The construction of a house is a major undertaking and investment for most if not every homeowner in Barbados. And this is true whether that house is to be found in the lofty heights and terraces or in some simple urban or rural village. The comforts might be magnified depending on the financial strength of the owner, but whether humble or opulent they all provide the same basic human need. In many instances, the construction of one’s home is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
It is within this context that we find recent comments by executive manager of Guardian Group Nigel Adams rather disturbing. Indeed, if he is to be believed, and we have no reason to doubt his statistics and analysis, uninsured Barbadian homeowners are sufficiently aware of the vulnerable position in which they place themselves but seem not to worry about repercussions. Adams noted that Barbados was among the most underperforming of the home insurance markets, despite having lower premiums than most. The insurance executive charged that when it came to home insurance affordability, Barbadians were squandering an opportunity that many in other parts of the Caribbean wished they had.
“I know persons look at the cost of insurance, but certainly over the last six or seven years, insurance in Barbados has been quite reasonable in terms of pricing. So I don’t think we in Barbados can truly say that it has been truly expensive, but we do not make use of the availability of the coverage,” Mr Adams said.
But Mr Adams is not alone. Two months ago during a discussion at Hilton Barbados related to seasonal hurricanes, Massy United Insurance chief executive officer Randy Graham noted that despite the billions of dollars in damage to homes and property caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, hundreds of Barbadians still did not see the value of insuring their homes and properties. He stated: “I can’t say that witnessing the damage in other territories has caused Barbadians to rush to buy property insurance because it still doesn’t hit home once the television goes off. Living in the reality is often the best teacher. The Eastern Caribbean per capita rate of insurance is much greater than Barbados because they have been through it.”
These professionals and other persons in the insurance industry have been at pains to explain to Barbadians that the Caribbean region is one of the most exposed areas in the world when it came to natural disasters. The annual hurricane season has seen countries such as Haiti, Dominica and Grenada take multiple hits in closely associated years, often before the restoration process of a previous hurricane is sorted out. Fortunately, Barbados has been spared severe devastation and this has had nothing to do with our prayers which are no more fervent than anybody else’s, nor the Almighty’s greater affection for Barbadians, as opposed to that for Antiguans or Jamaicans. Whether it is the country’s geographical location or sheer good fortune, it has simply been what it has been.
But since Barbados will be faced annually with the prospect of severe weather systems over which they have no control, every step should be made to mitigate the likely devastation which could eventuate in the wake of a hurricane. Indeed, two tremors felt in the island within the past 10 years indicate that earthquakes could be another natural disaster with which we could be faced. Mr Adams has noted that Barbados’ insurance market has largely escaped the exponential rise in premiums that follow natural disasters. This, more than likely, because Barbados has been spared the destruction experienced by some of our sister territories. But he has also stressed that this could change with hurricane seasons becoming more and more active and occurrences such as the 7.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Venezuela which was felt right here.
Yet Barbadians play with their livelihoods and their investments. Indeed, several instances of house fires at uninsured properties that have absolutely nothing to do with the hurricane season, suggest that this could be a mix of callousness and culture. Sadly, when persons find themselves homeless or their properties damaged to the extent that they provide minimal accommodation, they then turn to Government to bail them out of their predicament. And all this in an environment where insurance companies are saying that coverage is affordable or that arrangements can be made to have payment plans to suit specific needs and pockets.
But the insurance industry also has to up its game as well. Many insurers have a history of sleeping on claims after religiously collecting premiums. Indeed, the sloth of some insurers when it comes to compensating citizens in a timely manner is legendary and extends beyond the hurricane season and outside of damage done to homes. It is always interesting to note that during the hurricane season residents suddenly have the urge to insure their properties or to fortify their physical structures. It is a reaction to what they see as an imminent danger. But that is precisely the culture that needs to change. It is high time that citizens view loss as the likely occurrence as soon as they own and act accordingly – before the high wind comes.