Romel TABAJA, Deputy CEO, TRUST Re
Romel TABAJA: I would say that TRUST Re, based in Bahrain, has a unique culture which differentiates it from many other similar companies in our line of business. The culture comes from the norms and visions and the values we believe in. The most important aspect is that we share the feeling of being a part of the company like being a part of a family. As I mentioned, we have our well established structure and strategy, but this doesn't stop us from being flexible, dynamic or from having a friendly culture that doesn't include much of "Mister" and "Madam" or "Sir". Also, one of the important points of our TRUST Re is that it is a young, dynamic company. Of course, the grey hair, the experience is there, but the young generation contributes a lot to our company's development.
XPRIMM: During a number of interviews that we conducted with your esteemed colleagues from the Executive Committee we have been able to speak about different technical aspects of reinsurance, but so far, we haven't been focusing a lot on the future. So, what does the future hold for TRUST Re? What are your plans?
R.T.: I would start by saying that last year we've celebrated our 25th anniversary. Still, we are a very young company, there for we have many dreams for the future. The important thing is how to bring them into reality. I would say that what we have accomplished over the last 5 -7 years is to become a medium sized reinsurer. We began developing as a regional reinsurer, a fact that is no longer a reality. We are proud of who we are and we always start by looking at we've achieved in the past. Meanwhile, we need to always focus on our partners as their satisfaction is a target always on our mind. As a part of our product diversification strategy, since the beginning of 2015 we've started the life reinsurance operations within TRUST Re. Further diversification of our offering is one of the things which planned for the future. The other thing is, we want to be closer to our clients and this is what we're doing today. Today, we have TRUST Re offices in Bahrain, Cyprus, and in Malaysia. This year we received a license to establish a representative office in India and this is now being in the process of being registered. Therefore we will be able to be closer to our clients on the Indian Sub-Continent. By early next year we expect to have in Cyprus 12 to 15 people working for Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. Something we are also working on is China. Over the next 3 years, we plan to focus a lot on upgrading our infrastructure.
Last year, we had a big achievement, as we've received the rating "A-"from S&P. In the future we want to go even further. While not changing our business model fully, we need to adjust to the changes around us because a static company cannot survive.
XPRIMM: If you could close your eyes, how would you imagine Trust Re in 25 years?
R.T.: In the next 25 years I would say we would still be working to achieve our vision which is being the reinsurer of choice. It is not an easy thing, is needs a continuous effort and work to sustain that position. I would say that in 25 years TRUST Re would be a very modern reinsurance company with a team of qualified and professional people. We now have 200 people but I expect that in 25 years we'll have 1000 employees. Definitely, we won't be a medium sized company as we plan on being, at least, among the top 50 companies in the world.
XPRIMM: What is the added value that TRUST Re is bringing to cedent companies in comparison with some of the other market players?
R.T.: I would say the reinsurance in a simple definition is the capacity to provide coverage, as an extension to the capital of the cedent companies. In our philosophy we don't see our relation to our partners as capacity providing only, because everyone else is doing that. What we bring to our clients is of course, in addition to the security, a quite diversified offer of products. But what makes us actually add value is that we are ready to step in, to see what additional things our clients need. We've done it in many places and with many cedents and they really appreciated the flexibility of TRUST Re, to be able to tailor-made products or services which will satisfy their needs.
XPRIMM: Could you please give us a more detailed example on that?
R.T.: I would say that any clients that come to TRUST Re or any partners that come to us, they will feel that we are a top shop. He can very simply, very easily get whatever he needs for the security of his business under the same roof. We do everything which may, of course, fill the gap or the need of our partner and at the same time, but we also secure our profitability because at the end of the day, we are a company and we need to make a profit. We don't say no and we try to always find a solution. The right solution for both of us: our partners and ourselves.
XPRIMM: In the number of future plans that you mentioned previously you spoke about the Asian market. How is the Asian market, China in particular, included in your strategy? What future do you see there?
R.T.: Today, if we take a look at the global economy, I would say Asia is still the fastest growing market, the most dynamic and the youngest one. There's a bigger potential to grow in Asia than in any other part of the world because considering insurance penetration in this part of the world, Asia currently generates around 30% of our portfolio. In the next 2 years we don't intend to grow our portfolio in Asia by more than 30%.
In 2013, China represented 10% of our total portfolio, in 2014 it was around 8%. The decrease was mainly due to the fact that we are growing on other areas or other markets. Three of our main branches are going to be in that part of the world. We already have Malaysia, we are planning the China office and we received the license for India. You need to be close to those markets and this is why we are planning all of those offices there.
XPRIMM: But because we are speaking about important markets and future markets, what is your opinion regarding the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia recently? Have those been affecting your business?
R.T.: Definitely, because we are a financial company and we are affected by the general condition of the economies due to political and geopolitical reasons. I would say that since 2008 we have faced this kind of problems in many places because Russia is not the first country to be sanctioned. We've seen that in other countries plus other geopolitics problems which happened around us, the Arabian spring etc. It is really a challenge because we've invested a lot to be present and to have a strong base in those markets. It's not easy to overcome any geopolitical problem because it takes a lot of time and effort and a lot of investments. Up to today, the sanctions on Russia have not affected directly the insurance sector, however, because we are based in Bahrain we are subject of the UN sanctions. That doesn't mean that we don't, in one way or another, need to be careful about other regimes, like OLFAC or the European regime, but this gave us a little bit of an edge because our clients and partners in Russia want to deal with insurance companies that are not fully applying the other regimes, other than the UN one. In a way, it created a challenge for us, how to handle this and on the other side it created some opportunities. We've seen some opportunities because partners from Russia want to reduce their dependency on other parts of the world so they are coming to us. These are opportunities which were a result of the sanctions. Is it easy to handle this situation? No, it's not and it's not easy to fully digest or grasp those opportunities. Some of my colleagues would say that it affected us or that our premiums were reduced etc. - but no, actually our presence in Russia has increased. We're trying as much as we can to stay closer to our markets and Russia is one of the main markets we have. Last year we had above 25 million dollars in premiums from Russia, a fair country to do business. What makes us unique in our approach is that we go to most of their insurance companies and especially to the ones of Central and Eastern Europe and see their main portfolio treaties.
XPRIMM: Does this apply for all the regions in which you are present?
R.T.: We try to apply it to all the regions but it's very difficult because it depends in each region, it depends in each country even, for example today in Bahrain. Bahrain is a small country but the treaty premium is more because we don't have big risks here, it's not a country which is based on oil. I mean, the oil is not the main part of the economy here, so we don't have those big industrial and energy risks. And in a country, maybe 20 minutes from here, you will see their portfolio is bigger because they have refineries. So it varies from country to country more than it varies from region to region.
XPRIMM: As a final challenge, what would your message be to the cedents that you work with?
R.T.: Our message is very simple. We try to work with the cedent companies as partners more than as a pure business relationship. We try always to do even more than we can actually do to always be next to our partners. It's not only a relation of the insurance company and the clients, it's a partnership. Nevertheless, we expect the same from them. We believe in the long-term relationship and it is not just something that we say just for the purpose of saying it. We always try to find a win-win situation.
XPRIMM: We wish you all the best in your endeavor and of course, thank you so much for this interview. I think we gave our viewers a little bit of insight of what TRUST Re is all about.
R.T.: Thank you for coming to Bahrain all the way from Romania. Personally, I think I was the first one after my colleagues to know XPRIMM, because when we first started working in Central and Eastern Europe, I was directly involved in that project from day one, so I was introduced to XPRIMM - because this is the kind of source of information that we want to deal with, so thank you.
XPRIMM: Thank you!