Global Insurance M&A Surges in 1st Half but Lull Likely in H2 on COVID Uncertainties

August 17, 2020

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the global insurance industry rose in the first half of 2020 with 201 completed deals worldwide, up from 197 in the second half of 2019, according to Clyde & Co’s “Insurance Growth Report” mid-year update. This was only the second six-month period in the last five years where the volume of transactions exceeded 200.

“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,” commented Ivor Edwards, partner and European head of the Corporate Insurance Group at Clyde & Co.

“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,” he continued.

“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,” said Edwards.

Heightened Strategic Focus

H1 2020 saw a slowdown in mega deals, with just six valued at over US$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.

“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,” said Vikram Sidhu, Clyde & Co Partner in New York.

“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,” Sidhu added. “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.”

Tech-Led Recovery

Technology continues to be a primary growth driver worldwide. Deals completed in H1 2020 included investments into U.S.-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.”

Capital Raising Could Weigh on M&A

Capital-raising has been a feature of the post-pandemic market – reaching US$16 billion in H1 2020 according to Willis Towers Watson – presenting opportunities for organic growth that could depress appetite for M&A.

“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,” said Edwards. “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.”

U.S. Slowing Down

Activity in the Americas was flat in H1 2020, with 90 deals compared to 89 in the preceding six months, although deals in the U.S. dropped from 73 to 64, marking the third consecutive period of decline.

“The U.S. insurance M&A activity had already been slowing down before the pandemic began. After a sustained period of deal-making, valuations had risen and some investors had been pausing to take stock,” said Sidhu.

“Others had been wary of geo-political tensions, particularly with China, and the upcoming U.S. election had added another layer of uncertainty. The pandemic has added to that slowdown, although deal activity continues,” added Sidhu. “Going forward, deal-makers will continue to look for attractive opportunities, although the time taken to reaching a deal is likely to be longer than normal for the foreseeable future.”

Asia on the Rise

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 acquirers once again leading the way, ahead of Taiwan and South Korea.

“In the short to medium term, re/insurers in some markets in Asia Pacific are under pressure and still working out the impact of COVID-19 on their operations. As margins become further squeezed, they will be re-evaluating their strategies and looking to redeploy resources to where they will be most profitable, which may lead to exits from certain jurisdictions or lines of business,” said Chan. “Further out, we expect an increase in activity in China where new regulations to facilitate consolidation and inbound investment are in place but yet to be tested, while the possibility of a link between the Greater Bay Area and Hong Kong could offer an alternative route into China for foreign investors.”

Brexit Clouds European M&A

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. 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,” said Edwards. “At the same time, insurers from less mature markets may sense an opportunity to establish or strengthen a presence in Europe, possibly at a favorable price.”

Source: Clyde & Co.

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