On a personal note: The insurance industry in Kenya feels like one big con game, doesn’t it?
I’m going to level with you from the onset: I’m writing this through heavily tinted lenses, coloured so by a nausea-inducing experience that I’ve decided to take lessons out of. Strap in.
I’m not a Nairobi-born human. I grew up largely on a farm, with significant portions of my upbringing surrounded by books and radio, rather than friends and TV. I’m not complaining — all of it has shaped who I am today, and I love it.
Nairobi is a place I became a lot more familiar with in my young adult days, and boy, wasn’t it quite the awakening. From watching a version of 3-card Monte as I waited in line at Bus Station (you know the one), to a near-mugging at knife-point near Chiromo (with a little scar to show for it), to making the tragicomical error of falling asleep in a South C matatu (I woke up sans phone and wallet).
Na-i-rob-i. It can really get the blood pumping.
Turns out, watching 3-card Monte is not the same as actually experiencing it.
Kenya has a culture driven by two things, the way I see it: Shame, and respect.
Shame is the more powerful of the two, which is why we shun so many conversations. It’s ‘shameful’ to talk about sex, for example. (I don’t think I need to elaborate on that.) Or to talk about how much money you’re making. That’s how you and a peer can effectively be at the same level in a company, yet take home starkly different sums. But if you complain about it… Well, you probably know of such a story.
Respect, on the other hand, often revolves around money. How much of it you have, as well as how much you project you have. Driving into a space with a fancy car vs. trudging in in dusty shoes evokes two very different receptions as soon as you meet the person manning the gate. (Which is how one person can gallivant around the country freely after having shot and nearly killed a man, whilst hired online bots keep telling the rest of us who refuse to forget to ‘move on’.)
What now follows is a story that gives a sense of how both can play out.
I think about retirement a lot.
I’d very much like a house by a beach somewhere, or property by a lake surrounded by plenty of greenery. The earlier, the better. So I started casually looking around for a policy that would allow me to save for retirement — put money aside in my productive years, have it earn some money of its own, then make my withdrawals when the time came. So I settled for Britam. Well, I say “settled” — we were both in the right place at the right time.
You can already see my first errors in judgment, can’t you?
From here on out, I’ll rely on excerpts from my interactions to guide the story.
M. Olang’ [me]. April 24th, 2020.
I write this to you seeking a refund of monies thus far submitted by myself to Britam, under Policy Number [redacted].
This is a pursuit that I began in October of last year, having specifically written an email on the same on 11th October 2019. In said email, I referred to a phone conversation with a representative of Britam, wherein I expressed that the policy had taken on a more laborious that beneficial tone.
In the exchanges that followed, it became increasingly apparent that the sale of the policy was made on grounds that could be deemed dubious, tenuous, and downright deceitful at minimum, as I was led to believe that the policy purchased was akin to a retirement policy, which is what I sought to purchase at the time in a bid to begin saving for retirement.
With the benefit of hindsight, this duplicity on Britam’s part in this engagement should have become apparent when, having paid into the policy starting August 2017, I made a request to transfer my pension funds from my previous employer’s accounts (then held by [redacted]) into the existing Britam account. A transfer letter template was sent on the 27th of April 2018, only for me to receive a subsequent notification on the 14th of May 2018, indicating a fresh pension account under the number [redacted]. I then received a “Year 2017 Benefit Statement — Member №[redacted]” via email, which was retracted exactly one hour and one minute later.
I will also point out that I have no policy documents in my possession, as whatever documents presented to me at the time had an error in the details of one of my beneficiaries, an error that was unnecessarily made despite very clear written detailing on my part, hence my then-refusal to accept said documents bearing said error.
When it eventually got to a point when I needed to withdraw, response became decidedly slow, up until the point when it was advised that I’d need to pay for a further 12 months for a refund to be effected. It wouldn’t be difficult to read this as a move to deliberately confound and frustrate your client into simply going silent and giving up in discouragement, which I utterly and completely reject, given that this is MY hard-earned money that I have painstakingly worked to earn and save over the period of my payments.
