People investing in Cambodia should remember that while Cambodia has great opportunities, there are also risks, says David Carter, CEO at Infinity Insurance.
“Whatever expectations you have about a fire brigade don’t apply here in Cambodia. Takes them a long time to get there, their ability is nowhere near the New York City Fire Department.”
Carter also serves as president of the Australian Business Association of Cambodia, with 70 members, works to promote Australian business activities in Cambodia and enjoys a close relationship with the Australian Embassy.
“Cambodia is a place of fantastic opportunities, but also risk,” Carter said.
“With great opportunity comes a commensurate level of risk. You need to check your assumptions, do your research and do your homework. If you want to invest in a factory, look at how things are done here, the standard of building, workplace practices, how things are protected,” he said.
Carter says Cambodia has all signs of doing great things, but it will take a bit of time, “like a child learning to walk again”.
“Cambodia is a flat, green, fertile country full of young people. If it manages the future carefully, Cambodia has a very bright future. There are a lot of issues to deal with and it is a great place to do business.” Carter’s advice to companies coming in to Cambodia is to do you homework, work with local advisors and you should do well.
“If you do those things, this can be a great place and it does not have a lot of constraints the neighboring countries do. Free flow of capital is one. The banking system is good here, it’s not like that in Vietnam,” he said.
As far as the insurance business in Cambodia goes, Carter says: “If an insurance policy exists anywhere in the world, we can do it in Cambodia.”
Carter, 48, came to Cambodia in May, 2008 joining Infinity as CEO following 28 years as an insurance broker around Australia in Adelaide, Darwin, Sydney, and Melbourne and also in London.
“As a broker, I was a middle man and since joining Infinity, I went from a risk facilitator to risk taker. I used to deal with insurance companies and now I work for an insurance company.”
When Infinity has to write policies beyond their $7 million capitalisation, Carter gets international reinsurers to provide the specific coverage. For all other routine smaller risks, the company has long term agreements in place with global reinsurance partners. “More and more clients are looking into our financial make up and I believe this trend will continue as buyers become more selective with their insurance partners,” said Carter.
“If it exists and the client wants it then we can bring it to them. We insure embassies, construction projects, and infrastructure projects.”
Infinity is part of Cambodia’s Royal Group and has offices in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, employing 43 Cambodians and two expats.
Carter says most of the population does not understand the insurance industry and as a result the penetration levels are very low, but when people take out a bank loan, that’s often when the topic of insurance comes up. “To succeed in insurance you have to understand it.”
Infinity sells a lot of health care coverage for Cambodian employers.
“We’ve got nominated clinics, the biggest network of medical service providers and the employer buys that cover for their employees.” One of Infinity’s clients is The Phnom Penh Post. Cambodians can be insured by employers for about $150 per person per year.
Health care coverage for non-Cambodians is a more expensive story, Carter says, and depends on the sophistication of the client.
“With business consumers, they may just choose to buy health or fire insurance. As they become sophisticated in business practices, then they start to buy more cover. Cambodia is very much a developing story, and insurance is reflective of that as well. We have low penetration but we’re growing quickly.”
Carter and his wife Martel, also Australian, have two daughters, Jacqueline, 6, and Penelope, 4.
For international firms bringing a brand name to Cambodia, Carter says insurance can help protect the brand.
“You’ve got to get an understanding of what local business practices are. If you’re building a factory, make sure you have fire protection, and make sure you have trained human resources. With your training in place, you have systems that address it if something does go wrong you know what to do.”
All that good diligence makes Carter offer better insurance rates.
“Linking quality to quantity, if your organisation is high quality, you can get a reduced rate.”
Another of Infinity’s clients is the new skyscraper Phnom Penh Tower.
“To protect their position, people like Phnom Penh Tower make sure it is adequately insured and we provide that coverage, just like also happens elsewhere in the world. We also do coverage for telecoms, banks, hotels and individuals.
“We look at the business and we look at the risk, and if we walk away with a confidence level; the better run the organisation the less we are going to charge.”
Another thing companies can do to reduce their insurance rates is get ISO quality certification.
“ISO is all about quality, and that is something that we are keenly interested in.”
Regarding car insurance, Carter says Infinity can adapt to most every kind of international client driving every kind of car.
He says while only a small percentage of drivers carry insurance, Infinity insures about 500 automobile clients every year and receives about 10 claims per week.
“We have to deal with the police regularly,” he said.