The role of insurance in ASEAN markets

Asia

Research by Global Counsel LLP, supported by Prudential, considers the role of trade and regulation in the ASEAN insurance markets and the trends towards further liberalisation and integration. The foreword to the report is provided below and the full report is available here.

ASEAN Insurance Markets: Integration, Regulation and Trade

Foreword to the report by Stephen Adams, Partner, Global Counsel LLP

In building a regional market for trade in financial services and insurance over the last two decades ASEAN policymakers have had to confront significant obstacles. The varying levels of development and openness across the region have made both domestic reform and regional integration sensitive and incremental. As it does everywhere, financial services liberalisation in ASEAN raises important questions of prudential stability, consumer protection, regulatory capacity and business integrity. It is politically sensitive and practically complex.

This report has two aims. The first is to set down in one place an assessment of the state of play in insurance services trade across the main markets of ASEAN and at the level of regional market integration. This highlights the barriers to cross border trade and freedom of establishment that remain across the region, but it is also testimony to how far regional policymakers and businesses have pushed insurance market opening, reform and consolidation over the last decade. The scope for foreign ownership in the sector is growing as the benefits of foreign participation are better understood and growing regulatory capacity is increasingly making the prospect of cross-border trade a realistic one.

The second aim of this report is to set out some of the wider drivers of insurance policymaking in ASEAN to help better understand what is driving reform – or in some cases holding it back. At a general level, a deepening market for insurance is contributing to wider ASEAN policy aims in economic risk management, capital market deepening, healthcare provision and infrastructure financing. This potential for this market at the regional level is now well understood. While insurance market liberalisation has not been included in some of the initial headline goals of the ASEAN Economic Community process for reasons of political or policy sensitivity, commitments to liberalisation have nevertheless been made and the prospect of future regional competition has spurred regulatory and sectoral reform across the region.

A range of challenges remain for ASEAN policymakers and insurance firms. An important one is addressing the wide range of regulatory capacity across the region, which will take time and resources. Ensuring fair and equal treatment for foreign and domestic firms is another. A third, especially given the way that ASEAN lacks the kind of strong institutional centre that defines the single market of the EU, will be ensuring that, over the years ahead, this liberalising trend is accompanied by a strong push for regulatory convergence. The EU’s own experience testifies to the difficulty of reversing regulatory divergence after the fact.

The full report is available here.