Dubai: Walter Jopp, the CEO for Middle East operations at Zurich Insurance, is perplexed about one habit seen in many people: Buying car insurance, but not bothering to cover themselves or their families.

The penetration of life insurance in the UAE is a paltry 0.85 per cent — or $3.13 billion (Dh11.4 billion) — compared to 2.81 per cent for non-life on premiums of $10.39 billion.

The penetration level is small compared to 10-15 per cent in the US or the European Union.

“Think about it ... what is important to you? Is your car more important than you are?,” Jopp said.

“It’s not. It’s not to your family either.

“[Life insurance] is important because if the breadwinner is unfortunate enough to pass away, then the family has to relocate themselves. So protection is the number one goal.”

Jopp feels insurance is all the more critical for the region’s expats because of a lack of a government-backed support system.

“There is significant room for growth, and it becomes very important for UAE expats as you don’t have the safety net that you find in other countries,” he said. “You have a responsibility to protect yourself.”

Expats are staying longer in the region, so that bodes well for insurance companies.

“People now stay for 7-8 years compared to 3 years [on average, in the past],” he said. “We are seeing a growing number of second-generation expats, and these are the sort of people whom we have to help so that they are taken care of financially.”

The Europe, Middle East and Africa territory is an “important contributor” to revenues at Zurich, which has a global turnover of $64 billion (Dh235 billion).

Zurich Middle East, which has offices in the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, employs 200 people in the region.

“We want to grow our footprint. We are learning from our customers and they require a wider range of products, solutions that we will be working on to offer them. We consider looking for opportunities and where the right opportunities arise, we would look at them seriously.”

Zurich is also looking at specific products for cost-conscious customers, having invested $25 million in the past three years on tech upgrades.

“We will see more choice from companies, so you can have life cover and against all illnesses or you can choose some of the illnesses,” the CEO said. “That is obviously more limited, but more cost effective and targeted.”

Jopp has a simple piece of advice: Don’t assume that you don’t need an insurance, because you think nothing unexpected will happen to you.

“In reality it does happen, and it happens far too often.”