May 6, 2021 – On today’s podcast, we welcome special guest Waleed Jabsheh, President at International General Insurance (IGI), an international specialist commercial insurer and reinsurer that underwrites a diverse portfolio of speciality lines. IGI trades on the NASDAQ under the symbol IGIC.
On the podcast, Waleed discusses:
- Keys to success in insurance underwriting
- A primer on how the commercial insurance business works
- Some of the more unique policies they come across
- What it was like to go public right before the onset of the global Covid pandemic
- How IGI differentiates itself in the marketplace
- And more
Welcome investors to the Absolute Return Podcast. Your source for stock market analysis, global macro musings and hedge fund investment strategies. Your hosts Julian Klymochko and Michael Kesslering aim to bring you the knowledge and analysis you need to become a more intelligent and wealthier investor. This episode is brought to you by Accelerate Financial Technologies. Accelerate, because performance matters. Find out more at www.Accelerateshares.com.
Julian Klymochko: All right. We have Waleed from International General Insurance on the podcast today. We are going to do a deep dive on specialty insurance, and certainly we have an expert in Waleed. Who’s focused his entire career on the specialty insurance sector, specifically, mostly with (IGI) International General Insurance, where you are currently president. You’ve been there for about 20 years, spent your entire career in the insurance business, with a couple of places prior to I believe joining your dad at IGI. So, can you give us a primer, just a quick summary on how the industry works? How the commercial insurance business works in a general basis and also underwriting insurance policies, specifically like how does that all work?
Waleed Jabsheh: Well, thanks a lot, Julian and Michael, and thank you for having me, I really appreciate the opportunity. I mean, I started my career in insurance, heavily influenced by my father, as you mentioned, you know, I’ve always been an analytical person ever since I was young. My parents accused me of over analyzing too many things in life. And my father always said, you know, he’s going to be a good underwriter. I mean, the business is great. I mean, you talk about commercial insurance, to me, that’s the most exciting parts of the industry. Our client base is so diversified. I mean, when we started IGI almost 20 years ago, we focused, you know, we built the company, foundation on it was on energy business.
Our roots from movement were from the middle East. We started the company out in Jordan. Focused on an area that obviously with middle East, you know, there’s plenty of supply or demand for the product we were offering and focused on bringing that expertise into the region, the territory itself. So, you know, our clients based varies from, you know, your Saudi Aramco’s and your [Inaudible 00:02:29] to your staff oils, so energy was our biggest property, commercial property. Was also, you know, one of the sorts of initial classes of business, but as we grew, you know, we diversify. We now cover circuit 20 lines of business.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: You know, what is insurance? We’re in the business of taking risks.
So, what we offer is a price to pay. We we offer our word that we will be there for our clients, when they need us.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: So, you know, and that’s what builds your reputation. So, you know, you talk about commercial and specialty, you know, the strength of a company and the strength of a portfolio is in its diversity. So, over the years, we’ve diversified adding new classes of business. And as I said, now we’re offering up to 20 different products. You know, we analyze risk. This is what we’re here to do. And so, when we underwrite, you know, we go through all the intricacies of a specific client. The quality of their, you know, the quality of their company, the quality of their risk management, the track record, loss history, you know, and so many different things that go into the analysis in order to decide whether we want to insure them to begin with. And if we do want to ensure them, what coverage we were willing to provide and at what’s price. But you know, being in this industry for the last, you know 24 years, I started actually in Canada with a small company called Manulife. And just for a few months, moved down to the U.S. where I just sort of laid down the foundation of my career there. And then when our CEO, Wasef decided to start IGI. I forced him to hire me and it’s been 20 years now. And it’s been a great ride. It’s a great industry, very rewarding. But, you know, it requires a great element of caution, a great element of understanding and a great element of patience and disciplines because our industry can be very painful if not, you know, traded within correctly and prudently.
