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Insurance Helpline | Insurance for the financially challenged

Published:Friday | September 25, 2015 | 4:26 PMCedric Stephens

There is change in format for this week's article. It was dictated by a 122-page report dated August 2014 and posted on the Financial Services Commission's (FSC) website.

I saw it last week for the first time. 'Big up' the FSC folks on their decision to put it there.

The report is titled: Improving Access to Insurance for the Low-Income Population in Jamaica. The authors are Donna Swiderek, Andrea Carmago and Sekayi Campbell. Imprints of the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Access to Insurance Initiative of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors - the global body of insurance regulators - are on the report.

The report, in spite of some inaccuracies, which takes an in-depth look at the insurance industry, is a very big deal. It is very important to learn what institutions and persons who are independent of this column and who have not sought information or advice from it have to say about the operations of the industry.

The study should be required reading for board members and the heads of all insurance companies - life and non-life - employees of insurance intermediaries, and regulatory bodies like the FSC, Consumer Affairs and the Fair Trade Commissions, senior policymakers in the Ministry of Finance, academics and consumer organisations.

The report was written in the context of developing a local market for micro-insurance products. Micro-insurance caters specifically to low-income individuals. Section three of the report, which discusses demand, is very intriguing. This is mainly because it records information that persons in 14 parishes have about insurance.

Regular readers will know that this column is geared towards solving consumer issues. This wisdom of this approach was proven again today. Quite by chance, a consumer sought help. Two separate insurers have refused to insure her 29-year-old husband, who she is teaching to drive using the family vehicle.

Data for section three of the study was obtained from focus group discussions. They were conducted between November and December 2013 by the Mona School of Business and Management of the University of the West Indies.

Persons were quizzed about their "insurance needs, current (disaster) coping mechanisms, (including insurance use), awareness of and interaction with insurance, decision-making criteria (factors determining whether they buy insurance or not) and perceptions of the insurance market."

Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, this column has focused on three broad themes: treating consumers fairly, industry regulation and improving the quality of services that are delivered to customers, especially in the area of claims. Below is a sample of some of the more negative perceptions about insurance:

1. Respondents have a bad opinion about some practices in the insurance industry: Some of the examples cited were raised about the length of time to settle claims (particularly for motor insurance), the low benefits received, the average clause and the claims process. Some persons viewed insurance a racket because of their inability to understand insurance terms;

2. Some motor vehicle policyholders are unwilling buyers, do not value the coverage and resent paying the premiums;

3. The majority of respondents did not have a clear idea of the available avenues to address their concerns; and

4. Consumers distrust insurance companies and insurers distrust consumers.

Government does not have the financial resources or capacity to act as a giant insurance company to protect citizens from the many risks that confront them in their daily lives. There are private institutions in place to do that job.

The challenge is to find innovative ways to bridge the divide, remove the distrust and help persons to more effectively manage the risks they face.


Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: .