I have been experiencing an insatiable thirst to seek to answer this nagging question about whether insurance is a necessity in our country today. While the subject of insurance is broad and multi-faceted, I will seek to break down the perception of this subject so that our minds for a moment are not engrossed with the surreptitious picture of insurance agents’ incessantly cold-calling potential clients or pursuit of claims arising out of insurable risks by claimants.
Data from the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) shows that the level of uptake of insurance in Kenya is at an all-time low of 3.3 percent. This cannot be compared to developed economies like South Africa where the numbers are at 14%. Many explanations have been advanced to show why Kenyans are still averse to taking up Insurance related products. One prominent argument is that the Per capita income (GDP) of the average income earner cannot be enough to support payment of premiums. The other school of thought is that the savings culture of Kenyans is still wanting.
While the arguments above may hold water, the fundamental understanding of insurance has not been taught to most of us from an early age. The subject of insurance I dare say is still shrouded with a lot of secrecy and misunderstanding akin to the mysticism surrounding ancient religions. The language used is still rather technical to the average person. I realize that at this point I must correct myself quickly and note that every profession has its language; for an engineer has to use engineering language, an architect the same etcetera. Insurance also has its language but if its proponents profess that it benefits almost all of humanity, shouldn’t it be clothed in language that is not so grandiose but easily palatable to the common man?
The responsibility of the stakeholders in the insurance industry is to bring customers’ perception to how insurance works in a language they can understand. This would entail offering a basic insight on what informs the underwriting decisions on various insurance products by insurers. I want to suggest that it would benefit insurers to have open days where they invite people and educate them on the fundamentals of insurance, on the meaning of risk, why insurance is important to any economy and most importantly the benefits of insurance at a personal level. Apart from honing their sales skills, sales professionals need to align themselves properly with the market in order to understand and respond well to their customers’ needs. More often than not, sales people are perceived to be aggressive, over-achieving individuals who are not honest and are quick to point to clients the dotted lines in the application document. This negative perception must stop. Insurance sales people contribute immensely to the overall economic growth and offer important services without which an economy could not function well.
Now back to our overarching theme. Any society is fraught with risks. The risk of death by accidents, accidental injury leading to permanent or temporary disability, the risk of fire arising out of man-made or natural sources e.g. lightning, subterranean fire etc, the risk of accidental injury at the place of work owing to the nature of employment, loss of luggage while travelling and many more. What insurance does is simply to classify the above mentioned risks and price them into premiums. The premiums are then pooled and it is from this pool of funds that claims are settled. The guiding principle here is that a risk should be quantifiable. A close analysis of your immediate environment will reveal many known and unknown risks. Insurance companies manage losses that arise out of insured risks. Think for a moment the costs borne by the insured if there was no insurance to mitigate these risks. Imagine a petrol station owner being held liable for damage by fire arising from his petrol station to his neighbors. If the owner does not have public liability insurance, he may find it difficult to raise money to meet his legal fees and hence may not protect his business. This is because the cost of a claim can far exceed what a business is able to raise and necessitate the shutting down of a business altogether. Many examples abound where insurance solve practical problems and mitigate a host of risks that can cripple businesses and slow economic growth. At a personal level, medical insurance is very vital. Think for a moment the rising cost of Medicare and consultancy fees not to mention the increasing costs of pharmaceutical medicines.