The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: How Insurance Cushioned Marketer After Dad's Death

WHEN his father who was sole bread winner died in 1968, a sad and gloomy Felix Okatch thought it would be months before he smiled again - until an insurance agent visited his home.

"When my father passed on in January 1968, our lives and hopes came to a standstill. It was darkness all over at the funeral and events that followed thereafter. We became subjects of pity and sympathy at home in Yala, now Siaya county," recounts Okatch.

"Then an insurance agent from Kampala, Uganda came to us and showed us that an insurance company called Crusader insurance would pay us 20,000 shillings. This money was for our school fees and maintenance. The public trustee had been appointed according to a will and they would be remitting fees to schools every year."

At the time, Sh20,000 was a fortune that one could do a lot with.

For Okatch, who had feared he would have to drop out of school because of school fees, his father's investment in insurance for his family ensured he continued with his studies uninterrupted up to when he joined the University of Nairobi in 1973.

Okatch went on to study marketing under Bachelor of Commerce. Today he has served various big companies as a top management executive, sits on the Kenya Reinsurance board of directors, authored a book on marketing and ethics in the corporate world and previously served as a marketing lecturer at the Kenya Institute of Management.

He is also a council member at the Marketing Society of Kenya, one of the directors at the Association of Professional Societies of East Africa and a specialist in matters of trade and market integration, an advisory job that has seen him invited by the World Trade Organisation as a consultant during discussions on intellectual property and trade.

Okatch has worked for Caltex, Kenya Wine Agencies Limited and National Bank of Kenya during its turnaround years working under the late celebrated banker Reuben Marambii. In these companies he rose to positions of marketing manager before leaving, but it was at National Bank where he served longest duration-10 years- whereby he says he enjoyed working hard to restore the bank's profitability under Marambii whom he has fond memories of as a hard no-nonsense boss.

"I have never been stuck in one job for too long. Had i stuck in companies for long, i would have been like a furniture," says Okatch who currently wears many hats.

The straight talking marketing guru and consultant says having had a vast experience with many companies, individuals and professional bodies, his obsession with corporate governance stems from some of the problems he has encountered in his course of work.

"There was too much tribalism in some companies i worked for," Okatch explains.

So much so, he adds, that even when conducting interviews and evaluating people, some of his fellow executives would blatantly tweak set rules to accommodate their tribesmen. This infuriated Okatch who swore to champion the need for ethics and adherance to corporate governance which is what he does to date in form of talks, trainings and books that he has written.

Even as a director in some of the popular organisations in the country, Okatch says, he will not relent on this fight.

Back to insurance, Okatch says he enjoys serving at the Kenya Reinsurance board of directors given that this very industry saved him from being another statistic in school dropout cases.

"I first heard about insurance from my late father Peter Okatch as something which pays for a car in the event of an accident. My father had had an accident and he drove home with a new car at our house in Kampala, Uganda after the other one had been damaged due to an accident," he recalls.

His father was a labour relations officer working in Kampala at the time of his death and prior to that he had been working with East African Railways and Harbours where he was also the trade union's secretary general.

With a low insurance penetration rate of 3.16 per cent last year compared to 3.02 per cent in 2011, Okatch says its up to insurance companies to carry out massive public awareness on benefits of insurance.

Using his story as an example, the man of many jobs thanks his late father for prudent investment and belief in insurance for how his life and that of four siblings turned out. At the time of his death, their mother was a housewife and that only compounded their grief, until the insurance company stepped in to meet its obligation to the client: their late father.

Okatch only wishes that Kenyans view the insurance industry as a saviour to grow the industry and to cushion themselves.

"Kenyans should look at insurance as a saving and protection mechanism, because no one knows what the future holds," he urges.

"I am a beneficiary of insurance. Apart from the fact that it secured my education that launched my career, i have since retired from active employment and i am enjoying annuity to keep me going till i die."

But he also regrets that some players in the insurance sector have tainted its image so much that policy holders have lost confidence in that industry. All this, the Kenya Re director notes, would have been prevented if directors of such firms were more responsible in their oversight role and management adhered to good corporate governance.

"There is need for directors to have fiduciary responsibility, duty of care and overall supervision of management. In absence of that, even the companies that are perceived to do well will eventually end up in corporate graveyards."

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