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Mon 24 Feb 2020 08:02 AM

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Saudi regulator seeks to raise capital levels for insurers

The new rules would 'make the market more attractive to foreign investors,' said Ahmed Alkholifey, governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority

Saudi regulator seeks to raise capital levels for insurers

Ahmed Alkholifey, governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, Image: AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia is working on new regulations that would raise capital requirements for the kingdom’s overcrowded insurance sector, its central bank governor said in an interview.

The new rules would “make the market more attractive to foreign investors,” Ahmed Alkholifey, governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said in an interview Sunday in Riyadh.

Officials are trying to expedite the regulations and hope they’ll be passed this year, he said. The government also wants to encourage other lines of business beyond motor and health insurance.

The central bank, which regulates the financial-services industry, has been urging consolidation in the kingdom’s crowded insurance market for several years.

Of Saudi Arabia’s 33 insurance companies, 10 made a loss last year, with the bulk of all the profits being earned by just two companies - Bupa Arabia and The Company for Cooperative Insurance, known as Tawuniya.

“We have too many small companies,” Alkholifey said. “If we have bigger companies serving the market in a better way that would be good. What is going on in the insurance sector is not just the supply side but also the demand side and more awareness.”

He declined to specify the new capitalization ratio but said it will be “definitely higher than the current one.”

Asked about the economic impact of the global spread of a new strain of coronavirus, Alkholifey said it was “too early to assess.”

He added that he expects to see continued growth in lending to small and medium enterprises, as well as more growth in home loans. The number of new residential mortgages for individuals provided by banks jumped 266% in December compared to a year earlier.

“There was a pent-up demand in the housing market,” he said. “It is natural to see a jump with the strong support coming from the ministry of housing to subsidize interest rates for individuals in order to own houses.”

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