No progress has been made in talks to obtain government assistance to set up a pool of funds to help insure businesses against potential terrorist attacks, the newly appointed chairman of the Marine and Fire Insurance Association of Japan said Monday during his first news conference as the industry head.

Similar pools have been set aside in the U.S., Canada and Britain to help businesses and property-and-casualty insurers shoulder the potentially devastating damage of an attack.

But in Japan, corporations have remained apathetic, so most property remains uncovered against terrorist attacks. This is fueling government indifference toward the pool of funds, Ken Matsuzawa said during a recent interview.

“Japan is still used to operating in comfortable, lukewarm water,” Matsuzawa said in the interview. “Companies know of the risks but they are banking on terrorists placing Japan as a low priority on their list of potential targets.”

Matsuzawa is also president of Nipponkoa Insurance Co.

Experts believe the market is over-saturated, with some pointing to a culture that remains almost infuriatingly confident of its well-being amid a low-crime environment. They charge that this keeps the world’s second-largest insurance industry from making large gains.

Premium revenue grew a mere 1 percent in the five years through fiscal 2002.

“But our cultural complacency is changing,” Matsuzawa said. “It has to.”

The prolonged economic slump, deflation, corporate crimes and the increasing variety of crimes are fueling growing uncertainty and new demands for insurance companies. There has also been an increase in competition and a rush to consolidate as nonlife insurers fight for the same slices of a limited pie.

Matsuzawa’s appointment as the association’s chief, the first for unaffiliated Nipponkoa, is evidence of a change in an industry that has traditionally given the post to heads of companies affiliated with corporate conglomerates.

“There are certain advantages to being independent. We can move quickly, without worrying about how this would affect group banks, and so on,” Matsuzawa said. “We mean to make use of our every advantage.”

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