Bupa Arabia

17 February 2010

A Saudi law making health insurance compulsory for foreign nationals has brought impressive growth

Company snapshot
Date established: 1997
Main business sectors: Health insurance
Main business regions:Saudi Arabia
Chairman: Loay Hisham Nazer
Chief executive officer: Tal Hisham Nazer


Bupa Arabia’s origins are in the Saudi family conglomerate the Nazer Group, which was formed in 1991. Its business interests include private equity investments, communications, medical equipment and manufacturing.

In 1997, the Nazer Group, in anticipation of legislative changes that would make health insurance compulsory for expatriates in Saudi Arabia, joined forces with UK healthcare company Bupa in order to serve the kingdom’s growing health insurance market.

The company is headquartered in Jeddah but also has offices in Riyadh and the Eastern Province. Of its 550 employees, 30 per cent are Saudi females. 

The market has seen the benefits of compulsory health insurance for expatriates.

In 2006, Bupa Arabia began restructuring in order to meet the requirements of the new Co-operative Health Insurance Law, which was approved by Riyadh in 2005. The legislation comprised 25 articles, which set out the terms of operation for insurers and made health insurance compulsory to expatriates working in the kingdom.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (Sama), the central bank, has clear guidelines for insurers wishing to secure a licence in the kingdom. The insurance sector is heavily regulated and, as a result, Saudi health insurance companies’ activities are closely monitored, with Sama demanding insurers seek written approval before opening new branches or merging with other firms. Similarly, a firm must not cease trading without approval.

Further rules were then set out by the supervisory body, the Council for Co-operative Health Insurance (CCHI). These state that all insurers must be locally registered joint stock companies, that they must have capital of at least SR100m ($26.7m) and 20 per cent of profits must be put aside as a statutory reserve until sufficient reserves have been built up.

In March 2008, Bupa Arabia’s initial public offering led to it listing on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul). “It was 10 times oversubscribed, with 2.5 million subscribers,” says Nazer, chief executive officer (CEO) at of the firm, adding that 40 per cent of the company was floated, raising SR160m.


Beneath Bupa Arabia’s managing director there are eight directors or divisional heads. These include the head of operations, who handles the claims teams, customer services and pre-authorisations; a provider relations director, who works with the 500 hospitals or clinics used by Bupa Arabia customers; a finance director; sales and marketing director; human resources director; head of IT; a regulatory affairs manager and a legal affairs manager.

The insurance packages offered range from corporate policies for firms employing more than 75 people, business policies for smaller firms and family policies for individuals. Family policies have four levels of cover, ranging from the basic blue package of SR75,000 of cover per person within Saudi Arabia, to the gold policy, with up to SR250,000 of cover anywhere in the world.


With the contents of insurance policies heavily regulated by the CCHI, companies must instead compete on price and service. Bupa Arabia seeks to stay ahead of the competition by investing heavily in IT development and customer service.

More than 90 per cent of its pre-approvals processes are online and the company is moving towards a paperless system.

“We have picked up the pace quite fast regarding modernisation. This is one of the advantages that we have over other firms,” says Nazer.

The firm won the insurance industry’s Middle East e-business awards in 2006 and 2008, when it was the only Saudi firm to be recognised with an award.

Gross written premiums at the company were SR1.35bn ($359) in 2009, compared to claims of SR975m. Unlike many insurance companies, Bupa Arabia operates as an insurer rather than as an investment company and so aims to make profit from its insurance businesses. It is also the only insurer in Saudi Arabia to offer only health cover.

Bupa Arabia’s main ambition is to have more than a million customers on its books in the kingdom, although the company would not disclose to MEED how many customers it currently has.

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