My name is Utitofon Ekpenyong, founder and CEO at Fettle Group. I am an innovator, it’s an innate gift – always trying to find new and better ways of getting things done.
Specifically, I am a practising medical doctor (with interest in Health Management and Policy) as well as an advancing programmer (MQL4, PHP/MySQL).
I have about 10 years of experience in healthcare right from medical school with over 6 years of practice in 4 Federal government hospitals across Nigeria and I have first-hand experience on the problems of healthcare in Nigeria. I have also been writing code for about 8 years now. I started with MQL4 which I used to write forex robots for the MT4 forex trading platform and then had to learn PHP/MySQL to build our product/web application single-handedly in 3 months as we could not afford a developer at that point. And lastly, my experience in entrepreneurship spans my entire teenage and adult years from selling in my dad’s shop at home to raising about half a million during my school days in equity investments to this present tech-driven startup.
It all started after I came back from youth service in 2013. My plan was to leave the country and continue with my postgraduate medical training (residency) in the US. But I decided to stay back to find some solutions to the healthcare challenges we face in our country before leaving. Truth be told, I thought it was something I could do in some months or a year and proceed with my career plans but it turned out I was wrong.
I would later be launching an innovative platform on healthcare 3 years later. I have spent several years, worked so hard, and invested a lot of resources in my medical training learning how to save lives but the bleak reality I face today is that I can barely use this knowledge to save lives – a majority of the population can barely afford healthcare, with cost continuously on the increase. I felt a sense of responsibility to develop a sustainable solution to this problem. And I did.
Functionally, we have hospices and less of hospitals in Nigeria, especially in the public healthcare sector. Most people do not present early to hospitals when they develop an illness. In my estimate, the average duration of a presenting complaint in Nigerian public hospitals is between 6 to 12 months. They only come after they’ve developed a complication or when the illness is terminal, mostly and sadly preventable. Wonder what they were doing before then? Getting self-treatment or treatment from some patent medicine shop or community pharmacy.
Also wonder why they didn’t visit a hospital earlier? Mostly because they thought they wouldn’t be able to afford the hospital bills or they didn’t want to spend their hard-earned savings. But they still end up spending their savings and still dying in most cases for conditions that could have been easily treated if they had seen a medical practitioner on time. This is why we founded Fettle Group.
This quote explains the problem we are trying to solve: “Make no mistake: poverty is still the great barrier. It is the major social determinant of health status and is dose related – that is, health status deteriorates with every reduction in financial status. Global health workers will need to be as creative in countering poverty as they are in countering microorganisms. Keeping people healthy is a start towards keeping them productive. Just as coalitions have become standard between corporations, foundations, governments, and NGOs in improving health, so global health workers must now extend their efforts to coalitions that attack poverty. This effort means countering the many other social forces impeding health, through microcredit, employment, education, and opportunities of all kinds.” – Drs. Merson, Black, and Mills.
Less than 10% of Nigerians have any form of health insurance. Hence universal health coverage continues to be a mirage in the country with the resultant high morbidity and mortality statistics. This problem is not peculiar to Nigeria but is also seen in most other developing countries. This is so despite the fact that the practice of health insurance has been in the country for decades. None of the interventions by the government and organisations has scaled and the fairly recent Community Health Insurance Schemes (CBHIS) have not proven to be self-sustainable either, requiring continuous injection of external funding. So why is this so? Why has there been a persistently poor penetration of health insurance services in the country?
Over 60% of the Nigerian population lives in poverty with little or no disposable income. Most of the insurance products and practices we have in the country, being adopted from developed economies, fail to entertain this fact by separating people’s financial status from their health and well-being with the obvious reason for their poor acceptance. It is also difficult to obtain premiums regularly from individuals. When people with little disposable income pay insurance premiums directly, it is either they consider their money a waste or over-utilize resources (i.e., make more claims). An attempt to address this issue has been deducting premiums from the source through employers. But over 70% of Nigerians are in the informal sector making this strategy also not scalable. However, innovative products that take this into consideration and enable people to integrate or pull them easily into their lives will not only be sustainable but will also most like scale. This is the basis on which Fettle Group was founded.
We realised that almost everyone saves money in one way or the other but very few people can afford health care when they fall ill. Also, the most common reason people spend their savings is to pay healthcare bills especially for serious conditions or in emergencies. We developed a product which we called “Savings/Health Plans” that enables people to get insured for their health while they save money for their future. It is savings in that they still get to withdraw their full deposits with interest over time and as at when due. Our main innovation is being able to mask insurance premiums through short/long term savings with an algorithm that makes use of deposit mobilisation, pooled investments and compounding interest.
Fettle Group is, therefore, a savings platform that enables you to get detailed health coverage for yourself, children, and family in any hospital of your choice, with very little or no out-of-pocket payments, while you save money securely for your future. We operate by driving universal health coverage through traditional savings and banking methods with the use of technology and social marketing; in collaboration with Banks, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), and Healthcare Providers (HCPs). The banks provide a secure base where the savings are being deposited; the HMOs provide the health insurance policies/plans; the hospitals provide quality healthcare; while we provide the platform through which these services can be obtained in a value-rich and integrated manner. Our [automated] product algorithm makes it possible for users to get the best value through these collaborations with little effort.
The difference between Fettle Group and traditional health insurance is that you don’t have to pay premiums. Our Savings/Health Plans are designed in such a way that your premiums are taken care of as long as you remain committed to saving. And since you still get to withdraw your full savings at the end of your chosen savings period with added interest, you practically would have been getting ‘free’ health coverage. Your savings balances are also not affected at any point when you get healthcare.
Our value offering is both for individuals/families as well as businesses/groups. For B2B, we offer our product to employers to subscribe for their employees. So for e.g., rather than pay employees a minimum wage of say, 20K as take home pay, you can repackage your staff benefits like this:
I. Basic Salary – 16K
II. Retirement Savings Plan – 4K
III. Health Benefit – covered according to chosen plan (comprehensive in the case)
There is ample evidence that shows increased productivity at work with better benefits than just remuneration.
We built the MVP at www.fettlegroup.com to launch this solution and we have people who have embraced the solution and are actively getting coverage. Visit the site to learn more.
I started this company to fulfil a purpose. In all, it has never been about me per se. It has always been about my enduring desire to be consciously aware of, and help improve the quality of lives of people. I get inspired every day and my passion continuously grows stronger than life. Therefore, I look forward to collaborating with others who share a similar passion and hope to work with them to drive this solution and others.