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

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.

“We have had very positive experiences. We work with IFAs that are looking to help clients and also meet sales targets. We work with those that understand customer needs. If we are doing our job, then the sales quality is right.

‘Different sales scenarios’

“We collaborate with our distribution partners to work through different sales scenarios. We conduct educational sessions, so for example we bring in doctors to talk about health tends and the importance of life or critical illness insurance.

“The objective is to give the message that insurance is critical. We are the only multinational organisation that publishes our own claim statistics.” (see box)

“It is quite shocking when you see that the average age for claims is actually coming down as the claims come in,” says Vivek.

With so much choice out there what is it that makes Zurich stand out?


Despite having only been in her current role for a matter of days, Vivek’s answer is clear, concise and focused.

“There are three things in the way that we design our proposition working closely with our partners and customers all the way through to the claims meeting customer needs and not purely on sales,” she says.

“We try and keep things simple. There is no jargon in our literature, for example even the medical terms in our critical illness policy has been translated into layman’s language.

“The second piece [of our proposition] is our service. The end-to-end customer experience.”

The firm has recently refreshed its online portal, Zurich International online to allow customers access their policy information easily and quickly. Customers are able to review policy information, policy summary and valuations.

“Lastly, and most importantly, is our people,” adds Vivek. “We have a strong and experienced team of people both here in the market, as well as Isle of Man that help drive the business forward.”


Zurich stats show AE$246m (US$67m) paid to Middle East claimants in last two years

  • At the end of June, Zurich’s life business in the Middle East released claims statistics for the period January 2013 to December 2015, showing it paid AE$246m (US$67m) in critical illness and life cover claims, up 42.5% from the previous period, January 2012 to December 2014.
  • Some 98% of life cover claims were paid during the period, for a total of AE$125m (US$34m) and critical illness claims were paid out in 87% of cases for a total of AE$121m (US$33m).
  • Zurich’s data shows its claims experience corresponds strongly with the region’s leading causes of premature death, critical illness and disability. Zurich critical illness claims were made due to cancer in 49% of all cases and on heart diseases in 48% of all cases. Leading causes of death for life insurance claims were diseases such as cancer (32%) and heart diseases (43%).
  • The average age of Zurich’s life insurance claimants is 51 and for critical illness claimants it is 47; often obesity is associated with many of these claims. A study released by Zurich last year showed that two-thirds of all UAE residents are overweight or obese, which can lead to a significantly increased risk of diseases such as heart diseases and diabetes.
  • Another worryingly result of the claims review is the number of deaths caused by road accidents. Despite positive interventions to increase road safety across the Middle East, 8% of life cover claims are based on this cause of death.

Chris Bagnall, chief underwriter for Zurich International Life in the Middle East and Asia, said: “We are proud of our payout rate of 98% for death and 87% for critical illness,” he said. “The 13% figure represents the number of claims found not to meet the critical illness definition or non-disclosure of serious medical history. An example would be a critical illness claim for an earache or failure to disclose a previous condition such as diabetes.

“This highlights the need for education of the market as well as distributors and customers.”

Research by Zurich (conducted in 2014) showed that almost two-thirds (64%) of UAE residents do not have a life insurance policy that would protect their family’s financial future in the event of death of the primary salary earner. The survey also found that only 20% of UAE residents have critical illness insurance.

This article first appeared in the September magazine edition of International Investment. To subscribe and receive a copy of either our digital or print editions, please click here.

Author spotlight

Gary Robinson

Commercial Director, Head of Video at International Investment.