I find this duplicitous, predatory, and quite frankly, offensive to the insurance industry as a whole, as if my experience is anything to go by, it would appear that the practice tolerated, if not encouraged, by Britam is to secure sales at whatever cost, even when said sales are made by bamboozling your marks, and preying upon the lack of intricate industry knowledge that insiders have, and that members of the general public such as myself wouldn’t naturally extensively have nor fully grasp.
This letter is to demand, at minimum, a refund of monies I have thus far remitted, monies that I’m certain have been deployed to the benefit of Britam’s profits in the years during which I was capable of making said remissions, which I remitted at a rate of KES.[redacted] per month for a period of [redacted] months. This would thus amount to a minimum of KES [redacted].
I hope for a speedy resolution to this, hopefully without need to escalate this any further.
I could end it here, but I have a confession: I lost my cool at some point and dropped an f-bomb in a later interaction.
Dan [name changed]. April 25th, 2020.
I note the contents of your email and the attached letter.
On behalf of Britam Life Assurance I apologise for inconvenience caused and promised to have the issue resolved soonest. In this regard Jeff [name changed], under my direction, will get back to you with the aim of resolving this issue urgently.
Once again my apologies.
Jeff [name changed]. April 27th, 2020.
Sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused. I will reach out to you tomorrow to agree on the next steps.
Me. May 4th, 2020.
Following up on this, with the genuine hope that I’m not getting another run-around here.
Looking forward to a fast resolution.
Me. Same day (4 hours later).
I have just received a call that leaves me very doubtful about whether this matter is being taken seriously.
It’s very telling that the approach being deployed here implies that Britam seems to be entitled to my money, electing to hold it at ransom at my expense for the company’s profit lines, possibly with the hope that I’ll quietly give up, disappear, and let you have your way with my sweat.
Given the phone call I’ve just had, it also seems to imply that the company does indeed encourage its representatives to pursue sales regardless of cost or consequence to the intended mark, taking advantage of your industry jargon to pad the margins, at the expense of the intended beneficiary, a term whose meaning seems to have been reversed here.
I will not stand for that.
Jeff. Same day (23 minutes later).
We sincerely regret that the information shared with you has not met your expectations. The information is based on the Life Insurance plan that you hold with us and the options within the plan.
However, we reassure you that we are reviewing the concerns that you have raised in your letter and the outcome thereof shall guide our next course of action. We shall involve you in the steps that we are taking and promptly communicate the decision.
We shall ensure that the issue has been given the attention it deserves. Please bear with us.
(“Hold on,” I thought to myself at this point, “Are they… Are they trying to shift focus from the heart of my primary point?”)
Me. Same day (1 hour 52 minutes later).
I trusted the brand.
I trusted that this is an enterprise that’s running with some sense of integrity.
Some sense of genuine goodwill for both prospective and current clients.
I put in a significant amount of money, under the belief that it was something else.
Yet here we are.
If the amount of money I’ve put it gives the impression that I’m a tiny little human that’s not worth the attention, taking advantage of my ignorance of your industry jargon to swindle me out of money that, as it would now appear, I’d seemingly have been better placed to save in a sacco, instead of buying what I was led to believe was a retirement plan, I’d like you to be clear on that.
If my amount of money is so insignificant that it gives the idea that I’ll be swatted around by the defiant recital of the very jargon that was peddled to bring me to this point in the first place, please let me know. Because that’s the impression being reinforced at this present moment after months of being given a runaround that would be an entertaining dramedy if it weren’t so devastatingly damaging to the simpler industry outsiders such as me that it’s supposed to benefit.
And I’m genuinely fed up of and infuriated by the shenanigans.
Jeff. Same day (35 minutes later).
Indeed, we would like to assure you that Britam is a brand you can trust. We shall handle this matter objectively and in consultation with you.
We truly appreciate the genuine goodwill and confidence that you have demonstrated towards the brand and sincerely regret that you had to feel the way you do. Britam exists to serve you and we greatly value the opportunity you have given us to serve you, indeed, your relationship with us is important and shall always count.
Thanks too for taking time to share with us the invaluable feedback.
Me. May 11th, 2020.
It’s been one week since this last email, with no word from that point; three weeks since I initiated this email chain.
Kindly offer a concrete timeline to this matter.
Jeff. May 15th, 2020.
We trust that you are keeping safe since our last conversation. We sincerely apologize that our investigations of the matter have taken a bit of time.
