George McGhie has played a leading role helping to develop the Asia Pacific captive market over the last 30 years. Here, he shares his thoughts with Captive Review’s Mark Richardson on what’s next for the region.
We can expect to see the number of new captive formations from Asia Pacific-based parents companies continue to increase in the next three to five years, as well as owners putting more lines of business into existing captives.
That’s the view of George McGhie, who recognises the appetite for captive solutions is steadily growing in the region. In total, McGhie estimates there are about 300 captive owners based in the region and says he expects there to be more in the near future.
“There has been a great deal of increased activity in recent times here and that is only continuing,” he says. “Most or all captive advisers, brokers and consultants have had an increase in business over the last three to five years, and that looks set to continue going forward.”
McGhie is one of the most qualified people to commentate on the Asia Pacific captive insurance market, with a career stretching back 30 years in the region.
While he retired from full-time employment with WTW in July last year, McGhie is still active in the region. He holds several non-executive director positions on a handful of captives domiciled in Labuan and Singapore, advises a few other larger Asia-based captives, and in August became a strategic adviser to Artex on its Asia Pacific business development.
Safe to say, he is still one of the most knowledgeable figures when it comes to captives in the region, which is why his services were so sought after when he left WTW.
From various discussions with Artex about its Asia Pacific proposition as well as knowing Artex CEO Peter Mullen from his old Bermuda days, McGhie was convinced to get onboard.
“I like the approach of Artex and the people they have. They’re growing from a small position here but they have huge ambitions for the region,” he says. “Given their overall size and profile, I do believe they will be very successful in partnership with the overall Gallagher organisation. There is a demand for their approach to servicing clients and I’m keen to be involved with that.”
Artex’s approach will cover both helping Asia Pacific parents form new captives, whether domiciled inside or outside the region, as well as helping more European and North American companies form captives in popular Asian domiciles such as Labuan and Singapore.
“There has always been an enormous captive potential in Asia. The issue, though, is how much of that is converted into real business,” McGhie remarks. “There has certainly been a very strong increase in demand from clients across the region for advice and help in addressing their needs related to risk.”
As the range and size of exposures to risk have grown over the years, McGhie says conventional insurance has been unable to respond to all the risk needs of Apac clients.
With the development of risk exposures, both global and region specific, he sees an increasing recognition in the value of captive solutions.
“Many countries across the region are now better understanding risk,” he adds. “And at a time in recent years of hard insurance market conditions, where capacity has not been as plentiful as it may have been previously, carriers have been more selective as to the risks they will write, and where pricing has in some classes of risk become very high, all this has led to a great upsurge of interest in alternative solutions, whether those are captive insurance companies or captive related techniques.”
McGhie, however, is keen to stress that it is wrong to group all of Asia Pacific as if it were one location all facing the same issues and trends.
In China, for example, the vast majority of captive parents are state-owned and, consequently, what a captive looks like there is quite different to how we would define a captive elsewhere in the world – more akin to a commercial insurer. Being state-owned, it is also far more difficult to get a captive domiciled outside of China or Hong Kong.
“Each country or territory has its own issues, its own needs that we can address, and obstacles to the captive industry being able to address those needs,” McGhie says. “There’s not one product, service, or approach that will suit all. You’ve got to develop answers to the specific needs of the individual clients.”
In countries like China and India, both have large economies and are developing their insurance markets and industry professions at a rapid pace.
In these countries, the interest is there for captives, but according to McGhie there are still obstacles to overcome to fully develop the sector.
“There is massive potential in these countries, just also a lot of obstacles for us to overcome, which makes them not really conducive to the standard offshore captive solution,” he adds.
In Japan, the captive sector is far more developed, with around 100 Japaneseowned captives located around the world.
Here though, McGhie says many of the captives are not particularly well constructed in terms of their use.
“The one issue with Japanese-owned captives is they can be quite conventional and low risk in terms of the profile of the captive, although that is changing,” McGhie says. “So, there’s opportunity to work with existing captive owners to improve their use of captives, as well as potential new captive owners.”
Similarly to Japan, McGhie believes there is still a lot that can be done to improve the use of existing captives among Australia- and New Zealand-based parents.
“While there is good captive penetration in these countries, very often the captives were put together 10, 15, 20 years ago, and it was a different world then. Yet their programmes remain the same as when they were formed,” McGhie says. “So, like Japan, but with a different bent, there’s real potential to work with existing captive owners and potential new owners.”
Elsewhere, McGhie highlights a “decent number” of captive formations that have taken place out of the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as a smaller number from Thailand and South Korea.
These captives, he says, have often been formed by very large and diverse conglomerates. Being backed by powerful organisations, they can achieve good scale and should aim to become significant to their parent’s group operations.
“There aren’t a huge number of projects out of those countries, but they can be very interesting and very significant operations,” he notes.
While historically Apac captives have stuck to the region, this is changing now. McGhie says Bermuda, Guernsey, Luxembourg and Hawaii are all common domiciles for the region’s captive owners.
“A vital component of captive formation is the domicile, and we’re seeing more captive owners in Asia appreciate this. The regulations, operating environment, costs and attitude to certain risks all matter when looking at the long-term life of the captive,” he says. “Working across time zones is no longer the obstacle it was, so it’s important owners don’t just look at the nearest centre.”
Equally, there are now roughly 120 pure captives domiciled in Labuan and Singapore, with a wider spread of companies from around the world finding that these domiciles best suit their needs.
For example, McGhie has in recent years helped French and UK companies to form captives domiciled in Asia, and he thinks this will continue as the region becomes more important to global businesses.
“More companies from outside of the region are looking to establish their structures within Asia,” he says. “We have seen an upswing in that type of activity in recent years, relating to the fact Singapore and Labuan are now extremely competitive domiciles on the international scene. Now, if you are looking for something specific in the regulatory environment, there’s a very good chance that Singapore, Labuan or Hong Kong could offer what you need.”