Two Etiqa executives look to the future and shed light on the impending mental health crisis

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True grit. A series of conversations about mental health and resilience.

Episode 5: Zafri Ab Halim. CEO of the Etiqa family Takaful Berhad. Paul Loew. CEO of Etiqa Life Insurance Berhad

Brought by Etiqa


In this episode on mental health, our host Azran Osman-Rani speaks to two Etiqa CEOs to better understand the scale of the problem in Malaysia and to get some insight into how insurance and takaful could help make life a little better easier when families have a mental illness.

Paul Low, CEO of Etiqa Life Insurance Berhad, shares some alarming statistics on mental health problems in Malaysia and shares with Azran the growing need for mental health coverage, especially in light of ever-increasing urban pressures.

Where do you see some of the critical challenges for Etiqa, particularly those related to health and mental health?

Mental health awareness is actually not that high in Malaysia. The penetration rate of life insurance and health insurance in Malaysia is only around 54%, so there are still many people who are not insured in the insurance system.

Etiqa took a leadership position by adding some mental illness to their list of critical illnesses even before COVID-19 hit. What made you do it?

As an insurance company, it is our responsibility to ensure that every household, every person in Malaysia is insured. Our philosophy is to protect everyone. That is why we included mental illness as one of the critical illnesses in our policy even before the pandemic.

Can you share some data on mental health problems?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four suffers from mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. According to the WHO, two in 100 people will develop major depression in their lifetime.

And in Malaysia, since the pandemic began last year, there have been many calls to government agencies asking about health issues, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH). 85.5% of these calls are inquiries about mental health problems. Many of them need psychological and emotional support and advice.

MOH predicts that mental health will be the second highest health problem in Malaysia after heart disease. The seriousness of mental health is becoming a hot topic these days. And as this pandemic prolongs, I expect the mental health problem will continue to grow.

What are some of the mental health challenges faced by Malaysian city dwellers?

The cost of living is higher, there are traffic jams, and when it comes to socializing some of us are isolated from our community. This poses a challenge for those who live in a big city like Kuala Lumpur. To keep up with the pace, right now with the cost of living rising, people have to work harder.

And, from an economic point of view, the lockdown has indeed disrupted society. Companies have had to close, workers have been laid off and their salaries are cut by up to 50%. These have put a lot of pressure on the family, especially those families who are not doing well.

Do you have any tips for Malaysians on dealing with mental health problems?

I think if a person feels like they are suffering from a certain type of anxiety or stress, I might want to find a person they can trust, who they can really share that feeling with, and also seek professional help, before it is too late. Mental illness is somehow related to a person’s physical well-being. So, if a person can exercise regularly, eat well, and sleep well, I believe it will help prevent their mental resilience from deteriorating.

Are there any new developments or products related to mental health on the horizon?

We pay great attention to ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) and develop new products in line with our pursuit of ESG because we want to cover every family and protect society.

Any final thoughts for Malaysians that will help us build the resilience and tenacity to move on?

I think if we want to be whole human we have to be stable spiritually, spiritually, and physically. If we can do this well, I think we can overcome this difficult time. I hope next year will be a better year and once we get that hope in mind, we will definitely get through this difficult time.

Azran Osman-Rani also spoke to Zafri Ab Halim, CEO of the Etiqa Family Takaful Berhad, to get an Islamic perspective on insuring against mental illness

Where do you see the decisive challenges for Etiqa, especially in the context of Islamic finance?

The Takaful family offers Sharia protection. By depositing a sum of money into a joint Takaful fund – we call it “Tabarru” – customers enter into a contract or “Akad” to become one of the participants by agreeing to help each other should one of the Participants suffer a crucial loss.

Among the challenges Etiqa Family Takaful is facing, I would like to highlight three things: First, the medical costs, which are increasing by an average of 13% year-on-year. As a result, medical takaful coverage contributions in the country have grown unsustainably in recent years.

Second: Many customers would like their health insurance to coordinate with them personally. Many would like their insurer to be a trusted advisor who can educate them but not overwhelm them with the information and choices. Health insurers are expected to work with individuals to find the right coverage and help them save money, while at the same time guiding them to improve their health and reward their behavior. All of this is work that requires detailed research and comes at a cost.

After all, mental health requires long-term care. We believe that the main reason mental illness appears on Takaful Certificates for so long is because of the expensive treatment costs that can linger for years. This is shown in the maximum collectible amount, at which many companies set an upper limit, at which they can only be asserted up to certain limits.

Even before COVID-19 hit Malaysia, you were in this leadership position and adding mental illness to your list of critical illnesses. What made you do it?

With the increasing number of Malaysians suffering from mental health problems, we saw a growing need for mental health coverage. When we our AafiaCare – which happened to be the first standalone takaful critical illness plan in Malaysia to cover its 68 critical illnesses, including mental health – we were aware that the staggering 29.2% of Malaysians suffered from mental illness. At Etiqa, we believe in helping people and making the world a better place. What better way to prove this than to create a product that holistically covers a person’s general wellbeing.

What about your particular focus on psychological issues from an Islamic perspective?

If you look at the principle of Shariah, one of the main purposes of Shariah is to protect life, or they call it ‘Aknah’ and the intellect, ‘al-Aql’ of a person. So a healthy intellect contributes to a healthy life. In other words, impaired mental health leads to an impaired mind, which generally leads to poor decision-making. On this basis, we can assess how Islamic law protects the sanctity of the intellect and of life. Promoting a person’s wellbeing, including mental health, is a top priority when mental health is part of human need.

How can Islamic principles help people manage their mental health?

If we look at this, there are some established Islamic legal maxims that can be used as guiding principles, originally derived from the saying of Prophet Muhammad that peace be upon him. Two of them are not intended to be harmed or returned, and the second harm must be removed or removed. Bad mental health is harmful; Therefore, every effort must be made to get rid of such damage – including finding the necessary medical treatment.

Refusal to seek medical treatment can fall under the category of harm, especially harm to our loved ones. Therefore, the search for adequate medical treatment fulfills the requirement of eliminating the harm in a given situation. Prevention is better than cure, which is why early detection and treatment of mental illnesses must also be given sufficient attention.

This mental health series is brought to you by Etiqa. If you want to learn more about insurance and takaful products, that Etiqa has to offer, including those that cover mental illness, please click here.


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