New laws to power insurance industry
By Sonia K.

Brunei Darussalam is endeavouring to make the insurance industry, along with other financial sectors, a key component of the country's national economic diversification efforts. With this in mind, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to approve several new laws, relating to the supervision of insurance activities in this country.

The Minister of Finance II, Pehin Dato Haji Abd Rahman bin Haji Ibrahim, said this at the opening ceremony of the 23rd East Asian Insurance Congress 2006, at the International Convention Centre, yesterday.

The minister said the introduction of this new legislation is part of the Ministry of Finance's ongoing efforts in enhancing supervision of this sector, in line with international best practices.

"Another key objective of this legislation is to ensure that our insurance companies remain financially strong so that the interest of the public as policyholders are properly protected. In turn, it is hoped that this would encourage the general public to also embrace insurance as a key component of their long term financial plans, be it for protection or investment," he said.

The minister said this conference has a strong significance for Brunei. For the insurance industry, this is a congregation of some more than 900 delegates, consisting of distinguished speakers, experts and consultants, regulators and key players from around the world.

"In terms of the fundamental landscape of the industry, since the turn of the new millennium, this region has borne witness to the impact of both natural and man-made catastrophes such as tsunamis, earthquakes, accidents attributable to negligent or sub-standard construction and developments and as well as the accelerating rise in geopolitical risks.

"These events, undoubtedly, cause both destruction to lives and properties and untold human sufferings, and at times, bring significant business disruptions to whole industries as witnessed post 9/11, SARS and South Asian tsunami.

"Faced with such new realities, both regional and global players will need to boost their existing structural and financial capabilities, to properly serve their intended 'insurers' functions, and withstand the potentially deleterious effect of such calamity," the minister said.

"Going forward, the industry continues to face an extremely challenging outlook for the world economy, with on-going volatile energy and commodity prices, structural imbalances in various economies, the real risk of pandemics, such as SARS and now avian influenza, and potential escalation of regional conflicts.

This will obviously change the landscape of the entire insurance industry. "Markets will have to take on board these uncertainties with regulatory authorities and market players continuing to work in the spirit of cooperation with one another in order for the industry to serve its purpose effectively," the minister added.

"Insurance is an integral part of the financial services industry. The traditional role of the industry to provide insurance coverage, critical for foundations for businesses and industry survival and continuity remains vital. In addition to providing such traditional function of protection, we have witnessed numerous innovations in terms of novel product offerings (not least in saving and investments), and also new types of distribution channels.

"These advancement are both as a result of the progression of technology as well as the creativeness of the players in response to dynamic and ever evolving market. With this in view, we expect to see further innovations from this industry in the future," said the minister.

The minister hoped the conference would create new networking opportunities between delegates and strengthen the existing regional and international ties and cooperation. He also hoped that the conference would be able to identify do-able measures and responses, which can address various pertinent issues within this industry.

The Chairperson of the 23rd East Asian Insurance Congress, Ms Dorothy Newn, in her speech said that with the region booming, the theme, "East Asian Insurance at the Crossroads of Growth and Profitability", takes on an added meaning.

A total of 45 speakers will be deliberating on a wide range of topics ranging from economic and market trends, to current burning issues as cover for natural disasters and the impact of the avian flu on society.

EAIC President, Mr Chai Sophonpanich, also spoke.

The keynote address was delivered by Mr Nicholas C. Walsh, Executive Vice President, Foreign General Insurance of American International Group, Inc. (AIG), President and Chief Executive Officer of American International Underwriters (AIU).

He spoke on "Change and the Economic and Geopolitical Impact on Our Markets". His keynote address was moderated by veteran business journalist, Lorraine Hahn, host of Talk Asia on CNN.

The second keynote address delivered yesterday morning was on "The Challenges of regulating the Insurance Industry in a market with Takaful and Convention Insurance".

This was delivered by Haji Mohd Roselan bin Haji Mohd Daud, Acting Director of Financial Institutions Division, Ministry of Finance.

The insurance congress held for the first time in Brunei will include three plenary sessions and two panel discussions featuring distinguished speakers from across the region. - Borneo Bulletin (1st August 2006)