Monday, September 20, 2021

Opinion

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Life Insurance: Untapped Potential in Oman

Life insurance offers financial protection when livelihoods are at stake, and it helps to de-risk our lives.

By Andreas Buelow, Partner at Arthur D. Little, Middle East

info@thearabianstories.com

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Our world is full of possibilities and opportunities, as well as much uncertainty and risk. This has been true throughout human history, but right now, more opportunities are available to more people than ever before. What’s more, as humanity advances, there is a pervading sense of confidence that we can manage the challenges that the world throws at us. Yet, as forces of nature continue to remind us, this is not always the case; humanity does not always have the upper hand, or the capability to foresee and mitigate risk. Whether a singular catastrophe such as the Covid-19 pandemic, or recurring natural disasters from floods to forest fires, our lives can unexpectedly turn upside-down overnight. And often, there’s little or nothing we can do about it. 

That’s why we use insurance products. We take out policies to safeguard against the consequences of unforeseen events: motor insurance to cover repairs in the event of an accident, health insurance to cover the cost of medical care, property insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding our homes after a fire, and so forth. Life insurance offers financial protection when livelihoods are at stake, and it helps to de-risk our lives. For example, a life policy can sometimes be used as collateral for the mortgage on a home. However, in Oman, life insurance uptake is relatively low, accounting for just 0.21% of GDP, versus an average of 4.5% in OECD countries. On a per capita basis, each inhabitant of the GCC spends just over $60 per year on life insurance, versus an average of approximately $1,800 p.a. in OECD countries. 

This situation is problematic for several reasons: first, it means individuals may not be saving enough to build an adequate protective layer for themselves and their families. Second, it puts governments into the position of “provider of last resort,” through basic social security that is funded by the fiscal budget. Third, it means insurance companies in Oman are missing out on a substantial business opportunity. Therefore, the case for addressing the issue is compelling. In fact, for individuals, governments, and companies alike, boosting life insurance uptake across the GCC would result in a win-win-win.

To do so, three key aspects need to be addressed: lack of awareness, lack of incentive, and lack of access. The lack of awareness alludes to many people in Oman not being knowledgeable about the benefits of life insurance – about what it does and what it does not do. Lack of incentive, meanwhile, stems from the fact that people are not encouraged to utilize life insurance as a means of protecting themselves and their families from financial perils. In many countries, the government provides tax incentives on life insurance savings, and while this is not applicable in Oman, there are other forms of incentives that could be utilized. As for access, a lack of well-priced, well-performing, and customizable products prevents people in the region from accessing life insurance. So, what can be done about it?

Technological developments and shifts in mindset have been underway for years, but they have been catalyzed over the past 18 months by COVID-19. In our view, this has created a massive opportunity for insurance companies to grow their life insurance business by simplifying their product offering and making it available to broader segments of the population. For industry players, seizing this opportunity involves:

  • Developing simple and intuitive customer journeys for the full life insurance value chain. Setting aside money at a decent return should be as simple as hailing a ride with Careem
  • Gaining a better understanding of customer needs and meeting them through targeted life insurance products. This involves engaging more frequently and more deeply with customers, including through social media
  • Building a value proposition to address the identified customer needs, and improving the proposition in an iterative way by testing, improving understanding, and recalibrating on a continuous basis

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