Coffin cover - Africa's booming funerals business

Wed Aug 14, 2013 11:08am EDT
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By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Edmund Blair

JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI (Reuters) - From fish-shaped coffins to slaughtered bulls, funerals in Africa are lavish affairs, providing a lucrative opportunity for insurance companies looking for business in some of the world's fastest growing economies.

Many of the insurance industry's big money-spinners in developed markets, like motor insurance and cover for household goods, are irrelevant to the majority of Africans who cannot afford a range of expensive personal possessions.

But high death rates and low savings levels mean funeral insurance is proving an easier sell among people daunted by the cost of ceremonies that can stretch to several months of income.

"That's the whole problem with it. People think that if you want a small intimate funeral, you don't have money," said Emily Chauke, a 43-year-old cosmetics consultant from Johannesburg who pays 570 rand ($64) a month for family funeral cover.

"They have that thing of proving people wrong, that 'I can afford to give my father or mother a big funeral'," she said.

Africans are by no means alone in spending heavily on honoring their dead. But funerals on the continent are more frequent per head of population than elsewhere in the world.

In South Africa, the continent's biggest economy, the death rate is more than 17 per 1,000 people a year, nearly double the global average. And six of the 10 countries with the highest death rate are in Africa, according to the CIA World Factbook.

While mortality rates are high, though, they are also falling - an attractive combination for insurers which raises the prospect of customers paying into their policies for longer.   Continued...

A coffin in the shape of a film projector is seen in the workshop of Kane Kwei in the Teshi area of Accra, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Luc Gnago