M M Monirul Alam, Managing Director & CEO, Guardian Life Insurance Limited

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A Promise of Protection

Having spent close to three decades in the sector, you are a veteran of the industry, when did you join Guardian, was that a new leaf in your career, did you want to do anything differently?
When I joined the insurance industry back in 1991, I had no notion of what I could do to contribute to it, and how long I would sustain here. Through the guidance of my mentors, I began to understand that this is a very vital industry for sustainable development of the economy, and also to bring social safety at large. To get a better understanding of the industry, I devoted myself to expanding my knowledge and focused on delivering service that customers expect from this industry. By the time I joined GLIL, I had accumulated two and a half decades of experience. My aspiration has always been to deliver the best customer service, which became a challenge at some point. Doing something outstanding and challenging the status quo is not easy and I was at a certain plateau of my career where I really wanted to dream big. When Guardian Life approached me, they gave me a good understanding of their vision with the company. It is a Company-sponsored by Apex, BRAC and Square Group, who have a very long track record of their commitment and ethical business practice in Bangladesh. They also conveyed that they aim to brand Guardian Life as one of the trusted life insurance company operated via ethical practice. I soon realized that this is the opportunity for me to materialize my dream, which was a major factor for consideration while joining Guardian Life.

Throughout your experience, how do you think the sector has evolved, and do you believe that our consumers match up to the idea of insurance?
Looking back at how the insurance industry has evolved, it becomes clear that we have not been able to bring much change to people’s minds in terms of service. It was primarily due to misconceptions. By 1985, we had only one nationalized company and a severe lack of professionals in the industry. By the nineties, two or three more companies got approval who had the intention to create quality executives. Before they could realize that intention, 12 other companies came into the market in 2000 which resulted in further demand along with shortfall of talented people. However, 2000 was a turning point for this industry, business was good, although the potential market was much bigger. Insurance is a long term business, and the premium we collect is a liability. The money belongs to the people, not the company, so it must be used judicially to meet future commitments. Eventually, the money has to reach the policyholders.

A problem we face is peoples’ misconception of insurance companies not being managed well. I often hear complaints from customers that they are not getting their money back at maturity. At a bank, when the FDR gets matured, customers get the cashback on the same day or the following day. In the insurance industry too, the fund disbursement takes very less time for the reputed & weel-managed companies. However, for the rest, it usually takes much longer to get disbursed. It is mainly because the money was diverted in different units, and the cash flow was not appropriately maintained.
The other issue is the customers’ lack of knowledge about finances and the industry as a whole. Generally, people tend to compare insurance companies with banks, although philosophy is different between the two. We have to inform the customers of the difference, such as when investing money in insurance, they cannot withdraw from it whenever they want. Instead, it is a long term investment for their future; but usually, customers surrender their policy prematurely, resulting in them not getting their full money back. To change this practice, we are encouraging the government bodies to include a subject or paper on financial knowledge in the national curriculum. The aim is to create a way to educate people on various investment alternatives, not only in insurance companies but also in banks. The idea is to make people understand the importance of insurance and its role in securing one’s future.

Customer centricity is also of paramount importance for Guardian Life. We launched the first 24×7 call center in the industry back in 2018 and still now we are the only one in the whole industry. Our call center short code is 16622.

What do you believe is the most crucial challenge the insurance sector is facing?
Currently, the major channel of distributing insurance is via agents & agencies. Insurance is not a consumer good, it is a service that usually needs a bit of persuasion. We use our field force, agents who have been trained to recognize prospective customers. After making appointments, they convey the benefits of the product adequately, analyze all the information, and eventually sell the product. In recent times, due to time constraints, it isn’t straightforward to set up appointments with clients as they have become very busy. As a solution, we are advocating the government to permit corporate agents like banks and NGOs to sell insurance i.e. Bancassurance. Our current regulatory board, Insurance Development & Regulatory Authority Bangladesh (IDRA), along with Bangladesh Bank, are seriously considering it. We are expecting the channel to come up sometime within next year. We are also hoping for some policy changes by the government to promote insur-tech. There need to be some regulatory changes to make the process more efficient.

Currently, upon policy purchase, we need to send the documents back to the customer to get a wet signature, this process is very inefficient. We also have to affix BIMA stamp on the policy documents. The documents are available online, but the entire process is not 100% digital yet. Also, the KYC that has been issued by the central bank is very complicated, which discourages customers. Consequently, people usually get frustrated and give up. So, we are encouraging the government to introduce eKYC. The operation will have the same user-friendly feature as BKash, enabling people to buy a policy with the swipe of a finger.

