United States: Latin American Insurance And Reinsurance 2009 Recap: Beyond The Usual Suspects--Growth In Unexpected Places

Last Updated: March 16 2010
Article by M. Machua Millett

In the last year, the overall Latin American insurance market has continued to experience robust growth, estimated at 7.4% by Fundacion Mapfre for the first half of 2009 over the first half of 2008. Based upon the first half of 2009, total premiums for the region for the full year 2009 will likely have exceeded US$ 100 billion (72 billion Euros). The Latin American non-life sector grew 13.2% half year over half year to 23.7 billion Euros, paced by growth in the health, fire and workers' compensation lines. Auto insurance premiums grew by only .7% for the same period, while life insurance premiums were down 2.4%.

As to specific jurisdictions, we have continued to see moderate to high growth in several of the larger, more established insurance markets in Latin America (Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico), as well as some stagnation and even contraction (Argentina, Chile). However, we have also witnessed robust growth rates and renewed interest in many of the smaller markets that are not typically the focus of discussions about Latin American insurance. Peru in particular has shown impressive growth rates and economic stability, while even unusual suspects such as Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia and the Central American nations have performed remarkably well.

The Major Markets -- Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile

Given their generally greater connection to the global economy, it should come as little surprise that the more-developed Latin American insurance markets had more mixed results than those seen in some of the more isolated countries. While the Venezuelan insurance market boomed based upon previously untapped potential, petroleum risks and a quickly growing consumer middle class, Brazil's and Mexico's markets continued to grow even as they were held back by overall economic stagnation. In Chile and Argentina, however, the markets could not overcome the downward tow of their local economies, with stagnation and even contraction in both jurisdictions in 2009.


Brazil remains by far Latin America's largest insurance market, with nearly 40% of the region's total premiums.

The country experienced slowed growth early in 2009, with even some contraction in certain month to month comparisons. Given early results, Brazil's insurance regulator, the Superintendencia de Seguros Privados (SUSEP), predicted in May that growth would slow to only 4.9% for the year. Results picked up again later in the year however, leaving total gross written premiums for the first 11 months of 2008 up nearly 13%.

  • For the month of August 2009, reported that total premiums for the Brazilian insurance market were R$ 6.39 billion (US$ 3.68 billion), up 14.94% month over month when compared to August 2008. Total premiums for the year through August 31, 2009 reached a total of R$ 48.35 billion (R$ 27.85 billion), up 9.6% over the same period in 2008.
  • When comparing September 2009 to September 2008, however, total premiums in the Brazilian insurance market were down 4.81% (US$ 1.42 billion), down from US$ 29.58 billion to US$ 28.16 billion. For the same period total premiums were up 13.99% for pension and 5.4% for credit and guaranty, but down for accident and health (-5.3%), life (-6.89%), auto (-9.09%), non-auto liability (-12.42%) and mandatory auto (-54.86%). For the period, the most significant lines of business in Brazil were pension (40.5%), auto (21.86%), non-auto liability (15.11%) and life (13.72%).
  • Gross written premiums for November 2009 were up 30.4% over November 2008, totaling US$ 6.85 billion for the month. Total gross written premiums for the first 11 months of 2009 totaled US$ 39 billion, up nearly 13% over the first 11 months of 2008.

Perhaps wary of again under-predicting potential growth, Susep predicted in December 2009 that the Brazilian insurance market will grow an additional 16-20% in 2010.


Premium growth reports consistently placed Venezuela among the fastest growing markets in Latin America in 2009, generally ranging between 20 and 40% annual growth.

  • Comparing February 2009 to February 2008, total premiums for the Venezuelan insurance market increased 20.77% from US$ 1.460 billion to US$ 1.763 billion. Ceded premiums increased 76.01% by the same comparison.
  • For the first five months of 2009, total premiums for the country totaled more than 11 billion bolivares, a 38% increase over the same period in 2008.
  • Total premiums for the Venezuelan market reportedly grew by 44% when comparing December 2009 to 2008. The lines with the greatest growth were pensions (300%), credit and guaranty (64.4%), life (48.7%) and auto (20.6%).


Despite continuing economic and social upheaval, total premiums in the market continued to grow, if at z more moderate rate than that seen in previous years.

