RUBAYAT SALEHEEN, Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing and Communications, Guardian Life Insurance Limited

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Ushering In A New Dawn

In a conversation, Rubayat Saleheen, Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing and Communications, Guardian Life Insurance Limited divulges on the current state of the insurance industry, how COVID-19 will change consumer behaviour permanently and his journey of becoming the flag bearer of Bangladeshi Insurance Industry.

The general population of our country has historically struggled to grasp the concept of insurance. How much has that perception evolved over the years?
Certainly, the insurance industry of our country has been suffering from a credibility crisis since the very beginning. The general population has very little knowledge about insurance and its nature, its perception has been made worse by misinformation and misinterpretation.

In general, people of our country tend to live life on the edge, most people overlook the importance of financial and wealth planning for themselves. Conversations about financial planning and insurance were heavily stigmatized for a long time. As a result, the general population still do not consider insurance as part of their long term financial planning. Consequently, insurance penetration in our country is hardly one per cent which is one of the lowest in South Asia. Even our closest neighbour, India has a penetration rate of about 20%.

Over the last decade, we have seen things change for the better which is very encouraging. The remarkable economic growth our country has experienced allowed the insurance industry to grow as well. Insurance is a major compliance precondition for many businesses and industries, therefore, robust growth in the mentioned sectors (business and industry) prompted the expansion of the insurance industry in Bangladesh. Also, Insurance Development & Regulatory Authority Bangladesh (IDRA) has taken initiatives to develop the insurance industry which has helped to structure the sector. Concurrently, stakeholders in the private sectors have also been trying to build up the sector through investment and innovation. One of them is Guardian Life Insurance Limited (GLIL), we are investing heavily to procure state of the art technology to provide international standard services to our clients. GLIL has ushered a new era of client service in the insurance industry by our 24/7 call centre and virtual services online and mobile app.

There was a perception of the insurance industry not prioritizing paying client’s money when they are due. On the contrary, GLIL’s claim payout ratio is 97%. GLIL is currently not the only one with such impressive statistics, other companies are also striving for excellence in service & commitment. Therefore, the perception of the industry as a whole has slowly been changing for the better and all relevant stakeholders have been trying their best to take this industry forward.

How important is the role of marketing and communications to create mutually beneficial relationships with clients in the insurance industry?
Most of the companies in the industry are not practising classic marketing and communication, they are conducting them in a very informal manner. However, the companies which are very forthcoming and forward-thinking are emphasizing on marketing and communications as a tool to expand the business. The informal marketing practices that have been in place in the industry also contributed to the negative image of the sector. The classical model of marketing and communications in the insurance industry is the agency-based model. They do direct marketing and communication by going directly in the field. The field employees in the sector are not adequately trained and lack communication skills required for the sector which results in negative perception about the industry. Consequently, marketing communications is very important in the insurance industry because there is a necessity of image upliftment by the companies to encourage more people to adopt insurance policies. Taking up an insurance policy is a critical decision in people’s lives, it is an integral part of their long term financial planning. Therefore, the information provided to the clients has to be very structured. That is the role of branding & communications.
Another critical role of marketing is helping the sales team with planning, research and product innovation. In aggregate, these things are not there in the industry right now but have to be developed to ensure sustainability. Therefore marketing needs to be emphasized a lot more and marketing needs to be a lot more involved with the field agents and their communication modality so that the image of the industry can be collectively improved.

In the post-COVID-19 world, are people/entities more inclined towards insurance?
Of course, we expect to see a big boost in the insurance industry and the development of the sector in the post COVID-19 scenario. We feel like, during the time of the pandemic, people are actually realizing the importance of social security. Considering the state of our health sector, access to a good health care facility is very important, and to do that in a cost-effective manner, health insurance is pivotal. And when it comes to life insurance, people have come out of the ignorant mindset and are more aware of the fragility of life and the implications death can have on your close ones. We believe now people would be more inclined to develop a safety net for themselves. The pandemic will change the aggregate consumer behavior forever, people have realized the necessity of savings and will make it a priority, it will have a huge impact on consumer spending. They will think more about financial planning and family safety net. Therefore, the new dynamics of our socio-economy indicates that insurance as an industry will flourish in the post-COVID-19 world.

