Photos: Jacob Maentz
WHEN CLIENTS FIRST COME TO SEE Enrilydo Ursal, it’s because they’re leaving. “Most are going abroad. I tell them it’s the start of the journey,” said Ursal, a six-year MDRT member from Cebu City, Philippines. “But I also tell them we need to work on a draft of their exit plan.”
Ursal’s niche market is Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs). He has a partnership with an agency that places Filipino workers in other countries. These workers are referred to him before they head to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Australia, the United States, Japan or the many other overseas locations that hire professionals from the Philippines. Many of Ursal’s clients are medical professionals, engineers, bakers, restaurant help and domestic helpers.
Most are also cash poor as they leave the Philippines. The majority of Filipinos don’t have a bank savings account with a properly maintained balance, and before going overseas, they have to pay the agency’s placement fees and their travel costs. Often, they’re borrowing money.
“They don’t have anything to start with, to put toward a premium,” Ursal said. “So I keep in touch with them, mostly through Facebook. I tell them, ‘Let’s meet up when you come home, and we’ll take baby steps to get started.’”
A few are able to find ways to start a plan as they leave the country for work. “It would be great to bring with you an attache case, where you are going to build up your future fund with the protection it can give you,” Ursal tells them.
Before they leave, Ursal works with them on financial management. He offers seminars to teach the basics of managing money. He also explains that the insurance policy he is recommending for them is a protection plan and a savings plan, with a higher return than banks can offer. He encourages them to consider putting a small portion of their earnings toward an insurance premium.
Saving money and planning for the future is often a new concept for many of his clients. “We are a consumer-driven economy. In Cebu, on almost every corner there is a shopping mall. People are enticed to shop.
“They really live by the moment. They love their families so much that, when they come home to visit, they want to give all their money to the family,” he said. “It’s a very loving and generous thing to do. But I tell them, ‘Wouldn’t you be happier if, instead of a short period, you could stay home for good and be with your families? How many years do you want to sleep with your pillow and not your partner?’”
That’s where the exit plan comes in. The vast majority of OFWs — Ursal estimates 90% — want to return to the Philippines permanently.
By keeping in touch with them through social media, Ursal generally knows when they will be returning home for a visit. He schedules a time to meet, and encourages them to begin saving for the future via a life insurance policy that accrues savings over the long term.
“I tell them that a percentage of the money they earn is for pressing needs now, and a percentage is for the future,” he said. “The No. 1 dream for many Filipinos is to return to the Philippines and start their own business. Most often, the idea they think about is buying apartments to rent out.”
Ursal helps his clients create a plan that puts some of their earnings toward their monthly or quarterly premiums, with the goal of being able to return to their native country and become business owners. Because rental properties are in demand in Cebu, Ursal said returning to the country and buying real estate is generally a viable business plan.
“A lot of people in Cebu are coming here from provinces and looking for work,” he said. “There are a lot who are renting, and the real estate business is doing very well.”
Focusing on clients who live overseas — often in very different time zones — has dictated the way Ursal operates his business. “They’re mostly checking in through Facebook, so whenever I’m awake, I’m checking it. I go to sleep around 1 a.m., so I’m available on their schedule,” he said. “Because of social media, they can get in touch with me immediately, so I try to immediately respond to them.”
Closer to home, and in the same time zone, Ursal has begun reaching out to workers at the many call centers in Cebu. He also continues to make inroads with other agencies who place OFWs to grow his business.
“The market for OFWs is still very, very big,” he said. “I think the OFWs need inspiration. Not a person, but an inspiration to do something that may not immediately benefit them, but automatically shields them from harm. An inspiration to reunite with their families while they’re strong, and not when they are old and weak.”
And the fact that they will also be more likely to return to the Philippines sooner and be with their families helps Ursal’s effort. “It’s true what they say,” Ursal said. “There’s no place like home.”