The power of life and critical illness cover in a region where claims are on the rise

Zurich International Life says its ultimate aim is to empower customers to be ready for life

Wilson Varghese, General Manager and Head of Operations at Zurich International Life

Many people don’t always grasp the true importance of having quality insurance cover in their life until they come to rely on it.

A recent report by Zurich International Life revealed the past three years saw it pay out more than $160 million for life and critical illness claims with heart attack, strokes and cancer continuing to be key reasons in the region. Yet, despite growing financial obligations and the rising cost of living, many people do not have life insurance cover in place.

Zurich International Life has been present in the Middle East for 35 years during which time it has developed “a deep understanding” of the needs of its people and businesses to deliver a range of market-driven life insurance, savings and employee benefit solutions.

Part of Zurich Insurance Group, a leading multi-line insurer founded 150 years ago, the company says its ultimate aim is to empower customers to be ready for life by “encouraging open and honest conversations and inspiring confidence…helping them to fulfil their protection and savings needs, driven by our vision to create a brighter future together”.

A glance at key findings in the provider’s 2023 benefits paid report highlights Zurich’s regional role. For example, the company paid more than Dh587.58 million (US$160m) in life and critical illness claims January 2020 to December 2022 - the highest amount since 2016 and a 23 per cent increase compared to the previous three-year period.

Almost 60 per cent of all life claims were for heart attacks and cancer. Notably, for women, 43 per cent of life cover claims were due to cancer, while among men, heart attack and stroke were the leading cause, accounting for 40 per cent of life cover claims.

The annual benefits report is designed to raise awareness and increase understanding of prime health risks impacting people in the Middle East, explains Wilson Varghese, Zurich general manager and head of operations. “This enables them to take action and be financially ready, thereby securing their future while protecting those they care about most,” he says.

Another of the report’s headline findings is that heart attacks, strokes, and cancer accounted for 90-plus per cent of critical illness claims in the region - that’s three in every five claims among men, while for women, 85 per cent of critical illness claims were due to cancer, with breast cancer alone responsible for 45 per cent. The youngest death claim was aged 27, while the oldest was 80, with 54 the average age. The youngest critical illness claimant was 27 and the oldest 84, with 49 years the average.

Interestingly, one out of four claims submitted were within three years of policy inception and, crucially for policyholders, Zurich paid 98 per cent of life claims and 96 per cent of critical illness claims over the past three years, “demonstrating the company’s commitment to fulfilling its obligations to customers”.

Reassuringly, 90 per cent of all claims were paid within 72 hours of receipt of all satisfactory documents, the fastest settled within 24 hours. A huge takeaway from these numbers is early policy uptake - Zurich’s report emphasises the need for taking out life insurance at a younger age, when we are healthier and premiums are lower.

“Think of insurance as an investment that allows you to be adventurous and optimistic about the future, and not as an expense,” says Mr Varghese.

Regular health checks and positive lifestyle changes are also a consideration, helping to reduce the risk of future critical illnesses by maintaining good health, such as keeping cholesterol levels low, thus potentially avoiding or managing illnesses. The report underscores the importance of being financially prepared for unexpected events such as critical illnesses or the untimely death of a breadwinner; it recommends taking early action and having a well-thought-out financial plan to mitigate the impact on families.

“Securing your financial future involves both living a healthy lifestyle and having a well-thought-out financial plan for the unknown. Having a safety net is crucial, particularly as we see a majority of claims from people well within their working years, still holding material family responsibilities. This report is aimed at starting this all-important conversation about financial planning and securing the future for those who matter most.”

Having established life insurance cover as “essential”, the report identifies selecting a trusted insurance partner as important and highlights finding a company that will be there during times of need, and meet expectations by providing transparent information and fulfilling obligations.

Zurich’s prompt claims processing “highlights the company’s commitment to being there when customers need them the most, ensuring customers receive their benefits quickly and efficiently”. Something crucial when weighing up potential financial burdens. “Out-patient treatment and therapies not covered by health insurance, supporting a family member during post-treatment recovery, prolonged unemployment, and necessary living adjustments can all significantly impact one’s financial situation,” continues Mr Varghese.

“Critical illness benefit helps one mitigate this risk and acts as income protection - this way you can avoid dipping into hard-earned savings that would otherwise have funded your dream home, your child’s education or your ideal retirement.”

Central to this is securing the right advice from a qualified financial professional to help with a thorough fact find. “This will allow you to assess your current financial situation, look at your future financial needs, identify potential gaps, build a holistic plan and understand where life insurance and critical illness cover fit into this.

“It will also enable you to gauge the right amount of cover required based on your unique financial needs.” This includes clarifying how critical illness cover differs from medical insurance. Mandatory health cover provided by employers on average “tends to be basic” with Dh150,000-200,000 per annum; even with good medical cover, non-medical expenses cannot be met, thereby threatening savings, says Zurich.

Mr Varghese continues: “It can take weeks, maybe months or years, to fully recover from critical illness such as cancer, which could mean job or income loss.

“Critical illness cover provides a lump sum which lets you use the money for whatever your needs may be at the time and focus on your recovery.”

Insurance isn’t always a simple subject, so Zurich International Life provides a customer-centric approach, emphasis on transparency, and strong focus on building relationships with customers. That enables it to tailor insurance solutions to evolving customer needs and maintain a non-discriminatory approach - in other words, not turning people away based on age, pre-existing conditions or illnesses, and “ensuring individuals have access to the insurance they need”.

Some of Zurich’s customers, such as Mohammed Ezaz, are happy to share their experiences. He says the company treated him “like a family member”, adding: “During my tough times, they helped me faster than any insurance company.” Richard D’Souza says it was an “incredible and amazing way to deal with the claim submitted at a time of agony and pain in our family”.

Mohamed Kojar, meanwhile, says this “very professional institution” delivered “what they promised, fulfilling your needs in a timely manner”. Other regional customers, such as Ajay Dewan, Cindy Cruz and Sneha Bhatia underline how financial burdens can be devastating and how securing insurance young is essential as you “invest in your life first”.

Deepak Gaur, Zurich’s head of claims, concludes: “While getting life insurance cover should be a priority for everyone, finding a trusted partner who’ll be there at the critical time of need is important.

“We cover life insurance risks worth well over S$50 billion in this region alone - therefore, it’s our responsibility to raise awareness of the risks we face as a community, and also be transparent about how we’re meeting those expectations. After all, a life worth living is a life worth insuring.”

You can find out more about Zurich International Life Middle East, operating in the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, by visiting

Updated: July 12, 2023, 6:51 AM