Jul 01 2022
More than just "irie"
By Elizabeth Diffin
If there’s one thing Jamaica is known for — OK, beyond pristine beaches, the music of Bob Marley and being home to the fastest man alive — it’s a relaxed, no-worries approach to life. There’s a reason “irie,” a patois word that loosely translates to “everything is fine,” is one of the most used in the island nation.
But when it comes to financial services, Jamaica’s advisors take a much less laissez-faire approach. After a tumultuous period in the mid-1990s marked by instability, Jamaica established the Financial Services Commission (FSC) to oversee the insurance industry and banking sector. The FSC, in turn, ushered in initiatives aimed at increasing financial literacy among Jamaicans, particularly the nearly 50% who live in rural areas.
Jeffrey David Jarrett, a six-year MDRT member from Kingston, was one such person.
“Growing up in rural Jamaica, I was very much unfamiliar with the concept of life insurance and the true concept of financial independence,” Jarrett said. He first learned about it when a friend purchased a life insurance plan. Jarrett had a hard time shaking the concept, which ultimately led him to choose a career in which he is passionate to help those who, like him, haven’t been taught about financial matters.
“It is essentially important that we have clients who are not only honest but educated,” he said. “Once the relationship has been established, it allows me leeway to provide financial literacy to those who need it.”
Jarrett says there traditionally has been a negative attitude toward the profession, so advisors must counteract the stigma that “agents are just swindlers and mean you no good.” The FSC also has been active in tackling this misconception through new regulations, such as a fact-finding mandate that took effect in the second quarter of 2022. This mandate bulks up the Know Your Customer form by delving into greater detail about medical history and risk. The mandate, combined with the advent of Insurtech, allows client information to be more easily shared across the profession, leading to more informed and holistic service.
“It has made shedding light on new customers even more conclusive,” Jarrett said. “Thus far, the feedback is astronomically positive.”
Insurance companies also are working to develop new product offerings aimed at segments of society that historically have been unserved or underserved. With just 19% of the population holding private health insurance, that was a natural place to start. Now, new plans specifically for those who work in the hospitality industry (tourism is Jamaica’s No. 1 contributor to its gross domestic product) and the agricultural sector have been rolled out, as well as plans for the elderly and full-time students.
Selena Tonielle Chin-Coffie, an 11-year MDRT member from Kingston, has also seen the popularity of a new critical illness insurance plan offered for children 3 months to 15 years. The underwritten policy provides critical illness coverage for serious health issues, including severe asthma, stroke, Type 1 diabetes and muscular dystrophy, as well as hospitalization and limited death benefits. One policy benefit is that it can be converted to another critical illness plan once the child becomes an adult.
“This has affected my business in a positive way, as many parents have been taking advantage of this offering,” she said. “I have been ensuring that the clients I have with children who fall within that age band know about the offering and can decide whether or not they want to take advantage of it.”
According to Carla Osherla Ashley-Grant, LUTCF, MFA, a 19-year MDRT member from Kingston, these new products demonstrate the potential for the profession within Jamaica.
“Based on the underserved, there is always growth,” she said. “There is a part of the market that is untouched, and we have to be strategic in how we penetrate that market.”
Ashley-Grant also points out a more recent preference for equity-linked products over traditional whole life products, as well as a shift toward policies that don’t require underwriting. Unfortunately, these types of policies reduce commissions and usually don’t convert to other policies.
For years, Jamaica has had a large percentage of the population — about 20% — living at or below the poverty line. After significant gains in 2018 that reduced the number to 12.8%, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has once again led to economic struggles. But for advisors, the coronavirus hasn’t been as significant of an issue as they expected.
Ashley-Grant focuses her prospecting on industries and individuals whose income don’t fluctuate with the economy. And she uses the economic ups and downs to connect with prospective clients.
“I have been able to use present economic situations to provide insurance solutions to my clients,” she said. “I realize that when the economy is down, people tend to buy more life insurance.”
Jarrett says his purpose is not only selling insurance, but also awakening clients’ desire to improve their quality of life through supplemental plans, such as critical illness, and providing investment services.
“Jamaicans have received a wake-up call. I believe the pandemic was a well-needed boost,” he said. “It’s no secret that the Jamaican economy is not favorable for the citizens, and for people to live even remotely comfortably, they must have some form of passive income.”
And despite the turbulence of the past few decades, Chin-Coffie points out that insurance and financial services have continued to contribute meaningfully to the Jamaican economy — and ultimately, to its citizens’ lives.
“The services provided in the financial sector are of dire importance for the survival of our people,” she said. “Ultimately, that will help to build better countries.”