As promised, we proceeded to investigate the concerns that you raised and evaluated the following information sources in our records:
· The policy application forms
· The policy acknowledgement form
· Interviewed the selling agent
· Correspondence between you and the selling agent relating to the policy
· Other related records
Our findings point to existence of an insurance contract and whose benefits are as listed above but we are pleased to offer you some options that may assist you restore the policy benefits:
· Putting into account that your policy is in arrears, we are happy to allow you to redate the policy where you won’t have to pay the arrears but subject to your request, have the start date pushed forward so that your maturity date is also changed for a corresponding period. Under this option you would simply resume payment of the current premium to ensure that all the full envisaged benefits are attained.
· The other option would be to allow you to reduce your sum assured (amount of insurance) to accommodate a preferred premium. The only disadvantage with this option is that ultimately the sum assured is reduced and hence the future payable benefits.
Attached please find a comprehensive benefit analysis for your policy for which we urge you to reconsider your position and reinstate the policies by resuming the premium payment by taking advantage of the options mentioned above or engaging us further on your proposed reinstatement plan.
For clarification, if any, Please do not hesitate to contact our contact centre on Customerservice@britam.com or 0705100100 or any of our offices nearest you.
Me. May 27th, 2020.
I am disappointed.
Your response has completely — perhaps wilfully — ignored the fundamental issue I raised, as I mentioned in the initial email on this thread: “I was led to believe that the policy purchased was akin to a retirement policy, which is what I sought to purchase at the time in a bid to begin saving for retirement.”
Instead, you seem to have elected to resort to further trickery.
You seem to present it as a privilege for me to ask for my own money back. MY money.
You want to punish a customer, a client, one that chose to trust the brand and company name. Instead, you’re seemingly endorsing the same tactics, if not rehashing the same path yourself.
You’re seemingly dragging this out, for what? So that I give up on MY money?
Is this standard company practice?
I have no interest in this so-called policy that you’re trying to shove down my throat.
“Putting into account that your policy is in arrears…”
Are you serious? I categorically stated: “I was led to believe that the policy purchased was akin to a retirement policy, which is what I sought to purchase at the time in a bid to begin saving for retirement.”
And you go ahead and insult my sweat, my blood, my tears, in such shameless fashion?
Is this to say that this pattern of behaviour is endorsed on a company-wide basis?
I want my money back. This is not a favour to me. It’s MY money.
I await your word. Sooner rather than later.
Me. June 3rd, 2020.
Good evening all.
Following up on the status of my refund.
Looking forward to hearing where we are on that.
Jeff. Same day (46 minutes later).
As mentioned in our previous correspondence and on a without prejudice basis, we reiterate that the policy has not yet attained a cash surrender value and neither are the premiums paid refundable.
It is however still our hope that you will reconsider your decision to cancel and choose to continue with the policy where you can utilize the available opportunity of reinstating the policy without paying the arrears by requesting for change of the start date, among other options.
Me. Same day (2 hours later).
So to be clear: Is it Britam’s decision to completely ignore the core of my matter as painstakingly detailed in initial email on this thread?
Jeff. June 4th, 2020 (morning).
Following your complaint, we proceeded to carry out investigations upon which we sent to you our response on 15th May 2020. As earlier mentioned, we proceeded to investigate the concerns that you raised by evaluating the following information sources and records:-
· The policy application form
· The policy acknowledgement form
· Interviewed the selling agent
· Interrogated correspondence between you and the selling agent relating to the policy
· Checked other related records
Our findings pointed to the existence of an insurance contract and whose benefits are as listed in our earlier response. We have further proceeded to guide you on an array of options that can help you carry on with the policy to a time that the benefits would be accessible and in accordance to your policy terms and conditions.
Me. June 4th (evening).
I will repeat this, in case I may not have been clear.
What you’re telling me through this response essentially is: It doesn’t matter what sort of bait-and-switch tactics are deployed.
“I was led to believe that the policy purchased was akin to a retirement policy, which is what I sought to purchase at the time in a bid to begin saving for retirement.”
That was in that initial email.
You have completely ignored this foundation to this entire matter. Completely — conveniently, even.
Is it that that entire statement means nothing?
