An interview with Mr. Ghazi Abu Nahl, a major shareholder and Chairman of a Group whose net assets exceed $300 million with subsidiaries and affiliates in the MENA region, UK, Spain, Qatar, Oman, Cyprus and Malaysia. Mr. Nahl leads Qatar General Insurance and Reinsurance Co. as Group CEO, having founded the company in 1979, with 20 rich years of experience under his belt. He started Qatar General Insurance & Reinsurance Company as a domestic insurance company in Qatar with now a paid-up capital of $37 million.
Is the financial crisis now a distant memory for the region, and how do you think that the Middle East will play a role in shaping future financial trends?
I don’t believe we have to isolate ourselves from what is happening in the financial market worldwide. Yes, our position in Qatar is better than many other places, but we do have to take a look at ourselves and take more careful steps towards the future. Still, I think that with the drop in oil and income prices—this could create some interesting activity for the future.
Do you have any forecast on oil and the effects that it might have on the financial industry? Is it perhaps the time that Qatar and the region will look to further diversify their markets?
Diversification of the economy for Qatar is already happening within the market, within the oil industry, and overseas as well. Qatar Investment Authority has been working to invest for the state over the last 10 years, and we are developing more year after year. This is what provides for more income— and thus diversification— outside of the oil and gas industry.
Certainly, and Qatar has focused on sport as it diversifies. How has Qatar become this unique hub for sports and what do you think the effect will be on the country?
Much of the infrastructure related to this is already under construction now. Definitely, as an insurance company, we have a share and really, I feel confident that as a sports capital here, it will be exciting to welcome every visitor. We in insurance will look forward to seeing this. We are confident of all the success of every function of sports here in Doha.
Could you share with us a bit the genesis of Qatar General Insurance & Reinsurance Company, and tell us how it’s developed to over the past few decades?
I think I have to give the credit to the division of the government for all the development: study of the economy, wise growth, good vision for the development of oil and gas business and flexibility of meeting. It is actually through the policy of the government that makes all of this a success. Insurance will take advantage of such an opportunity and follow this strategy as well. We offer our services as a professional. We don’t have anything except our experience and our professional status and this is the way of our good success.
Is there an opportunity to innovate services within the developing market share that’s appearing?
Yes, definitely; we adjust ourselves to meet the demand and growth of the country. We are cooperating with the regulator, which is the Central Bank. We are happy with the involvement of the Central Bank with us because we are well treated and have a good “godfather” for our line of industry. We are thankful for this and for His Excellency the Governor. Of course, it is beneficial to have oversight and assistance over our industry from the Ministry of Economy and Commerce and Trade. But now, I think that it is proper to be with the Central Bank. So yes, we are creative and have ideas and solutions for the best changes of the economy that we’ve seen everyday continually grow into a better place.
Why is Qatar and/or the region an interesting case for reinsurance and could you share with us how you would evaluate reinsurance in the region?
Reinsurance is a different ball game than insurance— very specialized in margin and more sophisticated. In insurance, we apply best practices and we are proud of the corporate levels and the technique that we use during our operation. And I believe reinsurance also needs that. I hope that the regulators will look at reinsurance as a special case and encourage more insurance in the area, stand on their feet and make it a priority.
What makes the Multaqa event a particularly exciting event not just for Qatar but for the region to show that Qatar is a major player in the international insurance community?
This type of function is really very good for communication, when you’re with a group of professionals, listen to each other and sharing views. I would like the regulator to give the insurance industry in Qatar what they deserve with fairness as to their capability. I think that’s very important.
What can we expect in terms of stock movements in 2015 from you?
I think that the government gave excellent direction with the changes already made, and with the increases made for foreign shareholders from 25 to 49%, we’re really encouraged. I think that the return in the insurance industry, it gives the shareholder a very good, decent return. I also think that the investment policy, as well as health insurance for that matte and the opportunity that’s coming for oil and gas health insurance and medical insurance will add more value to the National Insurance Company. To see that the equity and the premium is not balanced, we have a bigger equity than the insurance premium. I think that we’re hungry for expansion, yes. We prefer to see more expansion and more growth based in Qatari insurance premiums, if we could.
What do you see is the greatest investment opportunities for investors or high net worth individuals or companies in Qatar today?
If you know Qatar’s market from a point of economy and how it’s moving, I think that most of the time it is really working well. Even if you were not speculating, you would have vision and knowledge of the positive economic movement. In terms of sectors, we can’t ignore the medical side. It’s crucial and an excellent site to invest in, along with education, especially within the private sector and primary education.
You’re chairman of the World Trade Center here in Qatar, chairman of the World Trade Association of New York, chairman of World Trade Center Holdings Cyprus, the list goes on and on…How do you do it?
With the help of my family and my colleagues, I think that it is what it is, and this leads to prosperity and cooperation, because that’s what trade is. The World Trade Center is a non-profit center; it’s a non-profit organization. Yes, we encourage the business community to communicate with each other more and to conduct their business to the best of everybody’s interest. We are available in 330 cities so far and we are aiming to expand. We like to keep the business community communicating with each other, and so we facilitate that. We attend many conferences and many conduct their own business, and this will create prosperity for the cities and the business community. It’s a nice feeling and we enjoy seeing the smile of every business person.