  • Mexico's insurance regulator, la Comision Nacional de Seguros y Fianzas, reported that the total premiums for the market increased 8.8% when comparing the first two quarters of 2009 to the first two quarters of 2008. Liability insurance premiums reportedly grew by 17.8% and life insurance premiums reportedly grew by 3.5%.
  • Total premiums grew 3.8% in the third quarter of 2009. The increase was led by growth in the life (10.9% growth) and accident and health (1,1% growth) lines, and tempered by a 4.5% decline in total auto insurance premiums.

Near the end of 2009, the Mexican Association of Insurers predicted that total premiums will have increased by 5-6.5% in 2009 and will increase an additional 7% in 2010.


Results in the Argentine insurance market were mixed in 2009, as were predictions for the industry in 2010.

  • Argentina's insurance regulator, la Superintendencia de Seguros de la Nacion reported that total premiums for the twelve months ending June 2009 were 6.2% higher than the previous 12 month period. In absolute terms, total premiums for the twelve months ending June 2009 were US$ 7.53 billion. June numbers also reflected 6% growth when compared to the prior June and 4.4% growth over May 2009. The advances were led by the automobile insurance sector, which grew 16.4% year over year.
  • Around mid-year, Fitch Ratings issued its annual report on the Argentinean insurance market entitled "El mercado asegurador argentino: Resultados y perspectivas 2009." The report reflected significant turmoil in the market given the fluid political, economic and regulatory situation in Argentina, and noted in particular that "The global economic crisis, together with internal factors, has had a significant impact upon the market over the last year leaving it characterized by 'uncertainty.' Fitch further expressed concern that certain regulatory actions taken by the Argentinean insurance regulator, the Superintendencia de Seguros de la Nacion, as to valuation of insurance companies'investment portfolios might be distorting the true value of those companies, including their liquidity and solvency. Nonetheless, Fitch noted the following:
    • When comparing to the twelve months ending May 2008, the overall insurance market grew 6.1% over the last year.
    • Penetration rates remain low, though the industry is becoming increasingly dependent upon the automobile insurance sector to drive growth.
    • By comparison, the economic downturn has disproportionately impacted certain lines that had been recently gaining momentum, including agriculture, transport, life and pension insurance.

After four years of improving results as to capitalization and growth, Fitch predicts that the Argentine insurance industry will remain flat but stable in the coming year.


Results for the Chilean insurance industry were grimmer still in 2009. One of Latin America's most developed insurance markets, reflected in the region's highest insurance penetration rate, Chile most closely followed the types of results seen in many of the world's largest insurance markets.

  • Due largely to lower life annuity sales, total premiums in the Chilean insurance market fell 12.3% for the first half of 2009 when compared to the first half of 2008. Total premiums for the first half of 2009 were US$ 2.89 billion. Life insurance premiums decreased by 16.5% (US$ 1.87 billion), with life annuity sales contracting by 37.9% (US$ 631 million). The downturn was not limited to the life sector, however, as the national and global economic downturn resulted in a 3.7% decrease in P&C premiums (US$ 1.02 billion), pulled down in part by a 32.4% decrease in engineering premiums. In a sign of the times, theft premiums rose 19.2%.
  • The Association of Chilean Insurers confirmed that total premiums fell 12.3% when comparing the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2008. Total premiums for general insurance fell 3.7% to US$ 1.031 billion for the period, while life premiums fell 16.5% to US$ 1.867 billion. In particular, total premiums for All Risk Construction Coverage fell 49.9% for the period, reflecting the marked slowdown in construction in Chile since the economic downturn.

Nonetheless, near the end of the year, the Chilean Insurance Association released predictions that the country's insurance market will grow by 3.7% in 2010 and 6.7% in 2011. In particular, Jorge Claude, the president of the association, reportedly stated that the group expects life insurance premiums to grow 2.9% in 2010 and 5.8% in 2011. Mr. Claude reportedly stated that the insurance market predictions are based in part upon expectations that the Chilean economy as a whole will experience a recovery in 2010 and 2011.

The Lesser Known Opportunities: Peru, Colombia, Central America, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay

In contrast to the mixed results seen in region's largest markets, some of the smaller, less publicized Latin American insurance markets saw impressive growth in 2009. Many of these local insurance industries are less tied to the global economy and wee, therefore, less impacted by the global economic slowdown. These nations also benefited from ample room for growth, given very low penetration rates still existing in many of the countries experiencing the greatest premium development.


