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Features - July 2012

 

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Insuring success

Insuring success

An interview with Michele Fields, the newly appointed superintendent of the Insurance Commission of The Bahamas

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 24, 2012
July 24, 2012
Steve Cotterill

Fall Winter 2012-2013On the 2nd July 2009, the government of The Bahamas brought into force the Insurance Act 2005. The new act created a quasi-government organization named the Insurance Commission of The Bahamas (ICB). The ICB is responsible for the prudential regulation of all insurance activity in or through The Bahamas. It is concerned with the ongoing monitoring and control of insurers, agents, brokers, salespeople, underwriting managers and external insurers. Under its charge are approximately 70 insurance licensees (both life and health, and general, international and captive insurers), around 150 brokers and agents and 1,500 salespersons.

An ICB commissioner since its inception, Michele Fields was appointed superintendent of insurance at the beginning of this year. Fields is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, having qualified with KPMG (formerly Peat Marwick Mitchell) in London in 1982. Upon her return to The Bahamas, she was admitted as a member of the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants and worked with KPMG in Nassau 1982-1994. During this time she gained extensive experience in accounting, auditing, financial advisory and corporate finance in a wide range of industries.

In 1994, she joined the management team of Global Life Assurance Bahamas Ltd (now Colina Insurance Ltd).
During her tenure at Colina, she held the positions of financial controller, chief risk officer, vice president of group and corporate administration and company secretary of the parent company. While there, she acquired a wealth of knowledge in the life and health insurance industry, business administration and company management.

In 2008, she established a consultancy practice providing accounting and business consulting services to companies in a range of industries, including insurance.

Q: How did you first become involved in accountancy?
A: I determined that I wanted to be an accountant from the time I was about 14, attending St Anne’s high school in Nassau. I enjoyed and did well in my bookkeeping classes and I thought that accountancy was the profession I wished to pursue, not being fully aware of what it entailed!
 
Q: What have been the key moments in your career so far?
A: I think that all my experiences have been valuable. I don’t think that I can pinpoint any particular “defining moment.” I qualified as an accountant at Peat Marwick Mitchell in London–that was certainly a high point, while the experience I gained as an auditor at KPMG in Nassau gave me extensive insight into business. The time spent in management at a local life insurance company certainly has provided me with significant industry knowledge. With each experience, I have consolidated my technical knowledge and my management skills have been more finely honed, and I think that I now have the qualities to be successful as the superintendent of insurance.
 
Q: What is the state of the insurance industry in The Bahamas?
A: The insurance industry in The Bahamas is stable. The liquidation of [local insurance company] CLICO has highlighted the need for strong regulation and supervision of
the industry.
 
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the industry?
A: Insurance is based on the “law of large numbers” and having critical mass is vital for an insurance company to be successful. This is a challenge in a small market. Many of the foreign companies sold their portfolios in The Bahamas because the management resources required could result in a much larger return in the emerging markets with large populations. I think that a significant challenge for domestic insurers is the ability to find local investments that are suitable to match the liabilities they hold.
 
Q: What are The Bahamas’ key strengths in this industry?
A: In the external insurance market, The Bahamas’ key strength is the same as in all of the offshore sectors: location, modern communications, stable government, qualified professionals and compliant regulation.
 
Q: What impact do you feel the commission has on the industry?
A: The Insurance Commission is important for the insurance industry both domestically and internationally. Policyholder protection is important when the product being sold is a promise. The presence of a regulator, carrying out its mandate in accordance with international best practices, enhances the reputation of The Bahamas as a domicile for insurance companies.
 
Q: What do you hope to achieve in your role as superintendent?
A: As superintendent of insurance, my role is to ensure that the insurance industry in The Bahamas operates prudently and in accordance with sound business practices, and that policyholders interests are protected. I hope to ensure that the legislation remains relevant and that the office is transparent in carrying out its mandate.
 
Q: What does the future hold for the industry? The commission?
A: Risk management continues to be important to individuals and businesses and so the future for the insurance industry remains positive. Insurers that have survived the global economic downturn of the past four years are focused on ensuring their solvency and have sharpened their business plans for future growth and profitability.

The commission is in its infancy. The framework has been developed for a risk-based approach to regulation, in accordance with international best practices as set out by The International Association of Insurance Supervisors–the recognized standard setting body for insurance regulators. The objective is to become compliant with the Insurance Core Principles over the next few years.
 

Q: What does The Bahamas have to do to improve its competitiveness?
A: Competitiveness is often judged on cost. It is important for the cost of doing business in The Bahamas to be contained. However, it is also important for the jurisdiction to have the reputation for excellent service and transparency in requirements for doing business.
 
Q: What fields in the insurance industry present future opportunities for the jurisdiction?
A: The external insurance market in The Bahamas is very small. The external insurance legislation, which was enacted in 2010, has positioned the country to be a player in the captive insurance market.

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