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Syria's insurance sector: Cover opens up

The insurance sector in Syria is emerging from almost half a century of state monopoly and is still in a nascent state that offers both attractions and risks to the first new wave of private firms.

The return of Syrian private-sector banking

Islamic banking set for solid growth From the early 1960s until mid-2006, the publicly owned Syrian Insurance Company (SIC) was the sole provider of policies – which until last year did not include health or travel cover. Things began to change in 2004, when, as part of a gradual liberalization of the financial services sector, the government created a watchdog tasked with reorganizing the sector to allow private competition.

The Syrian Insurance Supervisory Commission (SISC), as the new regulator is called, has since issued more than a dozen licences to privately owned insurers. "The Syrian market is promising, rich, and ready for growth," said the latest company to be granted a licence this year.

The market is certainly untapped. Premiums in 2005 were below $130 million, the lowest in the region, and the sector’s contribution to GDP was 0.5%, compared with a global average of 8%. Before tackling the 20 million-strong individual market at home, new private firms have first concentrated on repatriating Syrian corporate business that was previously sent to Jordan or Lebanon. On home soil, most see the biggest potential in small-scale motor, health and travel insurance.

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