Julian Klymochko: For sure. So, the notion of being extremely painful, we always see, you know, disasters happening and insurers getting hit for large sums of dollars that they need to cover. You also mentioned the opposite end where, you know, can be a great business if you’re underwriting the correct risks, pricing those in the right way, not to suffer those massive losses. You mentioned a rewarding career, but beside insurance being the family business effectively, perhaps you are born into it, but what drew you specifically to the sector? Really what do you find most compelling about it?
Waleed Jabsheh: I mean, as you mentioned, I mean, I was heavily influenced by my father. I mean, he’s been in the business for about 55 years now. You know, when I got into it, I don’t know anybody really, or very, very, very few people who actually planned to go into insurance.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: They tend to just, you know, drop into it after school. My father encouraged me to get into it. And I said, I started in Canada and the U.S., I found it extremely interesting, extremely appealing. You know, I have an analytical mind and, you know, as an underwriter, this is exactly what you need. I like doing deals, I like analyzing deals. I like researching, like you know, the whole aspect of the underwriting. This is what, you know we get out of bed for, you know, as a global insurer and reinsurer. You know, you get to meet, it’s such a people business. You get to meet people from all over the world. You expand your horizons, you travel, you know in a global insure you operate in so many different markets, whether they be geographical markets or specific to each class of business, each one has its own intricacies. And you know, at the end of the day, you know, it’s very, very rewarding, but it’s not for everybody, I understand that. It’s a resilient industry, as well as, you know, you look at it from a standpoint of looking to build your career in an industry that, you know, will always be there. This is what the insurance is. Everybody will always need insurance, and its recession proof, you know, prime example of what we’ve been going through for the last, you know, 12 to 15 months. You know, unfortunately COVID has had such a severe impact on some of the world and on specific industries, obviously such as hospitality, airline business, travel. And if anything, you know, the insurance industry is thriving as a, you know, as a result of what happened. As it held back the industry?? Of course, it has. I mean, you know, and it’s impacted in a way that nobody probably expected both from the event itself and the impact in which sectors, the impact has impacted. But you know our industry is all about, you know, managing an insurance company or re-insurance company.
You know, the key to what we do is portfolio management. Our industry is very cyclical, so you’ve got to manage the cycle properly and minimize volatility. And you do that in so many different ways. I mean you know; our business is not just about underwriting. It’s about trading, and I think this is what differentiates the strong from the, you know, the special from the average. And it’s a matter of putting those two together. And having the optimal recipe that delivers the results you’re looking to achieve.
Michael Kesslering: So, for some of our investors that would consider themselves more generalists that may be a little bit newer to the insurance industry. What are some of the key metrics that you believe are important for investors to really focus on when differentiating between insurers?
Waleed Jabsheh: You know, as a company measuring ourselves, I mean, IGI, we consider ourselves an underwriting shop. This is what we do. We get out of bed in the morning to go out and find business to write that we believe is going to be profitable and not just profitable, but profitable, you know, generating the level of returns that we seek, you know, we sit in a lot of capital as an industry, we sit on a lot capital, we generate investment income. For us we view that as icing on the cake, you know, the cherry on top. Our main core operations. We are a reinsurance company, our reinsurance operation, our core operation has to make money, have to be profitable. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.
The metrics that measure us is the profitability of your portfolio. Your loss ratio is, your combined ratio. Your loss ratio shows that you know, come together with your expense ratio and your acquisition cost ratio, and ultimately development or combined ratio. As a company, we’ve averaged a 90 combined ratio over the last 10 years, we’ve outperformed our peers throughout this time period. Our return equity has been around the 10% mark. We distribute dividends on top of that. And you know, at the end of the day, you know, it’s about building a solid portfolio of business. Understanding exactly what it is that you’re underwriting. Understanding exactly what it is your capabilities are. Never biting off more than you can chew. And you know, working within those capabilities. Those are the most important things, but the prime measurement of the success of us, is our combined ratio.
