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Asia's Life Insurance Gap Widens as Risk Aversion Rises

Posted on Oct 21, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

The aggregate mortality protection gap across 12 insurance markets in the Asia Pacific region has expanded significantly over the past decade, from US$16 trillion in 2000 to US$41 trillion in 2010, according to a new study published by global reinsurance company Swiss Re. Swiss Re's "Mortality Protection Gap: Asia-Pacific 2011" study is the first of its kind to track the mortality protection gap across multiple developed and emerging markets in the Asia Pacific region. The mortality protection gap is a deficit measurement that represents the difference between the income needed for a working person to maintain living standards for themselves and their dependents versus the actual amount of savings and life insurance in force that would be readily available to beneficiaries when the policyholder dies. Thus the mortality protection gap grows when the proportion of protection needed is not yet covered through either adequate insurance or savings plans. Swiss Re intend for their study to encourage the life insurance industry to better engage with the general public in Asia and to better educate them on the importance of life insurance matters. Swiss Re found a sizeable gap in mortality protection across all developed and emerging Asia-Pacific insurance markets covered by the study, with China, Japan, India and South Korea tabling the greatest long-term savings deficit estimates. Overall the aggregate mortality protection gap in Asia grew by 10 percent annually over the past decade, from a US$ 16 trillion deficit in 2000 to US$ 41 trillion in 2010. According to the data, the Chinese mortality protection gap has widened the most in this time, moving from US$ 3.7 trillion to US$ 18.7 trillion at an 18 percent compound annual growth rate. India's mortality protection gap also expanded at double digit rates, rising from US$ 2 trillion to US$ 6.7 trillion during the same period. Of the so-called developed Asian insurance markets surveyed, Japan has consistently posted the largest coverage gap, now at an estimated US$ 8.4 trillion, although South Korea's deficit is now expanding at twice their pace, moving from US$ 1.8 trillion to US$ 3.6 trillion at a 7 percent annual growth rate in the past ten years. The life insurance gap in Australia meanwhile grew from US$ 540 billion to US$ 927 billion between 2000 and 2010, which was the fifth largest increase seen in the region. According to Swiss Re, a typical family breadwinner should reserve around 10 times their annual salary towards life insurance protection for their spouse and children. However, the amount of protection currently in place for many Asians is simply not enough to protect their families should the primary wage-earner unexpectedly pass away. If you were to use India's 2010 data for example, for every US$ 100 in protection income needed there is only on average US$ 7.4 available in savings and insurance, which equates to a massive US$ 92.6 mortality protection gap. Meanwhile, these gaps in coverage present an enormous opportunity for the international insurance industry, with Swiss Re calculating the cumulative value of Asia Pacific's mortality protection gap to be worth US$ 124 billion in potential premiums. Concerns about the extent of adequate life insurance protection across the Asia Pacific region have also been reflected in the results of another Swiss Re study conducted between April and May earlier this year. According to 'Survey of Risk Appetite and Insurance: Asia-Pacific 2011,' 20 to 40 year olds in the Asia Pacific region have become much more risk averse in the past few years, with medical costs and longevity concerns fuelling the need for greater insurance coverage and financial planning. The survey found that 40 percent of those polled across Asia believed that their families could struggle financially if adverse events, like an unexpected death, transpired. The same respondents identified insurance as an important protection too, despite policy uptake of pure life insurance products remaining quite low in many Asian markets. As the economies of the Asia Pacific region continue to grow and develop, the demand of sufficient life insurance protection will rise in tow. While the large protection gaps apparent in populous Asian markets like China and India certainly offer significant premium growth opportunities for life insurers, developing attractive products and effective distribution channels is still proving to be a challenge. In the more mature markets such as South Korea and Japan, despite the insurance industry growth potential being more limited, large mortality coverage gaps will work to drive the development of protection and savings insurance products that are targeted at more high net worth customers. Swiss Re's research also revealed what life insurers need to do themselves to understand and attract the next generation of consumer in Asia. The main barriers to purchasing insurance in the region are cost and lack of available funds. However while this perception that life insurance is expensive remains, over half of Swiss Re's survey respondents indicated that they would be willing to pay at or even above market value for a life insurance product that fit their needs. In fact, many respondents revealed that once the underlying cost of cover was known, it was less than what they had expected to pay for insurance. Paul Turner, Swiss Re Head of Client Management, Global Division believes that this gap in customer perception in Asia presents a clear opportunity for the international life insurance industry to promote the benefits of insurance and their strong value propositions in order to meet the specific needs of consumers, who put strong importance on value, reputation and financial security. "This perception gap in customers' minds is an opportunity for the life insurance sector to reach out and provide greater clarity to consumers on the relative cost and value of pure life insurance, for example, by comparing the cost of insurance with that of a cup of coffee a day," Turner concludes. Companies Mentioned Swiss Re The Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd was established in 1863 and is present in more than 20 countries. Swiss Re provides reinsurance products and financial service solutions. It offers various reinsurance products covering property, casualty, life and health insurance as well as special lines such as agricultural, aviation, space, engineering, HMO reinsurance, marine, nuclear energy, and special risks.
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