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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Exclusive: Cigna projects 30% annual growth in Middle East after Zurich takeover

US health insurer plans aggressive expansion in “go-deep” region from 2018

The number of business licenses issues in the UAE topped 500,000 since the start of the year. AP
The number of business licenses issues in the UAE topped 500,000 since the start of the year. AP

Cigna, a US-listed health insurance firm, expects to increase revenues by almost a third per year in the Middle East as it expands following its takeover of Zurich Insurance’s regional arm for an undisclosed sum last year.

“[The Zurich acquisition] has given us the opportunity to further accelerate growth and we anticipate revenues growing at 30 per cent per annum to 2020 – a significant increase on what we’ve seen in previous years," Jason Sadler, president of international markets at Cigna, said in an exclusive interview with The National.

“The Middle East is a critical, 'go-deep' region for us, driven by strong fundamentals and double-digit growth in recent years."

Cigna acquired Zurich Insurance Middle East last year, enabling it to go to market in its own name for the first time in the UAE, Lebanon, Kuwait and Oman. The company also has a partnership with Saico (Saudi Arabian Insurance Company) through which it provides services in the kingdom.

The New York Stock Exchange-listed insurer opened a new office in the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) on Monday, which will serve as its headquarters for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) operations, with space for 200 people.

It has launched an aggressive expansion strategy to capitalise on rapid population growth in the region, as well as the roll-out of mandatory health insurance in GCC markets and the increasing prevalence of chronic, "lifestyle" diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, which are fuelling demand for affordable health care, according to Mr Sadler.

“We are very excited about the region as a whole,” he said. “Medical inflation rates in the Middle East are among the highest in the world outside the US. The need for better access to quality, affordable health care positions us very well for future strong growth.”

Healthcare expenditure in the Middle East is forecast to grow 4.2 per cent by 2020, compared with 4 per cent in Western Europe, according to a 2017 sector outlook from professional services firm Deloitte.

Cigna boosted the number of clients it served in the region by 25 per cent year-on-year in 2017 to around 100,000 customers, Mr Sadler said. The Zurich acquisition enables the company to broaden its customer base in target markets.

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Historically, from a regional perspective, Cigna has focused on the needs of employers, for example by providing corporate health insurance policies. But last year it launched a new proposition – “a global private medical insurance offering to internationally mobile, high-net worth individuals who want access to quality health care, not only in the region, but globally,” said Mr Sadler.

The product launched in the UAE in the fourth quarter of last year. “Dubai is always a good market to get some initial learnings”, Mr Sadler said, and Cigna plans to roll it out across the region from later this year.

In April, the company will launch its public wellness app, Cigna Wellbeing, in the Middle East, linking individuals with 110 doctors available for consultation through an online telehealth service. Telehealth is the remote exchange of data between a patient at home and their clinician.

Participating doctors are not just based in the Middle East, Mr Sadler said, potentially granting expats access to medical professionals back in their home countries.

Cigna is also eyeing further acquisitions should the right opportunities arise. “We have a strong capital base and there is definitely surplus to invest,” Mr Sadler said, declining to comment further.

With demand for specialised diagnostics and other data-driven medical services increasing, Cigna is closely watching the rise of sophisticated technology such as artificial intelligence to inform its own innovation strategy, he said.