Julian Klymochko: Yeah. And certainly, that is affected by competitive dynamics. I hear about certain insurers, they actually have a combined ratio of about a hundred percent or higher indicating they’re not profitable, but underwrite that business in order to generate investment income. So, taking a different approach than you guys, and perhaps that’s somewhat correlated to the areas of focus. One thing that I’d like to hear more about on IGI is that some of the specialty insurance lines that you underwrite are very unique, highly specialized. Specifically, one I noticed was underwriting insurance against political violence, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before. I was wondering if you could tell us about some of the work that goes into some of these more unique policies?
Waleed Jabsheh: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, political violence is essentially terrorism, you know, strikes, riots, civil commotion, war on land. In all honesty, it’s probably one of the more sorts of straightforward. I mean, this is a class of business that used to be thrown in for free in the standard property policy, but after 9/11, you know, 9/11, you know, created such damage to the to the industry at a time when the industry was already hurting. In 2001, you know the political violence, you know, separate product was created following those unfortunate events. It’s actually quite straightforward, you know, your terrorism, your straight forward terrorism. Since 9/11, there hasn’t been any major, you know, terrorism losses that have impacted the market. So, it’s been a very profitable class of business and one that has attracted a lot of, you know, markets and competitors. It’s a great class of business. Wish we could do more, but the competition is fierce in that area. There are more, you know, unique areas, in specialized areas, construction and engineering, for example. They become a lot more technical in the way that you have to look at them. You know, our class on the writer has an engineering background. So, you know, you know, many within the team have studied engineering and require that to analyze the project. So, you’re working on a multi-billion-dollar project. There are so many things that you need to look into. One, what the project is? The nature of it? How risky it is? Where it’s located? The contractors that are involved. The contractor track record and experience in delivering these types of projects.
And then you get to the technical aspect of the coverage which may differ from project to project. And this is what’s beautiful about the businesses that, you know, we individually underwrite about 75% of the business that we have which amounts to around $467 million dollars last year.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: And having that close, you know, I think the differentiating factor is being so close to your client base. And so close to your risk base, understanding exactly, you know, what it is you’re covering without having to dedicate that power to, you know, a different network. And I think this is what, you know, one of the key strengths of what we do is, that we’re so close to our business. We do it ourselves because we feel we can do it better than anybody else. And as a result, you know, our results reflect that
Julian Klymochko: I’m always intrigued when I come across a very unique and niche insurance policy, specifically, one that comes to mind is when Berkshire Hathaway, underwrote the NCAA basketball tournament. I believe there was a billion-dollar prize in which somehow, they had to price that risk, that someone would actually win the billion dollars, which did not occur. But I was wondering, Waleed, what is the most unconventional insurance policy you’ve ever underwritten? And how did you gain comfort with that exposure?
Waleed Jabsheh: I’ll tell you something. Anything that’s unconventional. Well, let me put it this way. The number one rule I noticed in insurance was stay away from what you do not understand.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: If you don’t understand it, stay away from it. And when it’s unconventional, the level of understanding is low.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: I think the trick is to be unconventional in the way that you trade and in the way that you manage the cycle, and the way you manage your exposure and your portfolio.
Julian Klymochko: Right, so you wouldn’t be doing these strange ones, but have there ever been ones that come across your desk? You’re like, wow, this is completely out of my area of expertise, but it is weird and strange.
Waleed Jabsheh: It is, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, you come across a lot of that, and you just say, you know what, sometimes it’s tempting and you think to yourself, I think I understand it, but I’m not sure I do. And so, you know, let me stay away from it. But it’s, you know, something like the NCAA that Berkshire Hathaway wrote, I mean it’s all based on probability. And I’m sure they have their models that spit out whatever number that is, they need to charge for it.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: Were focused more on the, you know, more on the conventional side and whilst niche and unique, you know, there is experience, there is history there, there is data there that helps you make the decisions that you need to make.
Julian Klymochko: Right. And you indicated that running a successful insurance is all about just managing that risk, mitigating the volatility. And now with respect to say, investors would like to buy shares of IGI or a competitor. What are the major risks facing your industry with the current business model, and how are those mitigated?
