Khaleej Times, Monday, Jan 09, 2023 | Jamadi Al Thani 16, 1444
Covid-19 lifts life insurance business in the UAE
The life insurance business has gained momentum after the Covid-19 pandemic as
more people opted to secure insurance coverage to protect themselves from unseen
risks, says an industry expert.
Mufazzal Kajiji, CEO, Zurich International Life (Middle East), said the recent
pandemic created awareness about life insurance as roughly one in every four
claims is related to Covid-19.
“I would also note that the pandemic has drastically altered the benefits claims
landscape. Within life insurance, Covid-19 was the second highest cause for life
cover claims over the past three years, with roughly one in every four claims is
related to Covid-19,” Kajiji told Khaleej Times during an interview.
“In the future, I expect to see a growth in demand for critical illness and life
insurance cover due to the growing awareness of health risks and life protection
coupled with greater access to information and insurance solutions,” he added.
Recognised, trusted brand
Zurich International Life Limited is a part of Zurich Insurance Group and was
established in the Isle of Man, which is licensed by the Isle of Man Financial
Services Authority with established and registered branches in the UAE licensed
by the Central Bank of the UAE.
In the UAE, it is registered under UAE Federal Law Number 6 of 2007, and its
activities in the UAE are governed by such law.
In Bahrain, it is licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain, while the Qatar
Financial Centre Regulatory Authority authorises its operations in Qatar.
“With a 35-year presence in the region, Zurich International Life (Zurich)
offers life insurance, critical illness cover, and savings solutions that help
customers plan and prepare for the future. We also have bespoke employee
benefits solutions, designed for our corporate customers to help them attract
and retain the best talent through attractive employee benefits packages,”
“Our extensive experience in the region has resulted in a deep understanding of
the market, and Zurich is now a recognised and trusted brand in the life
insurance space with a significant market share in the region. We also manage
workplace savings programmes for 30,000 employees from more than 1,600 companies
across the Middle East,” he said.
Future growth plans
Kajiji said Zurich International Life (Middle East) is taking many initiatives
to expand its regional footprint.
“Over the next few years, our focus is firmly on diversifying our portfolio,
building strategic partnerships, and increasing our customer acquisition
targets,” he said.
"In the long term, we are looking to increase our regional footprint and
prioritise improving customer experiences, with several initiatives in the
pipeline at the group level. These include re-engineering our products and
digitalising the entire customer journey for greater ease and accessibility.
"Similarly, we are in the midst of exploring partnerships and affinities through
digital channels or contributors,” he said.
He said the DIFC Employee Workplace Savings (DEWS) scheme, of which Zurich
Workplace Solutions is the plan administrator, is another important initiative
for us. This year, the scheme has expanded in scope and scale to include
employees of Dubai Government entities,” he said.
“We see a lot of potential in our workplace savings proposition and look forward
to extending it to free zones and other private companies, not just in the UAE,
but other markets in the region,” he said.
Core growth markets
Kajiji said the company will improve its present setup in some countries in GCC,
but has no immediate plan to explore new markets in the region.
“We have plans to scale up across the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. At present, we
have no plans to penetrate in new markets, as the existing markets that we
operate in remain underserved,” he said.
In reply to a question about the outlook for the insurance industry, he said the
insurance industry is currently underserved and offers a myriad of opportunities
to expand through awareness-building of insurance benefits. More than half of
the population in the region are under the age of 30 – another indicator that
the insurance industry has plenty of room to grow, he said.
"Take critical illness protection as an example, there is burgeoning awareness
around emerging health risks and its impact on financial security. However, a
vast majority of people are still not fully aware of the options available,” he
A common reason deterring people from purchasing insurance is a misconception
that a pre-existing condition like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or a family
history of the same, can cause an application or claim to be rejected or raise
the cost of the premium drastically – however this is not the case, Kajiji
“To ensure that more people are securing themselves through critical illness
plans, we must continue to educate both existing and prospective customers so
that they can understand our offerings, at the same time communicating in a
language that is easy to understand,” he said.
“In a survey, we conducted with YouGov last October, we surveyed over 500
UAE-based respondents to understand how they would cope financially should they
be diagnosed with a serious illness. According to the survey, more than six in
10 respondents were very or extremely worried about falling victim to a severe
illness in the future.
"Almost eight out of 10 respondents were either very or extremely worried that
becoming seriously ill would deplete their savings, with more than half of the
respondents stating that they believed they could only manage for up to three
months financially, faced with a loss of income due to a serious illness,” he
Challenges in post-Covid-era
Kajiji also shared his strategy for handling the Covid-19 pandemic and said it
was a great experience to serve the people during this challenging time.
“With the onset of the pandemic, just like for any other business, we faced
certain challenges. However, in the post-Covid era, we’ve also been presented
with numerous opportunities to grow,” he said.
“For instance, with savings, we have broadly observed that a growing number of
people want to explore avenues for this and to invest. This is in part driven by
the UAE government’s promotion of a savings culture as seen from new initiatives
such as the workplace savings schemes,” he added.
As mentioned before, for DEWS, the UAE's first funded and professionally managed
EoSB scheme, which is administered by Zurich and first launched in DIFC, the
company has seen a significant uptake and expects this to grow in the future as
“This partnership is a testament to our efforts in supporting the government’s
vision to attract the best talent available to the UAE and ensure it is one of
the best countries in the world to live and work in,” he said.
“We’ve also seen overall health and well-being becoming key customer priorities.
The pandemic has pushed the importance of robust health into sharp focus, as
well as the importance of ensuring prudent lifestyle choices and investments to
help reduce preventable health risks.
Pandemics, natural disasters
To a question about the impact of a pandemic, natural disasters and climate
change policies on the insurance industry, he said it is always important to
cover risk factors to remain resilient during difficult times.
“Certain pandemics can be categorised as ‘black swan’ events, which are negative
events or occurrences that are impossible to predict. Climate change and natural
disasters, which sometimes go hand in hand, are happening right now as we have
seen from the recent disastrous floods in Pakistan or the unprecedented summer
heatwaves in Europe. More and more, we are seeing climate modelling and risks
becoming factored into governments’ and businesses’ future planning,” he said.
He said pandemics, natural disasters and climate change all potentially disrupt
economic activity and hamper social development efforts significantly."For the
insurance industry, I would note that there are both opportunities and
challenges,” he said.
For example, with the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries have mandated travel
insurance for tourists that include Covid-19 coverage, leading to record growth
ers. But at the same time, health insurance providers have had to adapt as well
and ensure contactless and digital services for customers, as well as expand
telehealth service options, he said.
On climate change and specifically decarbonization – with three countries in the
GCC region already having announced net zero targets by the midcentury – a new
business and risk landscape has emerged, and insurers have to rethink their
long-term strategies, he said.
"We need to understand better and evaluate both the physical and financial risks
of climate change, while adopting a more forward-looking view based on various
climate scenarios,” he said.
New products, solutions
To a question about introducing new insurance products, Kajiji said Zurich
accords top priority to customer satisfaction and will take every measure to
protect them from risk factors.
“Over the next couple of years, our plans will revolve around embedding
insurance products and solutions in the lives of our customers. As insurers, we
believe insurance must be made more contextual and intuitive, while customer
journeys should be more service oriented,” he said.
“And our energies will be directed towards building awareness among our
communities and promoting insurance as a service,” Kajiji concluded.