With less than one per cent of Cambodians having insurance, the insurance market in the country is very small. “At the end of the year, the total market will be at US$33 million, it’s not very big at all,” says someone who has known the business for years – David Carter, CEO of Infinity Insurance.
“But it’s growing quickly,” he says. “We have grown ahead of the market, faster than the market and we run a good profitable account.”
Infinity Insurance started in July 2007 as a registered general insurance company, the fourth entrance into the market. As part of the Royal Group of companies, it started as a general insurer, insuring most of the royal group. Carter joined in May 2008 to go beyond just group business to non- group business.
Today customers include a broad range of industries, such as banks, hotels, embassies, and tour operators. “There is no limit on the types of general insurance policies that we offer,” the Australian national says. “We insure all industries with the notable exception of some of the high risk occupations, such as garment factories. We have a very limited exposure to garment factories.”
Carter says when approaching a garment factory they do a survey first, assessing things like construction, management, fire protection and financial status. “We’ve been very careful about this because if a fire starts then it would be a big loss.” Because of the highly combustible material, a hot environment and the high number of people working there, “so many things can happen and if a fire starts, our experience has been that it will burn to the ground,” the 49-year-old says.
According to the CEO, flood insurance entails a similar risk. Infinity provides flood coverage as an automatic part of property insurance but if someone lives very close to rivers or canals then they might to choose not to insure them or impose restrictions on coverage. “We’ve been quite careful about the risks that we insure, we do not have to insure everyone, and we don’t,” he says.
According to Carter, the Thai floods caused a very big loss, costing the insurance market $15 billion.
“But we continue to provide flood cover,” he says. “We are not scared of insuring large risks, we are prepared that if any of these clients would suffer any big loss, we would pay it and pay it quickly, because we’ve done our homework, we are prepared for something like that to happen.”
He says both international and local companies are covered. In contrast to local companies, international companies often understand the whole process of insurance, have a good handle on their risk profile and look for certain features within their insurance partner, such as experience, knowledge and financial security.
“We know that the international firms are more likely to be interested in all of those things and in the case of a Cambodian company, it’s an education process,” Carter says. “We’ve had some customers who had insured their risks for the first time ever after talking to us about the possibilities.”
Infinity also insures individuals, especially expatriates, because they are looking for evacuation coverage. “Medical facilities in Cambodia are limited, in event of a serious illness or an accident you need to be evacuated to go to places like Bangkok,” Carter says. “So the health insurance that we are selling to expatriates includes evacuation coverage.”
Another product covers vehicle insurance. Infinity tries to attract customers through advertising car insurance for the cost of a coconut per day and motorcycle insurance for the cost of a mango per day.
In case of an accident, the customers calls Infinity staff, who then attend the scene, assist them in taking all the details down about the third party, deal with the police and set down the claims of the damage, Carter explains.
According to Carter, a fire “is pretty simple. A place burns down and then of course we pay, if it’s not deliberately lit.”
He says the biggest claims they deal with are medical claims for Cambodian employees falling ill or having an accident and need treatment.
But despite the advertisements and although the market is growing, the idea of having insurance is known to a few only. “To those who really don’t know what insurance is, it’s a really hard sell because you’re selling a piece of paper in return for money that’s a promise to perform if something goes wrong,” Carter says.
According to the CEO, people are very skeptical because over the past 15 or 20 years, banks and insurance companies have been collapsing in Cambodia and even in the more developed world. “So that’s our biggest challenge, certainly with the Cambodians, to earn their trust.”
In the coming years, Carter expects the insurance business in Cambodia to grow “because the economy is growing.” He says he expects more players, including micro insurance companies entering the market, brokers setting up here, insurance companies joining the Cambodian stock exchange and the premium substantially increasing.
“In the time I’ve been here the size of the insurance marketplace has more than doubled. I don’t see that trend changing.”