We have already graduated from the list of LDCs. How crucial would be the role of financial inclusion for our country?
Regarding financial inclusion, currently, around 45-50% of the population has got banking access. Insurance companies cover people both banked & unbanked. People outside the banking system show more interest in insurance products and want to open an account and make regular deposits. Most of them are micro-insurance or rural insurance, which is now the main focus of insurance companies. The unbanked population is the major focus area now. As a result, the bank and the insurance companies are complementing each other for financial inclusion.

How will this benefit the banked population?
Whenever a family loses a member who earns an income that goes towards supporting the family, it affects them negatively, insurance works as a safety net in this scenario. Likewise, if this member becomes unable to support the family due to disability, the insurance company steps up to provide the financial support instead. Insurance benefits ensure social safety. It is the most virtual strength of insurance, to bring social stability and enable smooth growth of the society.

To cater to this special segment, we have launched the first Life Insurance App of Bangladesh, namely EasyLife. Primarily, we started off with a term life insurance product and then introduced monthly savings plan with profit. We are the pioneers of Digital Life Insurance in Bangladesh.

How do you see digital application changing the insurance landscape in the coming years? How will consumers benefit from it, recently you have inaugurated an app for your consumers, could you share some information about that?
When I joined Guardian Life, we looked into the opportunities and strengths that would take the company forward. We focus mostly on corporate business and microinsurance. Our sponsor BRAC has 4.5 million microcredit lenders. When the microcredit borrower dies, recovering the money becomes a challenge for the NGOs. It also becomes very difficult for the family of the deceased to continue with their livelihood. We formed a joint committee with BRAC to get a better understanding of their needs and to develop a plan. With Guardian-BRAC Bima Project, we have covered more than one crore lives, annually we are settling up to 22000 claims. It has been a massive achievement for Guardian Life, we are now the largest insurer in terms of lives covered and in terms of beneficiaries.

As for the younger generations, i.e. those who are 25-35 years old, ideally the digitally active population; we are conveying the insurance knowledge to them via online platforms. To cater to this special segment, we have launched the first Life Insurance App of Bangladesh, namely EasyLife. Primarily, we started off with a term life insurance product and then introduced a monthly savings plan with profit. We are the pioneers of Digital Life Insurance in Bangladesh. EasyLife is a suite of pull products aimed at sharing knowledge and inspiring customers to buy our products.

Globally, insur-tech is going to play a vital role in the next five years. We are preparing ourselves to cope up with what is happening on the other side of the world. If we don’t upgrade ourselves and keep us updated, then someone else will come and capture this market. So we are preparing ourselves, and via this digital platform, we are using our knowledge to take us forward.

We believe and follow our theme, “Insurance for all”. Earning reliability & trustworthiness is pivotal not only for Guardian Life but also for the industry as a whole, we aspire to be the flagbearer of that revolution.

What do you think about the future of health insurance for our country?
We need health insurance. I am stating this from my professional and personal perspective. People do not necessarily anticipate and prepare for sudden medical needs. No budget is set aside to cope with such situations. In reality, according to statistics, 70% of treatment expenses are paid from out-of-pocket expense in Bangladesh. The other 30% comes from insurance facilities provided by multination companies or the government. So, there is a vast market for health insurance. We are a life insurance company, but we also offer health insurance as a supplementary product, selling it to corporates and individuals. Currently, around 300000 lives are covered by our health insurance. We settle about 32000 claims annually amounting to a sum of 24 crore taka.

Currently, we have over 300 hospitals enlisted with us, the people who are covered with us under health insurance, can get a wide array of services from these hospitals and avail exclusive discounts on medical bills.

Customer centricity is also of paramount importance for Guardian Life. We launched the first 24 X 7 call centre in the industry back in 2018 and still, now we are the only one in the whole industry. Our call centre shortcode is 16622. When the doctor advises a medical treatment, the policyholder can go to any of the enlisted hospitals and call our call centre for smooth admission and processing. With Guardian Life Health Card, the policyholders can get treatment up to the coverage limit without paying any cash, Guardian Life provides that guarantee of payment to hospitals on behalf of the policyholder.

What is your vision with Guardian?
The vision of the Guardian is to be number 1. We believe and follow our theme, “Insurance for all”. Earning reliability & trustworthiness is pivotal not only for Guardian Life but also for the industry as a whole, we aspire to be the flagbearer of that revolution. We see a bright future where Guardian Life plays a lead role in bringing about changes to the insurance industry by generating a positive mindset and credibility regarding life insurance amidst the greater population.

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