The islands of the Caribbean might be best known for their pristine beaches and relaxed lifestyles, but the financial services and life insurance industry there is anything but laid-back. In fact, advisors from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago believe these island gems are about to experience a resurgence.
“We are definitely coming of age,” said Gregg Anthon Mannette, LUTCF, an 11-year MDRT member from Arima, Trinidad and Tobago. “There have been significant strides in the areas of product development and technology integration. However, we still have a long way to go.”
The Caribbean region comprises approximately 700 islands, but just 15 are full members of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (an additional five countries are considered associate members). It is home to approximately 16 million citizens, the majority of whom are younger than 30.
Meila Annalee McKitty Plummer, LUTCF, FSS, a 10-year MDRT member from Kingston, Jamaica, said only a fraction of the population takes advantage of the services advisors offer, but she sees that as a “tremendous opportunity” in the coming years.
“My expectation is that financial awareness will increase significantly,” Plummer said. “Consequently, more will be demanded and expected of financial advisors to help our clients build wealth and manage risk.”
Also noting this increase in awareness is Delta Maud Barrett, a 17-year MDRT member from Kingston, Jamaica.
“More people are more aware of the importance and benefits of life insurance,” she said. “There is also a wider range of policy options to meet specific needs. In the next few years, I think that the industry will continue to grow, thereby offering even more policy options.”
In general, advisors say people need to understand that the value of insurance products ultimately supersedes their cost, especially in a place where complete ruin is just one hurricane away.
“There is much ignorance about insurance and its value to businesses and families,” said Gail Singh, FCCA, a six-year MDRT member from El Dorado, Trinidad and Tobago.
“I thoroughly enjoy interacting with and helping people,” she said. “Money is not my motivation, but the satisfaction that I have made a positive difference in a person’s life wakes me up in the morning.”
Trinidad and Tobago is currently experiencing an economic recession, which makes Singh’s work, and that of her fellow advisors, all the more essential, even with an upswing in sight.
“In these times, I believe financial advice and insurance products are so much more important,” she said. “The recession motivates me to work harder, leading to expansion of my client base.”
Mannette believes the difficult economic climate in some Caribbean nations actually has led to greater opportunities for his business.
“The economy has paradoxically provided the right environment, because I primarily deal in life insurance and pure risk options,” he said. “As the saying goes, ‘Life insurance is recession-proof,’ as people are more sensitive to hardship. The skillful advisor knows how to suggest this to the prospect and influence a buying decision.”
Along with greater awareness of the value of financial and insurance products, the Caribbean market is also experiencing increased government input in the form of legislation. Regulations focused on transparency and compliance are changing the way many advisors work.
“In my early years at MDRT, I sensed a great amount of displeasure among the North American and U.K. members when the word ‘compliance’ was mentioned,” Mannette said. “These winds have finally arrived on the Caribbean shores and are influencing the way we do business in this nook of the world.”
He cites the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and recent Anti-Money Laundering (AML) enforcement as prime examples of this new level of regulation. Plummer also said the implementation of more stringent Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements has caused some growing pains for advisors and clients.
“These require the completion of additional documents and are viewed as being invasive by some clients,” she said. “However, it is likely that changes to the industry currently taking place in more developed countries could be adopted in the Caribbean in the near future.”
In February 2018, Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament passed what Mannette calls “the first meaningful legislative change after four decades,” a new Insurance Act. This law, which is awaiting presidential approval, provides additional government oversight to the insurance industry. Mannette believes it is the first step in ensuring that Trinidad and Tobago, as well as other Caribbean nations, have regulations more in line with international best practices.
Singh anticipates additional changes in the coming years, ranging from the regulation of cryptocurrency to macroeconomic developments such as the discovery of oil in the CSME member country of Guyana.
But for all the Caribbean challenges on the horizon, the opportunities are equally abundant — which is only fitting for a place abounding with beauty, vitality and lots of white-sand beaches.