That as long as a sale is made, that’s the end of that story?
Whatever poor Kenyan believes anyone claiming to be from Britam will be on their own after your numbers are in?
If anyone believes what any one of our agents says, screw their sorry selves?
Britam makes its money at my expense, and holds my money hostage, trust be damned?
And the internal channels will always protect you, regardless of the pain and frustration you inflict?
Is this the Britam way of working, either officially or silently endorsed?
Is that what I am to understand by this seeming endorsement of the practice?
Me. June 5th, 2020.
For the avoidance of doubt: This is not a loan facility that you advanced to me. Your responses present the impression that you gave me a loan. Is this a loan?
So in addition to answering every question I’ve raised in my previous emails, both immediate and ancient, I want definitive answers to these:
Whose money is this we’re talking about here? Is it your money or is it my money?
Is the entire foundation to my matter something you consider so petty? Does it not matter to you? Or are you deliberately ignoring that foundation to this entire clusterfuck? Am I to understand that this attempted cover-up fronted is an endorsement of the practice? Is this the Britam way of working?
Based on all this, you still continue to drag this out, and somehow expect that these games will build back trust? Whilst, again, still conveniently ignoring the very basis of this whole sham?
(Yeah. You’re right. I was in a state.)
Me. June 10th, 2020.
I’d like answers to my questions, if you may be so kind.
Action too, specifically in the form of my refund.
Jeff. June 11th, 2020.
We wish to reassure you that your feedback matters and it’s on the basis of the same that we launched investigations into the matter and whose data points we transparently shared with you.
We would like you to know that helping manage risks and protecting our customers against loss has been at the core of everything we do. and this is true for the product you hold with us.
As we earlier mentioned, the policy that you hold is designed to provide cash benefits in the long run rather than short run except where the insured risk has occured or the policy has attained a cash surrender value described in the policy document. It is this in mind that we have carefully endeavoured to assess and advise your next most favourable options that you can choose and which we still hope that you shall consider.
In the event that you are still not satisfied with this position, we may have to encourage you to request the regulator to carry out an independent assessment of your case. Britam Life Assurance is regulated by the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) and we always endeavor to remain true to our commitment in serving you.
We value our relationship with you.
Me. Same day (22 minutes later).
(I was tired by this point. Just soul-level dispirited.)
Kindly send me scanned copies of all the documents that you earlier mentioned within the day.
Jeff. Same day, later.
We shall have this shared with you by the end of day tomorrow.
Have a splendid evening.
Jeff. June 13th, 2020.
Please find the attached documents. Should you require any additional document, do not hesitate to let us know.
Sincere apologies for not sharing the same by the end of the day yesterday as planned.
Wishing you a great weekend!
Me. August 4th, 2020.
Good morning all,
I apologise for the delay in getting back round to this; I’ve been a little held up trying to survive the consequences of a pandemic.
I notice that a signed policy document isn’t included here; could you kindly send me that as well?
Jeff. August 7th, 2020.
Great to hear from you.
The attached document is the ‘policy acknowledgement form’.
Me. Same day, a few minutes later.
But is it possible that there’s no document, directly tied to this particular policy, with the name of the policy and all details related to the policy, with my signature on it? Wouldn’t that be odd, to say the least?
That signed document in its entirety is what I’d like.
Jeff. August 11th, 2020.
We normally maintain the policy acknowledgement form a proof of policy delivery.
Details of the contract you hold with us are maintained in the system in accordance with the policy application form that is signed by the customer which ultimately generates the policy document that you receive as a customer hence eliminating the need to maintain a copy of a customer-signed policy document.
I hope this clarifies your query.
At this point, I reconciled myself with the possibility that I may never see my money again.
Me, to Dan. October 27th, 2020.
I’m making a final attempt to resolve this, which is why I now reach out to you directly.
I haven’t been thrilled at the team’s handling of this, and there are way too many gaps that call into question a lot of how things seem to operate internally, all which I’ve aired within this entire thread of conversation, but which seem to be covered up at every turn.
From where I sit, my frustration and ire at being taken advantage of would be a thing I’d empathise with if the roles were reversed. Plus, I like to believe I’m not an entirely unreasonable human being.
