The view from Dubai
As head of a wide-ranging emerging markets business at Willis Towers Watson, Dubai-based Julian Samengo-Turner has a brief that covers “wherever Emirates flies”…
You have what is possibly one of the longest job titles in the facultative world, but effectively you cover the emerging markets brief. Which are the most significant territories for you, and where do you see the biggest opportunities to grow fac premium?
Well, on the basis you have a couple of readers who we may compete against, the answer to this question is vague!
Yes, you could say emerging markets are my geographies, although from Dubai we trade wherever Emirates flies. In 2019 Willis Towers Watson Fac and Natural Resources transacted business from 35 countries, including some I had never heard of!
We speak 12 languages in the Dubai office, all of which are key to the region we are developing. Africa is important, and our largest source of revenue. Africa has the hydrocarbons, sure, but the falling number of civil wars is more important. Historically, democracy in Africa wasn’t so much a question of “it’s who votes that counts”, as “it’s who counts the votes”.
Social media addresses this challenge and by 2050, which is my planned retirement year, half the world’s population growth will come from Africa. There are 500 million cellphones in Africa, so micro insurance and the middle market is the target.
We also like the former Soviet Union countries – we have some unique angles there through relationships.
What is the thinking behind the decision to base yourself in Dubai?
The insurance market in Dubai is bi-polar. Brokers have been staffing up, with new broking entities arriving and incumbent ones investing and growing. There is a paucity of broking talent in Dubai so importing talent is required in some cases.
Conversely, global insurance companies are scaling back or transferring authority on certain lines of business back to wherever their HQ is located. Insurance capacity can come and go, but what is indisputable is that the clients are in the region and they are not going anywhere.
Dubai is pivotal to reaching a huge geographic client scope. If you exclude the Americas, it is in the geographic centre of the world and therefore it will always have a pivotal place.
Also, the MGA model in Dubai is growing and regional insurers are getting stronger. At Willis Towers Watson, we see focused investment in Dubai as pivotal to capturing insurance business in the emerging economies.
You recently made a hire in South Africa to cover the fac market for the continent as a whole. What is your approach to hiring in other emerging markets?
You refer to Leigh White, formerly the head of Aon Africa Fac who starts at Willis Towers Watson on 1 June this year. He is based in Johannesburg; however, he will have a francophone hub in Senegal and an Anglophone hub in Kenya. Running Africa from one spot would be like running Europe from Brussels…
I have known Leigh 22 years, and he is the best in the fac business in the region, and a strategic hire.
The other hubs are thriving, but I would say they are more opportunistic. When opportunistic hires work, I call them “visionary”, but no-one buys that chat!
How does emerging markets business compare to that of developed markets? For example, does clients’ fac spend tend to be more short-term and transactional in nature, or do see a significant move towards strategic fac purchasing?
In emerging markets, regional insurance companies have a reliance/dependency on fac. Developed markets will be more strategic and less opportunistic. Regulations in many emerging markets ensure government business is funnelled through government insurers and reinsurers – which is a big fac play – but that’s not the case in developed markets.
How would you describe the client base in each of the regions you cover – for example, what’s the mix of global carriers with regional operations, large domestic carriers, SME businesses etc?
There are more domestic entities than global ones in Africa. In Asia, it is more global than domestic – which is indicative of the respective development of the regions. Thankfully, the global insurers are less prevalent in Africa – which means we can add more value as brokers.
What is your strategy for developing fac business in these regions in terms of clients, classes of business etc?
That’s a broad question but in a nutshell, the right person in the wrong economy will create more revenue than the wrong person in the right economy. Yes, we have the best brand in some territories but people are more key than ever in emerging markets.
With reference to lines of business, we cover middle-market clients across all classes plus natural resources.
What would you say are the biggest emerging risks for facultative business in the territories you cover?
Hard to say, but possibly political risk and cyber – albeit, the latter isn’t acknowledged in these territories because is it largely a silent exposure. As international investment increases in some of these emerging territories it will come with conditions for insurance coverage of these exposures.