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Berkshire Hathaway’s Gen Re targets world-beating India market

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-09-2017 Bhuma Shrivastava

Mumbai: General Re, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. which won a license to open an Indian office in May, is seeking a larger slice of the world’s fastest-growing reinsurance market.

The unit plans to expand in health and life insurance, as well as explore opportunities in property and casualty cover, said Venkatesh Chakravarty, chief executive officer of General Reinsurance AG India Branch. The plan is to help clients develop new products, distribution channels and enter newer market segments, he said in an interview.

Gen Re’s entry follows a rush among foreign reinsurers such as Munich Re, Swiss Re AG, London-based Lloyd’s and SCOR SE after Asia’s third-biggest economy opened the sector in 2015. The market is forecast to grow at an average annual growth rate of 9% from 2017 to 2022, according to Reports Monitor.

“Given the under-penetration of insurance, the growth momentum is expected to continue for both the insurance and reinsurance industry,” Chakravarty said. “India is an important market for us, which is the reason for setting up a branch. We are here for the long haul.”

Building a business in India could help Gen Re’s turnaround. A glut of capital in the global reinsurance industry in recent years has caused prices for some kinds of coverage to sag. Rather than take on policies at those lower rates, Gen Re has said it’s turning away some business. In India, where competition is heating up, Chakravarty emphasized that Gen Re would continue to prioritize profitability.

“Gen Re isn’t focused on growing the top line or the market share at any cost,” said Chakravarty.

Buffett’s lieutenant

Buffett asked one of his top lieutenants, Ajit Jain, to oversee the reinsurer last year. Soon after, Jain wrote a lengthy memo to Gen Re’s staff suggesting areas where they could streamline operations and change how it does business to be more competitive.

The efforts are starting to show. In the first six months, premium revenue climbed 7% to $2.97 billion, driven by gains at the property-casualty unit. Underwriting results, however, have been hurt by an increase in costs tied to natural disasters.

Gen Re may benefit from Indian insurers flocking to list their shares if IPO proceeds are used to write more polices, Chakravarty said.

First time listings in India are headed for a record year as insurers tap increasing investor demand for financial assets. ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. raised Rs5,700 crore ($877 million) on 21 September, while SBI Life Insurance Co. is looking to raise $1.3 billion. Deals are also in the offing from HDFC Standard Life Insurance Co. and state-run General Insurance Corp. of India. Bloomberg

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