In many ways, the Middle East has become as sophisticated as any other part of the world over the past 20 years.
Huge advances have been made in the adoption of technology in every sphere of life and business – and this has not passed the insurance industry by. AI, blockchain, connected devices, big data and machine learning are just as much part of daily life in Riyadh, Doha and Abu Dhabi as they are in New York, London or Singapore.
But one area where the MENA region still has room for growth is the very broad area of health – both physical and mental – and insurance cover to pay for it.
The ability to ‘look after yourself’ properly requires a combination of education and knowledge about the importance of diet and exercise – as well as the need to take ‘time out’ to unwind or decompress after a hard day at work.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of rewarding ourselves after a tough day by eating too much of the wrong sorts of things – or of drinking too much.
A swift look at vast swathes of the US shows a population that is both morbidly obese and suffering from multiple body-mass-related illnesses like diabetes and hypertension. An equally swift glance at a table of global obesity levels shows that many MENA countries – Kuwait, KSA, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon, Turkey and UAE among them – are in the same boat.
And yet while some other ‘fat’ nations are addressing the problem head on by encouraging wellness and better mind health – similar initiatives in the MENA region are often far less ingrained.
These initiatives work best when there is an insurance infrastructure to back them up – with health and life policies that encourage better behaviour – offering premium discounts for healthy lifestyles measured by the number of steps walked, cardio activity and so on.
Savvy governments in the region realise that a healthy population is a very desirable thing – and encourage the private sector to explore all new technologies to make healthy living achievable and affordable.
But the biggest new trend is certainly mental health. While COVID-19 has been responsible for many societal shifts, it has been most responsible for making mental health and wellness a central topic of conversation.
In some markets, insurers have realised that it would be tough to sell insurance policies covering mental health treatment only – and so they cleverly bundle such cover in with other health cover.
The population of the MENA region is estimated at over 570m, which means that there could be a very significant market for insurers ready and willing to structure health insurance products that cover the whole person – from healthy body to healthy mind.
Success will depend on education: Allowing potential customers to see the value in living a life that is longer, healthier and more mentally balanced.
Together with health providers – and national governments – the health insurance sector could be looking at a gold mine that has only just been discovered.
And, for that extra edge, it would be right thing to do.