New insurance regs in Qatar: Clyde & Co’s take

The United Arab Emirates isn’t the only Gulf country in which insurance company executives are agonising over the exact meaning of new regulations affecting their industry. A year ago, the Qatar Central Bank introduced a raft of new regulations that effectively overhauled the regulatory requirements for Qatar’s insurance industry as well.

Below, in analysis posted the Clyde & Co website, Clyde & Co legal director Roger Phillips takes a look at how the new regulations are bedding down; the current position, and what can be expected going forward.

Qatar is now the third largest insurance market in the Gulf countries, and is continuing to benefit from the country’s energy and infrastructure projects – albeit that the recent fall in oil prices has seen some negative impact in the earlier significant growth levels.

For public confidence in, and protection of, Qatar’s economy, the growth and development of the Qatari insurance market needed to be matched with a robust and internationally aligned legal and regulatory framework.

New legal and regulatory framework

The first step was the implementation of Law No.13 of 2012 governing the Qatar Central Bank and Financial Institutions (known as the QCB Law), which has brought in oversight and responsibility for all financial services in Qatar to the Qatar Central Bank, and a framework for enhanced licensing, regulation and supervision of insurers and insurance businesses.

Following on from the QCB Law, the QCB is now in the process of implementing the necessary enabling rules and regulations for insurance businesses.

The QCB introduced the Executive Instructions for Insurers in April 2016, with extensive prudential and conduct of business requirements for insurers operating in or from Qatar.

Draft Instructions for Insurance Intermediaries, Representatives and Service Providers were also issued in October 2016, and these are expected to be approved as final within the next few months.

Scope of the law and regulations

The Insurer Regulations cover regulation of all insurance business including general insurance, long term insurance and health.

Under the regulations, no person can carry on insurance business in or from Qatar without a QCB licence, and only insurance business activities within the scope of the insurer’s licence can be undertaken.

Composite insurance is not allowed, unless the QCB gives special approval, although there are transitional rules to allow composites time to adapt to the new requirements.

Chapter 2 of the QCB Law provided the legal framework for regulations covering Insurance and Reinsurance.

Under Article 94, Qatar insurance and reinsurance companies licensed in the State must operate either as joint stock companies, local branches of foreign entities or representative offices.

Article 95 further details that “funds and properties located in the State or the liabilities resulting therefrom may not be insured abroad. Insurance brokerage shall not be sought in regard to such funds, properties, or liabilities except through the companies subject to the provisions of this law”.

The interpretation of “funds and properties located in the State” contemplates that some insurances, such as long term and medical insurances for local residents, can be insured by foreign insurers. The draft Intermediary and Service Provider Regulations also provide for intermediary sales of foreign insurances, permitted under Article 95, by licensed QCB intermediaries, subject to certain disclosures and conditions.

Changes in supervision and transitions
to the new regulatory requirements

As mentioned above, a year has now passed since Qatar’s new Insurer Regulations came into effect, and it is therefore an opportune time to review the implementation of this substantial change to regulation of Qatar’s insurance market.

When the Insurer Regulations came into force, insurers, previously licensed by Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Commerce, responded to requests from the QCB for information and documentation as part of the initial process for the granting of new QCB licenses.

Those insurers previously licensed by the MEC have also been given some time to adapt to a substantially different regulatory regime.
The “transition periods” provide extended time to comply with certain rules and are set out in the Insurer Regulations.

These periods are linked to the date when the insurer was granted its new QCB licence.

A one year transition period is available to insurers from the issue of their new QCB licences, and provides a further one year for insurers to adapt to certain requirements.

This transition applies to the rules for establishment of internal systems of control covering prescribed internal controls and functions, policies, and procedures as well as compliance with remuneration, business continuity and outsourcing arrangements.

Furthermore, there is an additional one year to comply with the requirements for a risk management strategy, policies and procedures and related “Own Risk and Solvency Assessments”, known as ORSAs, together with actuarial calculations and reporting requirements in relation to the insurer’s insurance liabilities and prescribed minimum capital requirements and eligible capital.

This latter actuarial reporting requires for the first time an annual financial condition report for the business.

One year following issue of licences, insurers must now also be able to demonstrate compliance with the conduct of business requirements set out in the Insurer Regulations. These cover advertising, product disclosure, sales and post-sales servicing, claims and complaint handling as well as data protection.

The Insurer Regulations allow two years from licensing for compliance with on-line marketing and process requirements given the anticipated time required to develop the necessary IT system changes for on-line business models.

A period of learning for the regulator
and the regulated

The step change in compliance required from the new Insurer Regulations does not only affect the insurers. One year on from the issue and effective date of the new regulations, the QCB has established a dedicated Insurance Division, and is continuing to develop effective licensing and supervisory capability for approvals and oversight of insurer businesses operating in Qatar against the comprehensive and complex new requirements.

Inevitably, the supervisory teams will be initially trying to not only become familiar with the new requirements, but also, to better understand the insurers and the businesses that they need to regulate. This will require time, and continuing dialogue and questioning as part of reporting processes, both formal and informal.

Some requirements of the new Insurer Regulations have been in place from day one, and we can look at some of these key requirements of change and how these are being approached and are bedding in.

Internal Control Framework,
Functions, Policies and Systems

The Insurer Regulations have specific requirements for governance frameworks relating to internal control functions and policies, remuneration, business continuity and outsourcing. These are now in force, and require substantial investment in people, policies and processes.

Insurers are now mandated to have in place certain functions in their businesses, including risk management, compliance, actuarial and internal audit.

It is interesting that, with the exception of internal audit, such “internal control functions” can be outsourced to a third party, subject to QCB approval. (Having one’s own internal audit functions has always been a requirement of Qatar’s listing requirements for public companies.)

Given the challenges of costs and finding necessary expertise, such outsourcing can offer opportunities in the market, and may perhaps provide scope for the development of external compliance network and service models that have been prevalent in more developed international markets, such as the UK.

These models can be useful in not only helping to drive better compliance with regulation, but also to increase distribution of insurance by helping establish more networks of intermediaries.

It remains to be seen how these “outsourced models” develop, but there are early indications that specialist actuarial services are to be engaged from outside of the firm.

The Insurer Regulations detail the responsibilities of the relevant functions. This includes a key requirement for internal audit to periodically report to the board or specialist board committees on the performance of internal control functions (such as compliance), so that areas such as resourcing and effectiveness can be monitored at the highest level.

With regard to the actuarial function, the QCB may require a meeting with an insurer’s principal actuary, and for such meeting to be held without the presence of the board or senior management, if deemed necessary.

With regard to outsourcing, the insurers must now have in place a documented and Board approved outsourcing policy. The policy must address intra-group as well as third party arrangements. Any outsourcing arrangements with a party outside of Qatar must not be entered into without prior consent of the QCB.

The concept of  “material outsourcing” referred to in the insurer regulations requires particular care from insurers.

This is defined as outsourcing of a function “of such importance to the insurer that weakness or failure in exercising that function would cast doubt on the insurer’s ability to comply with the law or regulatory requirements, instructions, performance, financial position, or its ability to continue the conduct of its business”.

Typically, such material outsourcing would include claims management, information technology, investment management or underwriting.

Prior approval is required from the QCB for material outsourcing, and there are very detailed and comprehensive minimum requirements for the terms and conditions of the legal agreements covering the outsourcing arrangements.

The arrangements must be reviewed annually, and the resulting report assessed by and actioned by the Board.

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