The three chiefs – John McNamara, managing director of Canada Life International Ireland; David Kneeshaw, chief executive of RL360° and Walter Jopp, chief executive Middle East Zurich Insurance – were participating in a panel debate at the Forum.
Their businesses sell into the UK domestic, international and UAE domestic markets respectively.
The three were keen to dispute a view expressed by the chief executive of Novia Global, Bill Vasilieff, that the future of international life companies is “pretty well finished.”
However, they all agreed the pace of change would create some casualties for those businesses which failed to adapt to customer needs and regulatory requirements.
"Only those organisations who are absolutely clear on their strategy will survive."
“I’m optimistic (for the cross border life industry), a bit,” Kneeshaw told attendees at the Langham Hotel on Thursday.
“There is plenty of head room for making good things happen but there are also a lot issues.
“First of all the regulation, for example, in the UAE and Isle of Man and other jurisdictions. It will change the behaviour of life companies and eventually advisers. I’m cautious about the next two or three years but for those who win I think they will do very well,” he said.
Canada Life’s McNamara said: “Our experience has been hugely positive. Our business is up 60% in H1 2017 versus 2016.
“Only those organisations who are absolutely clear on their strategy will survive. The reality is there are (growing) fixed costs like regulation – we are focused on being as organised as possible. We are confident that this market which we entered 30 years ago remains as attractive today as it ever has.
“Unless you have scalability and you manage your cost base you won’t survive. Our strategy is focused on quality in terms of customer experience but it must be scalable.”
Zurich International’s Jopp echoed Kneeshaw’s apprehension over the coming 36 months.
“The (Middle East) market will have a dip. But the need is there – in terms of insurance the penetration into the market is low and the number of expats will increase. People are coming in and the market will get back and grow,” he said.
“We are effectively a domestic business because, although we are branch of an Isle of Man business, we sell predominately to NRI, Pakistani, Philippine nationals – thats our decision. We don’t do cross border business. We are confident on our strategy,” he added.
The three also dealt with questions over outsourcing and the potential for redundancies during the next three years.
The consensus on headcount fell into two categories with the firms to differing degrees adding selectively and looking to technology to enhance efficiency and growth. Mcnamara said their growth strategy was delivering and cited Canada Life Ireland’s 70% y o y growth.
Novia Global chief Vasilief’s earlier assertion the life industry was finished was given short shrift by McNamara when delegates raised it in the Q&A – “you could say the same about platforms,” he retorted.
“To say life companies are dead – I can see the point but it assumes life companies will sit and do nothing,” was Kneeshaw’s response to the platform chief’s dig.
“I can assure you we won’t sit still – in terms of technology no one has a fraction of what we’ve got to spend on the international sector.”
He added that RL360° is rebuilding its product range for a launch in 12–24 months time as well as reviewing its adviser strategy.
Jopp observed that the Middle East market still had low penetration rate (0.6%) and the absolute need remained for life insurance before noting even pared back growth in the Middle East would still outstrip European markets.