Waleed Jabsheh: I mean, the way I look at it, I mean, you know, insurance is a very traditional business. It’s never really embraced technology in a strong way. I think in recent years sort of a light bulb turned on, people have opened up to this, to the importance of it and that if they don’t do it, there will be outside players that come in, unconventional players that come in that could take away a lot of, create a big impact on industry and their businesses as well. And then, you know, lump distribution within the technology. You know, I think it becomes an issue that requires, you know, the industry’s attention significantly, not so much on the commercial side and especially on the large commercial side is because, you know, the human involvement within the underwriting process is very important, but over time you see it more on the personal line side, you know, you buy your motor insurance online, you buy your health and life insurance online. You know, I know person that buy their insurances online. But there will come a day when a lot of it becomes, you know, the business starts being conducted in a different manner. And we have to be ready to confront that change and be involved within that change.
Climate change is a big, hot topic that everybody is talking about. And especially those playing in the energy sector. Many players are out there, you know, publishing plans about how they’re going to become, you know, environmentally friendly. We’re too small to have any influence on the market as a company to do that. But we will, it is something that we have already started discussing internally, talking about. And we’ll be addressing in the near future.
Julian Klymochko: Right, so I wanted to touch on a bit of history here, looking at the background of IGI, went public through the SPAC Tiberius Acquisition, that deal closed in a timeframe that was unfortunate, March 2020, right before a global market absolutely fell off a cliff as a pandemic raged. I was wondering, how did you get through that environment and how was it to complete you’re going public transaction, which is obviously a massive deal for the company into the most unfortunate of timing?
Waleed Jabsheh: I mean, obviously, I mean, we started this process way before COVID appeared.
Julian Klymochko: Oh, for sure, yeah.
Waleed Jabsheh: In all honesty before we met the folks at Siberia. I have never heard of a SPAC, didn’t even know what it was, didn’t understand it. Our bankers introduced us to Tiberius. We’ve got to know each other. And, you know, over months of foreplay basically decided to get into bed with each other.
Julian Klymochko: Yeah.
Waleed Jabsheh: I never thought we would ever become a public company in the U.S. We always knew at some point we would be going public. The opportunity presented itself, you know, it turns out to be the right decision to make. I mean, had we been going down the conventional route of going public, then I guarantee you, we wouldn’t have gone public in March of last year. You know, the SPAC provided certainty. It provided; you know obviously we spent a lot of time with the folks at Tiberius who are well seasoned veterans within the insurance industry. So, they provided a partnership with, you know, like-minded individuals, you know, obviously provides liquidity for shareholders. And the only certainty or the uncertainty with a SPAC was, how much money did we would actually raise?
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: We knew what the minimum amount that would be raised, but we didn’t know how much on top of that we could, because we did go public via SPAC transaction. We were able to actually carry that transaction out. The timing was horrible. I mean, it couldn’t have been worse. We went public on the day that we went into lockdown over here in the UK. It was just, you know, unthinkable. But the structure of the transaction guaranteed that the transaction would consuming and you know, it’s had its challenges since going public, no doubt. You know, we’re an unknown, really story in the U.S. markets.
Julian Klymochko: Yeah.
Waleed Jabsheh: You know, we’ve never operated in the U.S. from an insurance perspective, we just entered into the U.S. markets last year. So, the challenge has been, you know, in building that story, developing that story. Interacting personally with our investor base, most existing and potential, you know, new investors, not being able to deliver that message in the way that we want to deliver it. You know, having to do Zoom calls and Teams calls.
Julian Klymochko: And podcast.
Waleed Jabsheh: I had [Inaudible 00:28:20] and it’s been, you know, it’s been challenging from that standpoint, but at the end of the day, you know, everybody, were all in the same position. And we’re all facing the same challenges. You know, our results speak for themselves. And I’m confident, it’s just a matter of time before the market, you know, the investor community shows, you know, their appreciation for a company like IGI.
