Competition welcomed. What Kazakhstan’s insurance industry learned from Hurricane Katrina. FORBES, April 10, 2006
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath dominated lunchtime discussions in the insurance companies of Kazakhstan just as much as it did in the U.S. There were two reasons for this, says Dr. Boris Umanov, the president of the Eurasia Insurance Company, Kazakhstan’s largest insurer: first, because Almaty, the country’s business and finance center, is situated in an earthquake-prone location and, second, because the wording of some insurance policies held by businesses and homeowners in New Orleans raised questions of whether claims would be met.
“Sometimes damage occurs that is not covered by insurance policies,” says Dr. Umanov. “This was the situation with Hurricane Katrina. The damage was caused by many reasons, including not only storm and winds, but also floods. But some clients had not bought the coverage for flood risks. Hurricane Katrina triggered the discussion of the wording of insurance coverage. It is virtually impossible to distinguish damage caused by storm surge and rising tides from flood waters. This means that, strictly speaking, some insurers were not liable to pay out on such claims.
“However, I believe that there was some pressure on the international insurance companies to do so, not from a legal standpoint but from a political one, regardless of this uncertainty. “This situation closely resembled the old Soviet way of doing things – when the communist system applied similar pressures. That was why Katrina was of such interest in insurance circles in Kazakhstan.
“I believe that in such cases if something has not been insured correctly there should be no obligation to pay. If payment is to be made, it should be made clearly as an ex-gratia gift, not as a legal duty.”
Dr. Umanov is also critical of the requirement by the U.S. for every European insurer to deposit money in U.S. banks as collateral if they wish to reinsure American risks.
“This is inappropriate because the Kazakhstan regulator doesn't require American insurers to put collateral against risks they underwrite for cedents here in Kazakhstan.
“Globalization has led Kazakhstan to become closer to the West. Everyone here can browse the Internet and read the international newspapers, but we look at the U.S. insurance industry with some confusion. For instance, the U.S. oes not permit European reinsurers to enter the American market with the same conditions applied to their American counterparts. Every country protects its own market, but how can we join the World Trade Organization while also protecting our own economy?”
In spite of these arguments, Dr. Umanov would welcome American participation in Kazakhstan’s insurance industry. “For the Eurasia Insurance Company it is very important to publicize Kazakhstan’s new image and to welcome foreign competition,” he says.