Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab economy, is combining its general insurance and public pension funds to create a public sector entity with $29 billion in domestic and foreign stock holdings.
The kingdom's cabinet has already approved the merger of Saudi Arabia's General Organisation for Social Insurance (Gosi) and the Public Pension Agency, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
The combination of the two state-run funds is an extension of "continuous reforms" and part of an organisational restructuring process, in line with the kingdom's Vision 2030 objectives, minister of finance Mohammed Al Jadaan, who is also chairman of Gosi's board, said in a statement on Thursday.
The move underscores the importance of the social insurance sector “as [a] symbiotic system which has an important role in enhancing social protection for all citizens”, the minister said.
The merger will bring social benefits coverage for public and private sector employees under one insurance scheme and will help to eliminate duplication of processes. It will also increase “operational and financial efficiency” and improve services, he added.
“The merging process will strengthen the fund’s financial position by maximising investment returns and will enhance investment performance and strategic diversification” of its portfolio of investments, Mr Al-Jadaan said.
The funds hold significant stakes in Saudi Arabian companies, including a combined $8.5bn holding in Saudi National Bank, the kingdom’s largest bank by assets. It also controls, a $4.3bn stake in Al Rajhi Bank, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The public entities, whose portfolios also include real estate and domestic and foreign bonds holdings, also hold shares worth $207 million in drug maker AstraZeneca and $170m in HSBC.
The kingdom, which is the world's biggest oil exporter, is trying to radically transform its economy. Like the rest of its peers in the six-member economic bloc of the GCC, Saudi Arabia is consolidating and restructuring its public sector entities to gain scale and improve efficiencies in the wake of the three-year oil price slump that began in 2014.
It merged eight public development institutions focused on agriculture, human development, industrial development and real estate, among others, to create the National Development Fund in 2017, to reduce the cost and speed development of public sector projects, including mega infrastructure schemes.