We feel like, during the time of the pandemic, people are actually realizing the importance of social security

 

Due to social distancing regulations, a portion of GLIL employees has been assigned work from home. How has GLIL improvised their internal communications to keep employees motivated and maintain synergy?
Guardian Life Insurance Limited has taken the challenge to continue providing premium quality service under the “new normal” circumstances. Even before the lockdown took effect in Bangladesh, when the pandemic was in its initial stages, we (GLIL) conducted proper business continuity planning during the early quarter-one. We drew out a plan to conduct work from home under which our IT team procured the necessary equipment required to run remote activities. Business continuity planning along with swift technology adoption has been crucial in ensuring the seamless transition. Tools such as best-in-class conferencing platforms (Cisco Webex), laptops, email, phone conferencing, and access to internal networks are ensured with a secured Wi-Fi network and a trusted virtual private network (VPN).

Our top priority was to provide immaculate customer service. As a service, life insurance is more like a promise. It’s a promise that we are making to our customers that if they face certain kinds of problems, trouble or trauma, we will step in and make sure that we help them out in a manner stated in the contract. Therefore, we wanted to ensure that all our customers knew that “we are open for business” and all the commitments made to the customers shall be kept under any circumstances. GLIL communicated this message to our customers through various digital channels including emails, phone calls, SMS, social media and TV announcements.

Another central part of life insurance is “claim”. It is a form of a promise on an institutional level that we are making to our customers. Hence, even under this lockdown and social distancing situation, GLIL has kept its commitment to the customers by introducing “Online Claim Submission (OCS)” platform to submit claims digitally. Corporate customers of Guardian Life are now able to submit Life and Medical claims (Hospitalization / Outdoor Patient / Death) via mobile, laptop or desktop anytime, anywhere. The claims will then be evaluated by the team from the system and eventually be paid out from the system via online payment channels. To make smooth stakeholder payouts we also activated secured online corporate payment systems.

One of the most crucial elements of a work from home policy is trust and belief. Employers need to have trust in their employees to get their jobs done when they are not working onsite. We have been successful in communicating the essence of our philosophy with the employees resulting in superior performance and swift transition. We had to constantly evolve and improvise in our quest to ensure the quality of our services during the lockdown. Starting from online town hall meetings to Board meetings, ManCom meetings & departmental meetings, everything took place religiously from home.

To help combat this pandemic situation, we haven’t only resorted to processing innovation, we have been also trying to bring in product innovations as well. “Corona Safety Net” is another distinctive product of Guardian Life, introduced to provide COVID-19 insurance coverage to the bankers who are working during general holidays due to COVID-19 to ensure services for their clients. This product has been designed in response to Bangladesh Bank’s direction. By availing this corporate plan, Banks can ensure peace of mind to their employees who are at higher risk of exposure. We have also launched two new bundled products with Mutual Trust Bank (MTB) named ‘MTB Shield’ and ‘MTB Extreme’. ‘MTB Shield’ is the country’s first-ever fixed deposit scheme and ‘MTB Extreme’ is the first-ever savings scheme with COVID-19 and life insurance coverage from Guardian Life Insurance. Both the products were launched through a virtual launching ceremony in the first week of June 2020. We have tried to ensure our visibility and let everyone know that we have not gone into hiding.

Professionally, how challenging has the experience been for you? What has it taught you about leadership?
I have been with GLIL for the past three years. Initially taking the decision was a bit difficult but I wanted to take up the challenge and also GLIL had been established by the three (BRAC, Apex, Square) companies who were among the largest in Bangladesh which helped me believe in the vision. Previously, I worked in MNC(s) which started with my tenure at British American Tobacco (BAT) after graduating from IBA, DU. I would later go on to work for Banglalink, Robi and a project for the World Bank. Finally, I joined GLIL and have been enjoying what I do here for the past three years. In my previous employment, I felt like I was in a rat race in an already developed sector, there was virtually no sense of personal accomplishment. Conversely, my tenure at GLIL has been extremely rewarding. I feel proud to be a part of the quest for developing a crucial industry of the Bangladesh economy. The insurance industry is very crucial for our economy as we enter the next stages of development. It can transform the lives of millions of people of our country and ensure a social safety net for vulnerable families. A robust insurance sector is an integral part of any developed economy. After starting to work for the industry, I felt very good about the role I was playing in the socio-economic development of our country. I have been a flag bearer of this industry and together with GLIL, we are trying to make people understand the importance of accommodating insurance in their financial planning.

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