fire class remained the second largest segment for general players after motor (20% and 50% of aggregate premiums and contributions in 2021, respectively), supporting the overall 4% growth in the non-life sector’s premiums and contributions to RM21.5 bil last year (2020: flattish; 2019: +2%). The adoption of Malaysian Financial Reporting Standard 17 Insurance Contracts in 2023 which requires insurers to recognise profits only as they deliver insurance services/coverage (versus when premiums are received upfront), will have a greater effect on life and family players in view of their longer-term contracts.

Industry players will have to adapt to the changing landscape as the sector gears up to raise its game amid digitalisation accelerated by the pandemic, the impending entry of digital insurers and takaful operators and regulatory push for structural reforms to drive greater industry dynamism, inclusivity and sustainability. Further liberalisation of motor and fire tariffs is likely to spur greater innovation and competition in the segments. Reforms such as those to contain medical cost and claims inflation, while likely to yield benefits only in the long run, are definitely steps in the right direction.

RAM’s Insurance and Takaful Insight: Raising the Game can be downloaded at www.ram.com.my.

About RAM Rating Services Berhad (RAM Ratings)

Established in 1990, RAM Ratings is a leading credit rating agency registered under the Securities Commission’s Guidelines on Registration of Credit Rating Agencies, 2011. In addition to the provision of credit ratings for corporate bonds and sukuk and their issuers, RAM Ratings also provides research and publications on Islamic finance, fixed income and macro-economic and industry analysis as well as data analytics relating to credit risk, counterparty assessments and other related domains.

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