Asians 'not insured enough' to cover for major illness

Surveys show protection gap widening, S'poreans averse to taking investment risks

Many people in Asia lack enough proper insurance cover to keep up their living standards if sickness or death should strike a family member, according to industry experts.

Reinsurer Swiss Re noted recently that there is a widening protection gap in Asia.

The protection gap refers to the difference between the resources people have and those they will need to maintain living standards if a working family member can no longer provide.

Swiss Re's report estimates that the mortality protection gap for the region has widened further between 2010 and last year.

It said the gap rose to US$58 trillion (S$79.7 trillion) last year, from US$42 trillion in 2010 for 13 Asia-Pacific markets.

Citi, which noted Swiss Re in a report on Wednesday, also cited figures from insurer AIA, its bancassurance partner, which suggests the gap will grow to US$82 trillion by 2020. AIA forecasts the gap to reach US$763 billion in Hong Kong, US$570 billion in Singapore, and US$46 trillion in China within five years.

In light of this growth, Citi plans to roll out a campaign in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Indonesia, India and the Philippines to simplify and explain the risk of under-insurance.

Mr Han Kwee Juan, Citibank Singapore chief executive, said in a statement: "Having adequate insurance coverage for oneself is no longer enough. Consumers should also start planning early for ways to provide for the future of their loved ones and ensure that they are financially protected as the standard of living rises and cost of living increases."

A different survey by insurer Manulife released last Wednesday found that investors in Asia's wealthiest markets struggle to balance risk with their expectations.

It said Chinese investors are the least risk-averse among Asia's wealthiest markets, while Japan's investors are most risk-averse.

Singapore's investors are the second-most risk-averse group.

Manulife added that investors still need to improve efficiencies in achieving a balanced risk portfolio to reach their long-term financial goals. These survey findings were used to develop an index that ranks places based on investor attitudes towards risk.

Manulife specifically studied the existing asset allocation of household balance sheets, preferences for equity type and investment behaviour in mutual funds.

"The survey revealed that investor risk appetite across the region is at odds with behaviour, with investors expressing a preference for more stable investments, while in reality many choose to invest in higher risk investment vehicles," it said. Singaporean investors have an overall risk appetite ratio of 3.8, slightly higher than Japan's 3.6, while Chinese investors scored 7.5.

Mr Ronald Chan, Manulife's chief investment officer of Asia equities excluding Japan, said: "The recent stock market slide in China can be considered a cautionary tale for investors taking on too much risk. Many commentators were speculating that Chinese equities were in bubble territory by mid-March.

"However, investors went on to accumulate an additional one trillion yuan (S$221.4 billion) in debt to finance short-term investments in richly valued stocks before the market peaked in mid-June and began to lose ground."

However, Mr Michael Dommermuth, executive vice-president at Manulife Asset Management, said: "Playing it too safe, like many of the highly risk-averse investors in Japan, could hurt their ability to generate sufficient retirement income to maintain their living standards.

"Rather, we believe that investors should consider building a well-diversified portfolio that matches their risk appetite and has the potential to deliver returns that are commensurate to the level of risk."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Asians 'not insured enough' to cover for major illness'. Print Edition | Subscribe