Tapping the Indian expat: the growth of Non Resident Indian (NRI) insurance

The Non Resident Indian (NRI) group is being defined by the industry as a growing marketplace that needs special attention, particularly for the expat IFA, as Gary Robinson has found out from Zurich International Life’s chief operating officer Reena Vivek (pictured above).

With some 14 million individuals born in India currently estimated to be living in a country other than the one in which they were born, the Indian community is the largest of all sub-sets of the estimated 250 million global expatriates.

And nowhere, perhaps, is the expatriate Indian more present than in the United Arab Emirates – a key reasons why Zurich International Life (ZIL) has been so active in this region. Indeed, the NRI marketplace is one such area that Reena Vivek (pictured), the freshly appointed chief operating officer at Zurich IL, has firmly set her sights on.

Based in Dubai but overseeing the Isle of Man, Middle East, Hong Kong and Singapore operations, Vivek is responsible for operations, IT and business change across all of the ZIL business.

In an exclusive chat from her Dubai headquarters Vivek outlines some of her proposals for change, just days into her new role at the firm. Among these will be a focus on educating customers and supporting IFAs with initiatives being spearheaded by the firm, particularly in the United Arab Emirates.

“We believe in focusing on the customer and their needs rather than the product; we do a lot of work with intermediaries to help them understand [these] needs,” said Vivek.

‘Social responsibility’

“As a key insurance player we have a social responsibility to educate people about the importance of insurance. People start by looking for insurance that is mandatory, such as motor or medical insurance. It is only after that, they consider life insurance needs, and this is where education on the importance of life insurance is needed” she said

Previously Vivek spearheaded operations in the Middle East including the Swiss insurance giant’s ‘Quote & Apply’ offering. She has also worked on several of Zurich’s service initiatives and multiple locations, such as the UK, India, France, Kuwait and the Czech Republic during her 19 years of experience in insurance, wealth management and retail banking.

Vivek highlighted that NRI is an important area for the firm with an estimated 65% of ZIL’s customer base is NRI.

“We believe in focusing on the customer and their needs rather than the product, so we do a lot of work with our intermediaries to help them understand the needs of the NRI segment, which can be very different to the needs of western customers,” she said.

Whole of life and term assurance are ZIL’s biggest selling products with between 70%-75% of policies sold falling within these two areas.

‘People still see life insurance as a luxury’

“There is still a much bigger opportunity still out there within this market,” said Vivek. “People still see life insurance as a luxury so it has to be sold to them. That is why we ensure that through education we address the message of the importance of insurance. It should be in the order of motor, health, life and then savings,” she said.

Vivek notes that many in the NRI community view property as being important, with a majority sending remittances that are put towards property. This single-minded approach to savings is something that independent financial advisers need to understand when dealing with this community

But is there a trust issue with advisers in a region that has been traditionally viewed as volatile and under-regulated? And if so, how does a provider firm select the IFAs it wishes to work with?

“Not that I have seen them, but there are bad apples that exist [in financial services] globally,” said Vivek.

Gary Robinson
Head of Video and Ezines at Open Door Media Publishing. Deputy Editor, International Investment. An experienced journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years' financial services experience, both as journalist and originally as a fully qualified IFA, Gary works across both International Investment and InvestmentEurope titles. Previous video production credits include projects on BBC, C4 and SKY.

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