Results from Ecuador consistently reflected double-digit premium growth of between 11% and 25%, with the life insurance sector growing particularly quickly:

  • Total premiums in the Ecuadorian life insurance market increased 23.6% when comparing March 2009 to March 2008, totaling US$ 41.12 million for the month. More than 74% of those premiums were concentrated among the top ten Ecuadorian life insurers.
  • According to a report by the local regulator, the Ecuadorian general insurance market has grown 16.08% when comparing June 2009 to June 2008.
  • Total premiums for the twelve months ended July 31, 2009 reached US$ 937 million, a 17% increase over the twelve months ended July 31, 2008 (US$ 800.9 million). Retained premiums for the twelve month period increased by nearly 19%. The largest insurers in Ecuador by total premiums for the twelve months ended July 31, 2009 were Colonial, Equinoc, AIG, ACE, Sucre, Latina, Rio Guayas, Panam, Pichincha and Unidos. No insurer held more than 11% of the market.
  • The Ecuadorian insurance market reportedly experienced an 11.0% growth in total premiums and a 7.2% growth in activity when comparing October 2009 to October 2008. Colonial maintained the largest share of the market as of October (14%), followed by Equinoccial (9%), AIG (5%), Latina (5%), Sucre (5%), Condor (4%), Panamericana (4%), Bolivar (3%), Atlas (3%) and Ecuasuiza (3%).

Although there is some concern that Ecuador's insurance industry may be held back by broader economic problems in the country in 2010, double-digit premium growth is expected to continue in the near-term.


Peru has increasingly been held out as an example of sound macroeconomic policy, and its insurance market reinforced that conclusion, reflecting over 20% growth rates in most month-over month comparisons:

  • In the World Economic Forum's "Financial Development Report 2009," Peru was ranked number one in the world for macroeconomic prudence. The report states that the factors in determining countries' rankings on this index were real GDP Growth, deposit interest rate, inflation volatility and inflation level. On the World Economic Forum's overall Financial Development Index (FDI), Peru ranked forty-second, with positive rankings as to the stability of the country's financial and banking systems counterbalanced by poor rankings as to its institutional and business environments. Peru was the top-ranked Latin American country on the FDI at number 29, followed by Chile (31), Brazil (34), Mexico (43) Colombia (46), Argentina (51) and Venezuela (55).
  • Comparing February 2009 to February 2008, total premiums for the Peruvian insurance market increased 8.05% from US$ 242.17 million to US$ 261.66 million.
  • Peruvian insurance association Apeseg recently released figures indicating that the nation's insurance industry grew by 24.9% when comparing the first five months of 2009 to the same period in 2008.  Total premiums for the period were US$ 695 million, led by 33.2% growth in general insurance premiums, including 50.8% auto insurance premium growth.
  • The Peruvian insurance market reportedly registered total premiums of US$ 848.87 million in June 2009, up 20.2% from June 2008 (US $ 707.26 million). The fastest growing lines were reportedly auto (44.98%), compulsory auto (25.48%), non-auto liability (20.86%) and life (20.14%).
  • Total premiums for the twelve months ended July 31, 2009 crossed the US$ 1 billion mark, reaching US$ 1.014 billion. This represents a nearly 15% increase in total premiums over the twelve month period ended July 31, 2008 (US$ 883.6 million). The lines with the greatest growth in total premiums were auto (38.33%), obligatory auto (21.38%), non-auto casualty (16.38%) and life (14%) and accident and health (13.34%). Meanwhile, total premiums for credit and surety increased only 1.4% for the same period. The largest insurers in Peru by total premiums for the twelve months ended July 31, 2009 are RIMAC, Pacifico, Mapfre, Positiva and Invita.

Given these results, as well as the nation's new microinsurance law designed to make insurance products available to Peru's huge lower class, there is every reason to expect continued high levels of growth in 2010.

Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia

Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia also saw very solid premium growth in 2009, with most month-over-month comparisons reflecting double-digit increases.

