Bahrain National Life (BNL), a medical insurance company owned by Bahrain National Holding (BNH), is looking to expand across the GCC.

“We are looking to go to different markets. With only 1.2 million residents, Bahrain is a small market and is very well-developed for insurance, so we want to expand regionally,” says Robert Grey, general manager at BNL.

BNL is currently in the process of finalising documentation for a licence in Qatar. It is also looking at Kuwait and is in talks with companies in the UAE and Oman for possible takeovers.

“The UAE market is very competitive and Qatar is massively expanding. But because of Saudi Arabia’s [large] population, it’s where the largest opportunity would be,” says Grey.

Wider awareness of insurance and large expatriate communities in many of the Gulf countries is pushing up demand for insurance. Bahrain is traditionally seen as one of the stronger markets for insurance with a robust regulatory framework in place. But last year’s uprisings and the government’s brutal crackdown has had an adverse impact on the sector.

“Banks insist on life insurance for large loans. [During the uprisings], lending dropped by about 60 per cent and in some cases 80 per cent and so our business dropped. In the second half of the year, bank lending picked up again and we ended up doing more business last year than in 2010, but only marginally,” says Grey.

Bahrain’s insurance sector has grown 15 per cent from $412m in 2001 to $558m in 2010. The sector now accounts for 2.55 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to data from the Bahrain Central Bank.

A lot of this growth has come from medical insurance, which accounted for 15 per cent of total premiums underwritten in Bahrain in 2010.

There are now 27 locally-incorporated firms and 11 overseas insurance firms in Bahrain.