The CII is extending its reach worldwide, and has chosen its first strategic partner in the Middle East. Lauren MacGillivray explains why.
For many in the London insurance market, the dizzying growth of the Middle East is nothing more than a threat on the horizon. But the CII has seen a business opportunity and, as insurance in the region grows, it has been quick to secure its place as the training and accreditation body of choice. The institute’s exams have been available in the Middle East for years but, so far, take-up has been slow because those taking examinations have had to do so through the British Council. For example, last year only about 20 people in the region qualified for the CII’s advanced diploma in insurance or above.
Now, in an effort to garner increased membership and course material revenue, the CII has formed a strategic partnership with Bahrain-based JWZ Insurance Solutions. The intention is for JWZ to become CII Saudi.
Mark Greenwood, originally from South Wales, is the CII’s head of regional business in Bahrain. After living in the Middle East for six years, and having worked for an investment bank in Bahrain before joining the CII in 2005, he believes the market is primed for CII Saudi.
“We see the Middle East in particular as a huge growth area,” he says. “It’s an embryonic marketplace in terms of its maturity, but local regulators recognise they should do it right the first time and build a proper foundation.”
CII tests will now be offered in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran, and a new insurance and business studies institute and college will be created in Jeddah this year.
Last year, 21 new insurers were licensed in Saudi Arabia, and the broking profession is also on the rise. Considering there are only around 2,000 insurance professionals in the Saudi market, and approximately 10,000 are needed to meet predicted demand by 2010, there is a wealth of opportunity for the CII.
The CII has 90,000 members and every UK member also belongs to a local institute, of which there are 61 across the UK, plus seven associated institutes in the Republic of Ireland. Internationally, it has 71 affiliated institutes. But JWZ is the first strategic partner operating as the CII.
JWZ was formed in November as a training organisation. It has three full-time staff including Suzanne White from Glasgow, as well as business partner Adham Jaad and a silent partner from the Middle East.
Greenwood met White on the conference circuit and they set up a CII academy in 2006. He helped the CII decide on JWZ as its partner of choice and is in constant communication.
“I knew JWZ’s two main partners, Adham Jaad and Suzanne White, personally and am confident of their expertise and reputation. They’re both passionate about the programme,” he says.
Greenwood also oversees CII affiliates in South East Asia, which he says is probably 10 years ahead of the Middle East in terms of insurance development. But he is mainly focused on helping JWZ develop internal networks in the Middle East, as he helps locals in their quest for the Arabisation of the industry.
“It’s important to get regulators and employers on board to recognise the importance of training and development,” he says. “Because of the speed of growth, the focus has been on immediate revenue. But while that’s important, you need to put the long term into focus. Employers have been lagging behind.”
All regulators in the Middle East are members of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, although some regions are more developed than others. Especially within the past five years, regulators have become more serious about raising their standards, and are paying more attention to best practice. Bahrain, which this year was named the world’s fastest growing financial centre by London’s Global Financial Centres Index, is considered a more mature market than its neighbours.Bahrain has a population of only 708,573, but the CII considers it to be central and strategically placed. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has a population of around 28 million.
While the CII makes gains from membership fees and course materials, Arab underwriters are increasingly able to compete and take business from London. But competition is always healthy and JWZ’s partners are able to fulfill their passion for education, while meeting demand from a growing and exciting industry.
An agenda for the Middle East
Suzanne White, a chartered insurance practitioner originally from Glasgow, has been living in Bahrain only two years, but has an insurance agenda that sweeps across the Middle East.
Her goal is to develop CII Saudi for the CII, creating the professional bodys first official strategic partner.
It is an enormous task. But Whites seven years spent working in London for the CII as a training consultant, plus her experience of teaching insurance and accounting courses at the Institute of Banking and Finance in Bahrain, have prepared her well.
White is chief executive of Bahrains JWZ Insurance Solutions, which has formed the partnership with the CII. She said: It is the first time the CII has allowed anyone to represent it like this. When I see companies in Saudi Arabia, I take my CII business card. It has handed everything over to us like, for example, the client database, and we are able to administer exams.
Those who wish to gain CII qualifications need to pass at least one exam in English, so proficiency in the language is essential.
While White has teaching experience, the mother of two cannot teach much due to restrictions on women in the region. Also local consultants are hard to come by. JWZ uses as many local workers as it can, but has had to put the call out to British workers with English as a second language (ESL) qualification and insurance experience.
She is confident that there is sufficient local interest to develop the market.
People have been demotivated because nobody has been there to help them, she says. And unless you have worked in the British market, you would n0t know about the FSA. So we are starting ESL courses for insurance in May.
She added that the Middle East is poised to give London a run for its money.
In the past, most business with local insurers, which are seen as commission-takers here, would pass their risks to Lloyds and other markets. But as their market becomes more technically competent, they are retaining more of the risk and will rely less on the London market, and more reinsurers are popping up.