  • Total net premiums for the Uruguayan insurance market reportedly grew 9.6% when comparing September 2009 to September 2008. For the twelve month period ending September 2009, the market reportedly grew by 6.5%.
  • Total premiums for the previous twelve months as of the end of September 2009 reached US$ 5.35 billion, up US$ 462.16 million (9.46%) over the twelve month period ending September 2008. The top ten insurers in the market by total premium are Suramericana, Bolivar, Colseg, Mapfre, Liberty, Alfa, Previsora, BBVA and QBE.
  • Total premiums in the Bolivian insurance market in January 2009 reportedly increased by 16.6% when compared to January 2008, totaling US$ 21.89 million for the month.

Central America

Reversing a trend seen in previous years, the Central American markets actually outperformed the South American markets in the first half of 2009, growing 19.4% compared to 7.3% when comparing the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2008. The second half of the year saw a greater impact upon the Central American markets of the global economic crisis, particularly as is has affected the United States. As a result, growth numbers for the region slowed and even turned negative in several Central American countries:

  • The Superintendencia de Bancos y Otras Instituciones Financieras (SIBOIF) reported that Nicaragua saw total premiums grow 5.1% when comparing the first nine months of 2009 to the first nine months of 2008. This growth was down significantly from 2008, however, when the country saw 8.6% premium growth year over year. Total premiums for the first nine months of 2009 totaled US$ 83.3 million, with INISER (up 7.4%) and America (up 3.2%) sharing more than half of the market's total premium. Mundial's total premiums from the market are down 25.3% for the same period, while Metropolitana's are up 26.0%.
  • The Superintendencia del Sistema Financiero (SSF) reported that total premiums in El Salvador fell 0.2% for the first nine months of 2009 compared to the first nine months of 2008, falling to US$ 304.2 million. These results mirrored those from August 2009, and are in stark contrast to the 11.4% year over year growth in total premiums seen in 2008. Indeed, prior to the global economic crisis, El Salvador had seen total premium growth rates of over 20% in January and February of 2008.
  • The Superintendencia de Bancos (Superban) reported that total premiums in Guatemala fell 2.2% for the first nine months of 2009 compared to the first nine months of 2008, falling to US$ 339.6 million. This reversed a modest growth trend earlier in the year (4.2% as of March 31 and 2.8% as of June 30) and represents a significant fall-off from 2008, when total premiums in the market grew 6.7% year over year.

As economic conditions begin to recover, so should the premium growth numbers in Central America. Given the low levels of insurance penetration in the region, we believe the lower numbers in the second half of 2009 are better understood as a temporary condition rather than a long-term trend.

Taken as a whole, the growth numbers from these "other" Latin American countries make clear that significant additional opportunities exist for companies willing to look beyond just the largest and best-established of the region's insurance markets.

Doubling Down: Companies Increase Latin American Investments

Most predictions are that insurance industry growth in Latin America will continue well into the future as the region's economies recover from the global economic crisis more quickly than many other established and emerging markets. Not surprisingly given recent growth numbers and such positive predictions, interest in the region's insurance markets remained at an all-time high in 2009. Many foreign companies have taken their first steps into the region in the past year, while the companies already active in Latin America have nearly unanimously looked to increase their presence. Even local companies have increasingly begun to look to other Latin American countries for potential expansion opportunities, seeking authorization as foreign reinsurers and even establishing local operations across borders from their home jurisdictions. Below we highlight just a few examples:

  • ACE Latin America reported that its total premiums in the region in 1Q09 were up 11% from 1Q08, and that it's recurring net income was up 40% by the same comparison. The company also reported that life insurance premiums from Latin America increased 85% when comparing 3Q '09 to 3Q '08, with double-digit net written premium growth for all lines in both Brazil and Mexico for the same period. Near the end of 2009, ACE, through its local subsidiary ACE Resseguradora, also received authorization as the sixth local reinsurer in the Brazilian reinsurance market, joining XL Re, Mapfre, Munich Re, J. Malucelli Re and IRB-Brasil Re as the only reinsurers in the Brazilian market unfettered by cession limits and/or rights of first refusal. Jorge Luis Cazar, the CEO of ACE Latin America, reportedly stated to BN Americas that the company is considering expansion into additional countries in the region, including in Central America.
  • BBVA reported that net profits from its Latin American banking, pension and insurance operations increased by 19.5% 1Q09 over 1Q08. Eduardo Fuentes, CEO of BBVA Pensiones y Seguros, reportedly also stated to BN Americas that BBVA is looking to expand its insurance operations in the region, in particular through a recently renewed and "reinforced" insurance product distribution agreement with Mapfre.
  • Brazilian reinsurance company J. Malucelli Re received foreign reinsurer authorization in Paraguay, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic and stated that it expected to receive authorization shortly in Argentina, Mexico and Costa Rica. According to its Technical Director, Luiz Alberto Pestaña, these regulatory authorizations are just the beginning of J. Malucelli Re's plan to become the largest warranty reinsurer in Latin America by 2015. Formed in 2008 with the opening of the Brazilian reinsurance market to private competition, J. Malucelli was originally conceived of as little more than the "captive" reinsurance arm of the related Brazilian insurance company. When asked about the change in strategy, Pestaña reportedly cited a number of "unexpected developments," including Swiss Re's decision to not compete in the warranty space and the explosion of the Brazilian reinsurance market.
  • Max Capital Group Ltd. announced the establishment of its Latin American reinsurance operations in Latin America through representative offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia. The company also announced the hiring of Carlos Caputo and Sonia Galvis, both formerly of XL Re Latin America, as the CEO and Chief Underwriting Officer, respectively, of Max Capital's Latin American operations. Max Capital stated that it will operate in Brazil as an admitted reinsurer through its Lloyd's syndicate. Marston Becker, President and Executive Director of Max Capital, indicated in a company press release that the move is based upon the company's interest in Brazil in particular, but also noted emerging opportunities in Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
  • QBE Insurance Group stated that the company expects its gross written premiums from Latin American operations to have grown by 7.14% for the year 2009. The company further reported that each of its Latin American operations, which include both direct insurance and reinsurance and span Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, was individually profitable. QBE Americas CEO John Rumpler also commented that the company will be considering Latin American acquisitions in the coming year.
  • Mapfre's Latin American operation, Mapfre America, announced that its net profits increased 25.0% and its total premiums 20.3% when comparing the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2008. Mapfre (Spain) and Grupo Mundial (Panama) also agreed to form a joint venture that would constitute Central America's largest insurance company. The resulting venture would bring together Mapfre's subsidiary in El Salvador and Grupo Mundial's operations in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.
  • Willis completed the purchase of the remaining shares in its Argentinean units, Herzfeld Willis SA and Willis SA. Eugenia Paschoal, CEO of Willis Latin America reportedly commented that "We have taken full ownership of Willis Argentina because we see excellent growth prospects in this country and are committed to becoming the leading broker there. We have ambitious plans for Latin America as a whole and a strong foothold in Argentina will help us maintain the double-digit growth momentum we have built up in the region."
  • Near the end of the year, Zurich, Royal Sun Alliance and a host of other companies (including even Korea Re) announced intentions to expand their insurance and reinsurance business in Latin America.

Although such expansion plans by various foreign and local companies will of course bring greater competition in the Latin American markets, significant room for growth and innovation remains in the region, where many lines of insurance common in more developed markets remain largely untapped and where insurance penetration rates generally remain below 3% of GDP.

Potential Pitfalls: Anti-Corruption, Regulatory Diligence, Compliance Issues

In the context of these impressive growth numbers and announcements of companies' expansion plans in the region, that insurance and reinsurance business in Latin America is strictly regulated by the local Latin American governments and by many companies' home nations. Failure to understand and abide by such regulation can lead to sanctions against companies and their personnel that range from suspension or revocation of authorization, significant fines and even jail time for responsible company personnel.

In the last year, we have seen several Latin American countries take steps to remind local and foreign companies of the regulations governing insurance and reinsurance activities in their jurisdictions. These efforts have ranged from an enforcement action in Argentina concerning unauthorized business with a foreign company, to an increase in investigations of "gray market" practice in Costa Rica, to a carefully-worded reminder issued by the Mexican authorities.

We have also seen anti-corruption enforcement remain a point of emphasis for U.S. and European governments, as well as local Latin American regulatory bodies. For example, many of the most significant investigations, suits and settlements under the United States' Foreign Corrupt Practices Act continue to arise out of companies' activities in Latin America.

It is therefore imperative that the regulatory "niceties" not be lost in the rush to take advantage of the opportunities discussed above. Indeed, failure to comply with initial regulatory requirements and to maintain appropriate procedures to ensure compliance with home, local and international schemes could result in a potentially profitable opportunity quickly becoming a significant liability.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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