The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Insurance Authority recently published the Insurance Authority Board of Directors’ Resolution No. 18 of 2020 on Electronic Insurance Regulations dated 27 April 2020 (“the Regulation”). The first draft of these regulations was published in January 2019, and after public consultation and discussion, a revised draft was published in December 2019, which has now been finalised. The Regulations and the timing of it are very relevant in the current circumstances, i.e. the impact of COVID-19 and the social distancing measures by the government, marketing, and solicitation of insurance by physical means is at an all-time low.
The term electronic has been widely defined as anything relating to technology having electrical, digital, magnetic, wireless, visual, electromagnetic, automated, optical or similar capabilities. The scope of the Regulations extend to all electronic and smart insurance operations carried out on the internet address of the company, social media such as Facebook, Linkedin, multimedia such as YouTube, Instagram, blogs, applications such as google doc, Wiki, AI-based systems, text messages, instant chat channels, smart applications, etc.
All insurance companies and related businesses such as insurance agents, actuary, broker, surveyor, insurance consultant, carrying out operations through electronic mode, require prior approval from the Insurance Authority. The application for such approval must be accompanied by an action plan for electronic operations, approved by the Board, and contain analysis of the risk, projected volume and contingency plan for the electronic operations.
Life insurance policies with investment components cannot be transacted online, while the sale of life insurance policies with standard underwriting (less the investment component), such as term life is allowed. Health and general lines of business on property and liability risk, including marine cargo insurance can all be sold online and are subject to the Regulations.
The website of the insurance companies must be maintained by the IT department of the company, but if the management of such a website is being outsourced to a third-party, then prior approval of the Insurance authority must be obtained in this regard. Insurers currently use multiple online platforms for online marketing and selling, often procured through third-party entities. The intent of the Regulations is to capture and regulate, where possible all such third-party entities who are engaged in insurance distribution.
The Regulations also put much impetus on provisions of information security and also requires that storage of data must be in the UAE. It is however not clear whether the Regulations require any Cloud server to be based within the UAE.
In addition, the Regulations recognise that the electronic platforms and systems of the companies may not be developed enough to carry out these operations and hence allow outsourcing of electronic operations for this purpose. The Regulations also allow usage of third-party websites for sale of insurance but require the prior consent of the Insurance Authority to be obtained for any such arrangements.
The Regulations also recognise, for the first time, the “Price Comparison Websites” and interestingly state that only an insurance broker can deal with a price comparison website. The Regulations also require Price Comparison Websites to be registered with the Insurance Authority and a copy of the agreement signed between Insurance Broker and Price Comparison Websites must be shared with the Insurance Authority. The prerequisites for registration of Price Comparison websites has also been listed in the Regulations but state that the application for registration must be made in accordance with the applicable regulations, implying that the Insurance Authority may be issuing further regulation on Price Comparison Websites shortly.
The Regulations state that the provisions shall apply from the date of publication of Regulations in the official gazette, but also allow insurance companies and insurance-related professions a time period of 6 months from the date of publication in the official gazette to align their position and operations with the Regulations.
While the recognition of Price Comparison Websites is a step in the right direction from the UAE Insurance Authority given the global trends in this regard, the requirement for a Price Comparison Website to deal only through a broker creates an extra layer of regulatory requirement and therefore unnecessary costs, the benefit of which could have been passed on to end customers in the absence of such requirement. Nonetheless, insurance markets globally have noticed a surge in demand for insurance policies through online mode and therefore this Regulation brings much-needed clarity, which will help in further growth of the UAE insurance market.