Julian Klymochko: Yeah, from the investment community’s perspective. There’s a lot out there in terms of, Oh, I want to invest in insurance, you know, there’s dozens and dozens of companies to look at. Highly competitive industry. I was wondering, you know, how do you guys differentiate yourselves in the marketplace? What competitive advantages does IGI possess? And how do you utilize those advantages in a marketplace filled with many competitors? You’re on the smaller cap side. You’re facing some absolute giants, not just in the underwriting market, but in the competition for investor attention.
Waleed Jabsheh: Absolutely. I mean, listen. When it comes from the business itself. It’s a big market and you know; we focus on what we want to achieve. We focus on what we want to do. You know, we built this company. We started this company 20 years ago with twenty-five million dollars, right after 9/11, at a time when, you know, companies had either gone bust.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: Or many companies have had to raise capital in order to survive and continue. So, security, financial security was huge. And we come into the small group, thirty-five million dollars of capital, you know, we’re not even on anybody’s radar.
Julian Klymochko: Right.
Waleed Jabsheh: This is a people’s business. You know, you build relationships over years and decades that stick with you over time. And then you build your reputation on the service that you provide. At the end of the day, I mentioned at the beginning of the call. The product that we offer is a promise to pay. Okay, once we put our signature on that document, that’s it, you know, that’s our words and our words to our clients. So, when the client needs us, we have to be there. We had to prove ourselves, we have to build a reputation. We had to build credibility. We had to build trust, builds, respect and you can do that. It takes time, and it takes a lot of work. But service is key. I mean, I’m sure, you know, if somebody treated you well on your motor insurance, when you had a claim, you know, you would want to continue doing business with them.
And that’s a simple truth about this. And it’s about focusing on what we want. Remember, we don’t measure our performance by market share. We don’t measure our performance. I don’t even know what my market share is, I’m not interested. We have a lot, much bigger competitors that look at the business a different way. All We’re looking forward to a small piece of the pie. And if we can identify that piece and target it in a much more focused manner, we can achieve a lot more, a lot better result. We’re a very nimble company. We’re a company with a flat management structure. Decisions gets made quickly. We’re not wrapped up with all the red tape that’s in some of our biggest competitors have, and as a result, it’s a breath of fresh air with some of the clients that, you know, of doing business with a company like IGI but ultimately, it’s service.
Once you pay a claim and you get that, thank you from your clients, you know, you will never lose them. And we have clients that have been with us, been with Wasef for the last 40 years at various companies. They just move with him from company to company. And I’ll just give you a a small example of this. Back in 2017, you had hurricane Irma go through the Caribbean, which was disastrous hurricane. We were actually in Monte-Carlo for the rendezvous at the time. And one of our biggest clients is a chain of hotels in the Caribbean, on the property side. They had the loss. Several properties damaged. They didn’t know how much damage it was. It was too early to assess, but they knew it was going to be significant. And they knew that they needed cash and they needed money from their insurance. Within 48 hours, we had paid them an amount worth millions of dollars, not knowing what it was for. Not knowing for which assets or anything, but knowing that they needed it and that we would there. And we would settle and go through the detail later on, but the clients needed us, and we were there. We were the first in the market to pay. And that client has never thought of, you know, parting ways with IGI. I mean, it’s just been a fantastic relationship. And that in itself is what people look for. And that’s how you build continuity and longevity.
Julian Klymochko: Right. And I hear horror stories about something bad happening and people trying to collect an insurance claim and the insurer puts up a big fight, then it turns into a mess. So certainly, your key to success being service resonates when you see all those horror stories about, you know, insurance, underwriters, not living up to their end of the bargain.
Waleed Jabsheh: Absolutely.
Julian Klymochko: But Waleed, I want to thank you for having you on the podcast, taking us through a primer on insurance, which we haven’t been able to do yet. So, I really appreciate that. Investors, if you want to check out the stock. Trades under the symbol, IGIC on the NASDAQ, Waleed wish you the best of luck. Thank you for sharing your story with us today.
Waleed Jabsheh: Thank you very much, guys, pleasure talking to you.
Julian Klymochko: Bye everybody.
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