I’d like to request a face-to-face meeting with you in an effort to iron this out.
If you could be as kind as to advise on a time next week that your schedule permits, one that would allow us to agree on a final resolution, I’d be most grateful to have a conversation with you.
I do look forward to hearing from you.
And that was the end of that trail.
Which brings me back to where I started: I like to believe in the better part of humanity. But, as a friend keeps saying, “A company is not a human being.”
A company will do what’s good for the company.
My mistake was putting my trust in a company, and taking their word for it, appending my signature without properly watching my own back.
Yet still, I’m not letting one thing slide: That it appears to be tolerated, if not quietly encouraged, to secure the sale at whatever cost. If it means massaging the language a bit, so be it.
Naïveté can be a wonderful thing, especially for the person that senses it.
I am, by no means, an expert on insurance or investment, and I have a strong feeling that I’m one of many. My joys in life are writing and photography, and whatever monies I make from those two skills are what I hope will secure both my future, and the futures of those I love. And with that, a belief that I should leave other matters to their areas of strength. So if money isn’t my area of strength, get someone who’s good at that as I focus on what I’m good at. I’m simple like that.
I get the equally strong feeling that insurance companies and their agents in Kenya take plenty of liberties in that, allowing a conflation between ‘insurance’ and ‘investment’.
That specific bit? That bothers me. A lot. Especially where companies try to position themselves as transparent and trustworthy, when actual practice for the ordinary, green person appears to point in a very different direction. Because the entire insurance and investment industry cannot continue to be a secret club, where only if you know the language and the tricks will you thrive. If we exist in a world where M-PESA demystified how money can move, then so-called insurance and investment packages can also stop being so wilfully opaque.
Was I the wilful sucker here? Perhaps.
“You should have read the documents!”
Yes, yes. I know. I know. Trust me, it’s a lesson so painfully learnt.
Still, I stand by my starting point: When the foundational premise is flawed, as part of a way of working that seems to be quietly endorsed, that too is a huge problem. I just wanted a simple path to helping me retire comfortably. That’s all I wanted.
Listen: If you know exactly what you’re doing, more power to you.
If you’re new to all of this, and if I were to replay it from the beginning, here’s what I’d tell myself after all this:
A company is not a human being. A company and its agents will do what’s good for the company regardless of what you feel about what they’re doing. So trust absolutely nothing and no one on that front. Which leads me to…
Agents are not financial advisors. They have targets. Until you can secure the services of your own financial advisor, stick to saccos, M-Shwari, and merry-go-rounds, friend.
Take however long you need to read contracts. Hire someone if you can. If you can’t hire someone (and that’s many of us), read everything at your own pace. And if it feels like there’s an unnecessary clock to it, you’d rather just walk away from whatever it is.
At the moment though? Insurance, investments, policies… This entire thing sure does feel like one big game of 3-card Monte.
I shared this on my timeline last evening.
It was sparked by a conversation in which yet another person felt short-changed (“Nafeel ni kama nimeibiwa”), specifically by Britam. And that conversation being one amongst what feels like a rapidly accelerating rate of such mentions surrounding education, life policies, and the money market fund, from people from different walks of life.
‘Exasperated’ doesn’t even begin to encapsulate how I feel about all of this.
“But Marcus,” I hear you ask, “Aren’t there any positive accounts?”
Yes. Yes there are…
…yet I don’t believe that’s enough to completely discount the very many negative, pained experiences even more are sharing:
Christine (name changed)
Regarding my experience with Britam, I had a pension plan with them. A personal one. By July 2020 I had saved Ksh 100,000 with them then I lost my job and did not make any further contributions. In November, I started withdrawing part of my savings. I made a withdrawal of Ksh 50,000 and got just above 46k coz of taxes. My next 2 withdrawals were of 20k which I got in full, then 5k which I got as well. Mind you, I had an investment income of about 3500 and had withdrawn 1500. So end of Dec I tried to withdraw 5k coz from my calculations, I should have had the money…then I got an email that my account had around 2200, it did not make sense. So after a lot of back and forth, they said that the money requested is always net of tax, which did not make sense because the 50k request came less of tax. The explanations given were vague, and they never explained why I never got communication of the change, the balance on their app wasn't updated either.