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Consolidation trend increases in Russian insurance market

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MOSCOW—Russia's insurance industry is going through a busy period of mergers and acquisitions--a trend that experts say can only gain further momentum.

And while local buyers are expected to benefit from new products, particularly with more foreign insurers entering the market, it is unclear what affect the deals will have on insurance prices, which have fallen dramatically in recent years, experts said.

"The question is, do (the foreign insurers) want to keep their underwriting principles and try to keep the rates stable, or are they going to follow the internal approach from the Russian side and let it go down further?" said Andreas Wania, chief executive officer for ACE Insurance Co. CJSC in Moscow, a unit of ACE Ltd., which entered the Russian market in 2005.

Russian M&A activity and the soft market were major themes at the "Insurance in Russia and CIS" conference, produced by the Marcus Evans Group, held last month in Vienna, Austria.

So far this year, there have been three major insurance deals involving foreign companies.

Swiss insurer Zurich Financial Services bought 66% of Moscow-based insurer NASTA for an estimated e283 million ($390 million) in February; Munich, Germany-based Allianz S.E. increased its majority stake in Moscow-based ROSNO group of companies for e550 million ($758 million) the same month; and in late May, Allianz purchased Moscow-based Progress-Garant Insurance Co. in a deal estimated at e127 million ($175 million).

"I do not see any reason why the pace of M&A should slow down," said Mr. Wania. "We have seen three major deals so far this year and I believe there are another one or two in the pipeline."

There has been widespread market speculation concerning a deal between Kapital Insurance Group, one of Russia's main commercial insurers, and Russian retail insurance giant Rosgosstrakh.

In late May, media reports cited sources claiming Trieste, Italy-based Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. had bought a 40% stake in Ingosstrakh Insurance Co., which was quickly denied by the insurer. But that still has not quieted speculation about the company's future.

Aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska, a major shareholder of Ingosstrakh, "has made it clear that insurance is not his key core business so what might happen to Ingosstrakh, I don't know," said Tom Manson, managing director of Manson McCall International Ltd., a Moscow-based insurance consulting firm.

Already, new insurance requirements for capital and quality of assets that went into effect July 1 are expected to weed out some of the smaller players and corporate captives from the Russian insurance market.

Mr. Manson believes the M&A trend will only get more feverish in the near future.

During the conference, Mr. Manson and other experts predicted that by 2015, Russia's nonlife market--largely driven by motor insurance business--would continue to be dominated by Russian companies. However, they predicted that foreign players would control more than half of the life insurance market.

Commercial insurance will continue to develop in Russia, but it is "going to be held back by captives," which most major industrial organizations operate, Mr. Manson said.