The Sunday Mail
The troubled funeral assurance industry is optimistic that the “Business of Death” will soon resurrect.
In recent times, the funeral assurance industry has been hit by a plethora of problems, chief among them the emergence of informal and/or bogus operators, in the midst of company closures and low disposable incomes.
The general informalisation of employment has resulted in the industry losing out on a key market.
Over the years, there has been a steady increase in the number of bogus funeral assurance firms.
The unlicensed funeral assurance firms operate mostly in urban centres, with Harare and Bulawayo being the hardest hit.
Apart from eating away a remarkable chunk of the licenced funeral assurance companies’ potential revenue, bereaved families are also losing out as the services that members would have been contributing are not rendered.
After religiously paying their monthly premiums, some clients often fail to get the required services when they need them the most.
As such, families are often forced to make unplanned and often expensive last minute burial arrangements.
A visit to Harare Central Hospital revealed that the problems related to the emergence of unlicensed funeral assurance firms were widespread.
Mr Clive Magwizi fell victim to an informal funeral assurance firms.
“I was up to date in terms of paying my monthly premiums. When my father passed on, I tried but failed to get in touch with the funeral assurance company. I was shocked to discover that I was making payments to a non-existent company,” narrated Mr Magwizi.
Stranded, Magwizi’s family resorted to using the services of a funeral parlour whose agents were milling, like vultures, around the hospital morgue seeking to bail out those that would have fallen prey to the marauding funeral assurance fraudsters.
Players in this industry highlighted the extent of the challenges they are facing.
The players were, however, hopeful that their woes will soon become a thing of the past.
Mr Erasmus Chiridza, the MD of Foundation Mutual Society, bemoaned the influx of bogus operators.
“A lot of people see the funeral assurance sector as a business in which one can make easy money. Unlicensed funeral assurance companies are not guided by ethics. People are being defrauded of their hard-earned cash,” Mr Chiridza said.
Added Mr Chiridza: “The bad part is that, it is us, the licenced firms that will suffer the most. We are often painted with the same brush,” Mr Chiridza said.
Dr Solomon Chikanda, the president of the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers (ZAFA) highlighted some of the challenges that the funeral assurance sector is facing.
“The presence of unlicensed funeral assurance firms is greatly affecting our operations. Bulawayo has probably the highest number of unlicensed companies. Besides tarnishing the image of our industry, unlicensed funeral assurance firms are also eating into our turkey,” Dr Chikanda said.
Dr Chikanda suggested a raft of measures that he said will help bring sanity to this essential industry.
“We are seeking Government support in matters to do with the availability of fuel. Our kind of business hinges much on the availability of fuel. It will also be beneficial to us if some of the equipment that we use is allowed into the country duty free,” Dr Chikanda said.
According to Dr Chikanda, the charging of vehicle spares in United States dollars has negatively affected the industry.
Calls have been made by other players in the industry for Government to consider scrapping the tax that funeral assurance policy holders’ pay.
This, according to the experts, will help increase the uptake of funeral assurance policies.
Players in this industry bemoaned the lack of market penetration for rural and the informal markets.
“There is need the improvement in market penetration for rural and small medium enterprises. For various reasons, among them accessibility and the inability to pay, the rural market is yet to be fully exploited.
Mr Chiridza, however, said that despite the challenges, the future of the funeral assurance industry is bright.
“I am optimistic about the future. We have a virgin rural market which must be tapped into. If the few grey areas are addressed, then we are home and dry,” concluded Mr Chiridza.
Mr Chiridza added that most funeral assurance companies are coming up with products that suite the current market trends, which is characterised by a booming informal SME sector.
According to Zafa, only five percent of Zimbabweans have funeral policies, a fact the association says is attributed to a lack of disposable incomes.