As the number of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the global insurance industry rose in the first half of 2020, one leading expert warned that the impact of COVID-19 has forced many to shelve their ambitions of growth.
Clyde & Co issued its Insurance Growth Report mid-year update, today, which reported 201 completed deals worldwide, up from 197 in the second half of 2019. This was only the second six-month period in the last five years where the volume of transactions exceeded 200.
The report said that the pressure on European firms may well see many look to divest non-core operations which may provide opportunities for investors from the emerging markets to establish a foothold in Europe. The lack of available capital and the paucity of those willing to buy may well see prices fall significantly, offering opportunities to those willing to spend.
Ivor Edwards, Partner and European Head of the Corporate Insurance Group at Clyde & Co, said: “The deals completed in the first half of 2020 would have been negotiated and agreed back in 2019, pre-pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 on insurance M&A will only become clear in the coming months and we expect it to be stark in the short-term. For many, responding to the pandemic has meant putting growth ambitions to one side, in order to take stake stock of the impact on operations, claims and investment returns. The last few months have been plagued by a level of uncertainty – the enemy of deal-making – rarely seen before. This will be reflected in the number of completed deals in the second half of the year. But as the economy moves towards a state of stability that could be defined as ‘the new normal’, opportunities will arise and we expect re/insurance transactions to make a comeback in 2021.”
The report said H1 2020 saw a slowdown in mega deals, with just six valued at over $1.0 billion, compared to 20 in the whole of 2019, evidence of a more measured approach to deal-making that we expect to continue.
Vikram Sidhu, Clyde & Co Partner in New York, said: “Strategic and financial buyers had already begun to place heightened focus on deals that really make sense for them, which is a trend that will accelerate in the fallout from COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, we will see a range of distressed businesses as well as re/insurers pulling out of certain lines, industries or geographies. Those looking to rationalise their operations will move to divest divisions and books of businesses that do not fit with their core strategy or their financial goals. In 2021, we expect an increase in the number of such businesses being offered for a sale and a greater interest in legacy business that could lead to a burst of deal activity.”
Technology continues to be a primary growth driver worldwide. Deals completed in H1 2020 included investments into US-based start-up Openly, Belgium’s Keypoint and yallacompare in the United Arab Emirates.
Joyce Chan, Clyde & Co Partner in Hong Kong said: “While insurtech investment dived in Q1 due to Covid-19, it rebounded in the second quarter. Although investors have already become more selective since last year, a trend that the pandemic will strengthen, high-quality tech offerings are still attractive, provided they can prove their worth. Start-ups now reaching maturity with a proven track record are ripe for acquisition and we expect this to be a key deal driver in H1 2021.”
However, the report added capital-raising has been a feature of the post-pandemic market – reaching $16 billion in H1 2020 according to Willis Towers Watson – presenting opportunities for organic growth that could depress appetite for M&A.
Mr Edwards said: “COVID-19 has accelerated the market hardening that was already underway and re/insurers are keen to write more risk at a higher price but need to offset losses from Covid-19 in order to do so. As rates rise there is also the potential for a wave of new start-ups and scale-ups, as we have seen in the aftermath of other major loss events in the past, albeit the situation now is more nuanced than post Hurricane Katrina, for example. That has not deterred a range of market figures from exploring options and there has been a succession of headlines around early-stage start-up plans.”
Activity in the Americas was flat in H1 2020, with 90 deals compared to 89 in the preceding six months, although deals in the US dropped from 73 to 64, marking the third consecutive period of decline.
Asia Pacific made steady gains, with an uptick in M&A from 31 to 38 deals in the first six months of the year, with Japanese acquirors once again leading the way, ahead of Taiwan and South Korea.
However, the shadow of Brexit combined with difficulties in reaching agreement on valuations pushed M&A in Europe to a three-year low with 53 deals completed, down from 67 in H2 2019.
“The outlook for Europe is mixed and will depend on the length and depth of the recession,” explained Mr Edwards. “We will likely see European banks and insurers looking to dispose of non-core assets that will generate a pool of targets for acquirers, but limitations on capital will prevent some general insurers from making acquisitions. At the same time, insurers from less mature markets may sense an opportunity to establish or strengthen a presence in Europe, possibly at a favourable price.”