Zen Code for Prudent Living

May 24, 2020

It’s natural for men to seek certainty in the changing world. Now, here comes an art to that quest in Nigeria.

By Olusegun Elijah

Bright leaped out of bed when a siren zipped through the calm September morning in the Surulere neighbourhood of Lagos where he lived. He paced with measured curiosity towards his window. On peeping through the curtain, Bright saw something—something that scared him white.

It was white all over the green lot in front of his neighbor Hamzat’s three-bedroom bungalow.  A white ambulance. A white stretcher. And white cloth pulled over the face of somebody stretchered out of the building.

Bright, knees jerking, stepped back, reached for his table phone, and called Eze. The siren was still blaring.

“Eze, morning.”

“Morning, Bright….”

“Would you please come over at noon?”

“Sure. I trust you’re fine?”

Bright thought for some seconds, wondering how to respond.

Eze sold insurance—life insurance. He had tried many times to make Bright, a computer product  importer, understand why he needed to buy a policy for himself and his family. But Bright wasn’t sold yet.  He hated insurance. The small print (terms and conditions of its policies) pissed him off a lot. And it was impossible to understand—except that he read after he died, he could stop paying.

But things changed that morning.

“Eze, remember our many discussions on insurance and protecting your family and stuff?”

“Yes, Bright.”

“Well, I think we should sit down and work out some insurance plan for my family and me.”

“I’ll be with you soon,” Eze said, quickly.

It all clicked.

Bright’s neighbor Hamzat lay beneath the white sheet, stiff, as the MES medics wheeled him out into the meat wagon. The siren was still blaring, and Bright couldn’t stop it. Hamzat was 40—four years older than Bright. Hamzat had a never-get-over of a heart attack in the night.

For men like Bright, who have no idea the uncertainty death presents men with it as they push 40 and upward, life insurance is a joke. In Nigeria, it’s something worse: a taboo.

Generally, insurance has problem penetrating Nigeria. Just about one percent of the nation’s 200 million people have some policies, according to experts. For now, that seems not to bug anybody.

But, in the long haul, it’s unfortunate—generally, for Nigerian men—and, specifically, for their wives and children. In climes where men care about their families, life insurance matters. And men take it more seriously than women who are also breadwinners of sorts.

A survey by Haven Life, an online insurance agency in the US, indicates that both men and women know their death will impact their families negatively. But men, 79 percent of those surveyed, purchase a life policy, and pay, on average, $423,000 in annual premiums while 67 percent of women surveyed have a life insurance, and pay $231,000 in yearly premiums.

It’s a good thing to know that lots off odds are stacked up against men in life. Forget their testosterone and six packs.

In Nigeria, 367.53 died out of every 1000 men in 2017—compared to 328 out of every 1000 women same year. The higher death rate isn’t the only problem. Men die earlier—and faster too. No difference even in the developed worlds.  If in the US, men are 1.5 times more likely than women to die from downers like heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases, the chances are high the rate will be higher in Nigeria. Even much higher now in the sting of Covid-19 spreading across the nation, and, indeed, the world. The NCDC says more men between the 31-40 age group, among those infected in Nigeria, die, compared to women. At least 70 percent of the deaths are men.

Since the grim statistics is similar all over the world, there’s little any man jack can do about it. The deathly factors—chromosome Y, weaker immunity, cultural expectation, and sheer he-manship—are all wired into a typical Bright.

But, on the outside, men can still grab their fate in both hands, and prepare for life’s eventualities, one of these being the history-changing Covid-19 outbreak. The pandemic has not only put life in a spin, it has turned living deathly. Like Bright, wise guys are running to insurance salesmen now.

Seriously, these dudes re no running to the flesh-and-blood, lippy type of insurance-policy sellers. Not again. Covid-19, with its social distancing, has tweaked such relationship. Working out and buying a life insurance plans has now become a lot more fun—with an innovation: mobile life insurance.

Prudential Zenith blazed that trail in Nigeria. And many are already beating a digital path to no fewer than 60 branches of the company. Particularly, men, who are in a hurry to gain the whole world, can now buy in, on their mobile phones—on the fly. Easy-peasy. Anywhere.  Just dial the code, and, in a couple of shakes, you buy yourself a life insurance policy. Or any of the 16 protection plans.

That click of the phone mostly guarantees the men who buy it can save their loved ones in case the unknown happen. The wonder of it all is the number of years of hitches Prudential Zenith Life, with MTN, has saved life insurance policy buyers with the technology. “Some people think it will take 40 years to write traditional insurance for one person, but with this product, it can be done in one year,” said Jim Ovia, chairman of both Zenith Bank and Prudential Zenith, during the launch weeks ago.

That ease of payment apart, there’s one more bonus from the Prudential Zenith life insurance mobile service: rebate. That, in clearer English, means discount. Granted—men are no bargain hunters. But it adds up in the long run when, for prompt payment of premiums, which the mobile technology makes possible, you earn a discount.

Here’s how it works: the service cost a policy buyer saves Prudential Zenith, through the mobile platform, which needs no agents or salesman, ends up as a discount—handful enough it makes your payment easier when the insurer deducts it from your premium. You only pay the balance monthly or weekly or anyway you fancy. Nothing seems more prudent for any man—just any man with a mobile phone—to buy into.

That’s the game, right?

Well, the CEO of Zenith General Insurance, Kehinde Aborishade, said, “It is a game-changer.”    MTN Nigeria Chief Operating Officer Mazen Mroue, too, has his words: “Prudential Zenith Life Insurance … courageously blazing a trail.” The foremost telecom company says it’s glad to be the enabling platform for the delivery of digital insurance through mobile phones.

All along, Zenith Bank has been a trend-setter as a first-tier bank in Nigeria. It’s okay, then, that MTN, as Mroue said, offered its platform for the first digital insurance service through mobile phones in Nigeria. It’s perfect, too, that Zenith General Insurance strength—its capital base of N6bn in particular, and N3.6 billion written premiums—made it the ideal candidate for Prudential Insurance to partner with when it strode into Nigeria in 2017.

The UK insurance giant has been around for close to two centuries. So the experience and prudence in managing life insurance is a given. Sure. Its priority, however, is the peace and security Prudential Zenith Life and it mobile innovation offers. “We launched Prudential Zenith Life in 2017 to help minimize uncertainty from the lives of Nigerians,” said Matt Liley, CEO of Prudential Africa. “I believe this service will make it easier for people to access life insurance cover that gives them and their families’ financial peace of mind if an accident or the worst were to happen.”

No doubt, life must throw man its curveball. The risk of it happening to men is so high it makes sense for any smart Harry to transfer it prudently—with just a code.

That’s the zen of insurance in perilous times.

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