x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE car insurance: Cheapest is not necessarily the best route to take

With competition in the UAE's car insurance industry on the rise, policy premiums are falling. But choosing the cheapest offer may not always be the safest move.

A car involved in an accident on the side of Sheikh Zayed Road. Some insurers give discounts to accident-free clients. Christopher Pike / The National
A car involved in an accident on the side of Sheikh Zayed Road. Some insurers give discounts to accident-free clients. Christopher Pike / The National

There probably hasn’t been a better time to buy car insurance in the UAE. Premiums have gone down by 40 per cent in the past two years thanks to increased competition as the nation’s economy flourishes, according to experts. But buyer beware: the cheapest offer might not be the best.

Car insurance is not always at the forefront of our minds, but it is wise to think about it at before your current policy expires – not only because the rising cost of living makes it prudent to do so but because many are unaware of the breadth of premiums available. Plus, the bureaucratic headache of sorting your insurance has been removed now that so many insurers offer their service online.

According to a study released this week by Souqalmal.com, a website which compares the prices of financial services, 80 per cent of drivers prefer to buy their car insurance online. And of the 600 drivers surveyed, only 35 per cent said they would definitely be renewing their car insurance with their current provider. The majority of those over the age of 35 are likely to stick with the same provider.

“Drivers want to know what they’re getting for their dollar, and are more online savvy and less loyal – especially millennials, the ‘connected’ generation,” says Ambareen Musa, the chief executive and founder of Souqalmal.com. “There needs to be a shift in the industry to take into account of not just pricing but offering online facilities, and ensuring loyalty via better customer service.”

As the UAE’s economy heats up, driven in part by workers escaping the anaemic global growth, the competition for insurance customers is intensifying and offers are proliferating. There are now 11 car insurers in the UAE, according to Souqalmal.com. But like all financial services, competition has increased in the past couple of years.

“We’re so much dependent on the country’s economic conditions,” says David Harris, sales and marketing director at RSA Insurance UAE and Bahrain. “In 2008, 2009, during the recession, the population shrunk as a result of a lot of people leaving.

“As we move towards 2020 it looks like we will get an increase in population which drives additional competition into the market, which drives prices down and it becomes a vicious circle of trying to maintain profitability. You get what you pay for – don’t expect the Rolls-Royce service with the cheapest.”

Demand for loans for everything from home financing to cars (as well as an increase in credit card debt) has made banks become aggressive in their search for customers as interest rates hover at record rates and mounting business buoyancy ahead of Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The same trend is now happening in insurance. Car insurers are stumbling over each other to drum up new business and have ratcheted up their marketing campaigns, sometimes tying their sales pitch with the UAE’s push to reduce road accidents (the UAE has one of the highest rate of road fatalities per capita in the world, according to official statistics).

Last month Axa, Europe’s second biggest insurer, started advertising a no-claims bonus for good drivers. That is a bonus designed to reward drivers with discounts that can reach up to 45 per cent if they consistently avoid crashes. Although common in developed economies, many consumers in the UAE are unaware of such a policy. However, while Axa’s campaign was new, its no-claims offering was not.

“We have been doing the no- claims bonus since 2006, but it was not priced in the same way, it was not factored in the same way,” says Alexis de Beauregard, the head of marketing at Axa Gulf. “Probably people do not know that it can be as high as 45 per cent.”

Other insurers, such as RSA, have been offering the no-claims discount for more than a decade. (Axa said that drivers who have a clean record can obtain a safe driver certificate from the Roads & Transport Authority or their current insurer to qualify.)

Testing the claims of marketing men has certainly become much easier thanks to the numerous tools now available for consumers to compare prices online, such as Souqalmal.com. And with the advent of social media, it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to hide bad service.

“We entered the social media space through Facebook about nine months ago and that was an opportunity to give clients an opportunity to give feedback about our services,” says Mr Harris. “You see the good, the bad and the ugly on there. One of the first things you should do is look at social media platforms to see what people’s feedback is. We pride ourselves on the size of our referral business.”

Mr Harris says it pays for consumers to do their homework when shopping for car insurance. There is a much greater spread between insurance premiums these days, ranging from about 2 per cent of the value of the vehicle to 5 per cent. But price shouldn’t be the most important consideration, he stresses.

“One of things people should look at very closely is to try to find out as much information as possible about the claims experience that that particular insurance company, how good they are, how they service their customer claims,” he adds. “It’s only when an accident occurs that the moment of truth presents itself, all the rest of it is just bits of paper from the insurance company to the client and a future promise to do something if something happens.”

Statistics for the insurance market in the UAE are difficult to come by. RSA estimates that the value of premiums sold each year is roughly valued at Dh3 billion and most value the nation’s total insurance market at about $7bn. That is expected to double in the next five to six years as mandatory health insurance, coupled with rising incomes, acts as a gateway for people to add on other types of insurance such as life and home insurance, according to Amol Shah, the head of bancassurance products at FGB’s consumer banking unit.

The accounting firm PwC noted in a report this year that the Middle East insurance market had significant potential for growth, with an average insurance penetration of just 0.3 per cent in life insurance and 1.1 per cent in non-life insurance in 2012. The report noted that life insurance was particularly underdeveloped in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and predicted that the insurance business would undergo a wave of mergers and acquisitions.

“The margins in the industry are going down,” adds Ambareen Musa. “The industry is becoming much more competitive. People have become a lot more price-sensitive.”

mkassem@thenational.ae

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