Home ›› 29 Jan 2023 ›› Business Connect
Pursuing a career in the insurance sector was not a common trend at the beginning of the 21st century as working in insurance was not as much popular as it is nowadays.
He was a newly certified chartered accountant (CA) when he started working at MetLife Bangladesh at that time. He did not know anything about this sector or even the prospects of a career in it.
However, even though he was of indecisive mind back then, it’s been over two decades since he joined the multinational insurance company’s Bangladesh chapter and served with utmost perseverance and sincerity.
And now, with all-around training and support from MetLife Bangladesh over the years for his invaluable service, the man has become the chief executive officer (CEO) of the company.
This story is about Ala Uddin Ahmad
While talking to The Business Post recently, he shared his experiences from the quest for the best career and his 24-year-long professional life, memories of growing up with MetLife, and his wishes and plans for the future in the insurance sector.
“I have tackled many challenging assignments over the years. I have worked in three other countries, including working as MetLife CEO in Nepal and Hong Kong.
“The challenges I faced there were a bit different. But all these experiences have only enriched my professional life and given me self-satisfaction,” said Ahmad.
He completed his SSC from Noakhali Zilla School in 1989 and his HSC from Dhaka College in 1991. Later, he got his BCom degree from Tejgaon College and started working on becoming a corporate CA.
After qualifying as a CA in 1998, he finished his Master’s at Jagannath University the next year. Later, he also completed several courses on insurance from the US-based Life Office Management Association and received executive education from the National University of Singapore and Harvard Business School.
Ala Uddin Ahmad had no plan to pursue a job at any specific company after finishing higher studies. But when he got the MetLife job offer, he decided to join right away considering it was the local chapter of the renowned US-based company.
Over the years, he decided to not look for other opportunities and continue working for MetLife because the company gave him all the necessary support to build a career.
Ahmad began his journey with MetLife by joining its finance department as a CA in June 1999 and became the financial controller of Bangladesh and Nepal markets in 2004. Later, he became the chief financial officer (CFO) for the South Asia region and served in that position until 2013.
He then worked as the CEO of MetLife Nepal for four years. From there, in 2017, he was transferred to AmMetLife Insurance Berhad (Malaysia) as head of strategy, business planning and transformation. He worked there till August 2019.
Afterwards, he served as the CEO of MetLife Hong Kong till June 2020. Since January 2021, the father of two sons has been serving as the MetLife Bangladesh CEO.
“When I started working here, I found that settling insurance claims can be a source of satisfaction because our business was impacting the lives of people. I stayed with this company for 23 years because I found a purpose — working for the people,” Ahmad said.
The way forward
Ahmad said, since he joined MetLife, the company has allowed him to learn, challenge and grow, and met his expectations. After serving in new positions and tackling new challenges, which led to substantial career development, he understood that this was a novel profession.
Because every activity in this sector impacts the insurance company and the lives of each of its officials, starting from the field level officers to the top level officials, by helping the people and the helping the economy, he said.
“We are committed to supporting Bangladesh’s growth and prosperity. For example, our contribution to social security. MetLife contributes over 20 per cent of the social security budget of the government.
“We have invested more than Tk 16,000 crore in government bonds, which in turn helps the government to invest in the infrastructural and socio-economic development of the country,” he said.
“We [MetLife] are also one of the largest taxpayer companies in Bangladesh right now,” he added.
MetLife is working to provide solutions to any type of demand for financial protection at every level of people’s lives, Ahmad said. “It can be about savings after retirement, education expenditure of children, pure savings, health service related, or even about financial benefits against damage caused by a serious accident.”
“We have a structure and a meaningful purpose. Helping people and building a more confident future. When people achieve economic development along with increased financial capabilities, they want to protect that financial foundation. We want to be there for them and provide them with that protection when needed,” he said.
The company currently has a wide range of products and the most popular of them is MetLife Depositor’s Protection Scheme (DPS).
Through this scheme, the money is saved and safely invested. Then, a customer’s beneficiaries will get the insurance payout if he/she dies of natural causes in the course of the policy, and they will get twice the insurance coverage in case of accidental death.
Besides, they will get an initial advantage through a medical treatment fee if the client suffers from a critical illness, like cancer.
MetLife has come up with a new scheme, under which a client will get a specific amount of money every day if they are hospitalised. This scheme is quite popular.
Other popular schemes include the Education Protection Plan, Three Payment Plan, Endowment and the LifeLine retirement policy.
Making a difference
Ala Uddin Ahmad said MetLife Bangladesh has more than 10 lakh clients at present. The number of expired policies is very low. “After clients sign up for policies, MetLife generally checks how many of them are regularly paying the premium after one year. That rate is over 70 per cent currently.”
In 2022, MetLife’s income from the premiums — both renewal and new — was at around Tk 3,000 crore. The company also holds nearly 30 per cent of the insurance sector’s premium market share in the country.
“Renewal premium is very important because when we sell a product, we do that considering the client’s needs and after briefing them about that policy’s benefits — so that the customer remains interested in keeping the policy going. On the other hand, we also try our best to maintain regular contact with the customer,” he said.
Meanwhile, all policy-related activities at MetLife are done digitally. At present, more than 50 per cent of the premiums are collected through digital methods, including EFT Debit, online banking, agent banking and mobile financial services.
He said, “We are getting good responses from the customers in case of renewal premiums because their payment systems are easier.”
The Covid-19 pandemic had negatively impacted their business just like any other business in the country, he said. “However, we have already recovered from that loss.”
The reason behind the good number of new policies is that MetLife has a trained field-level force of agents. Following their recruitment, they receive all the necessary training through online and offline mediums both, Ahmad said.
MetLife also has a digital learning platform that over 15,000 agents use regularly. The company also monitors whether the agents are using it, he added.
He continued, “MetLife is very active in settling claims. We do not want the customer to face any difficulty in this. For maturity claims, we have made the process of submitting documents easy for them and we pay the money within seven working days.
“At the same time, we settle the insurance claims as quickly as possible. We try to settle them within three-five days. This has been possible because our whole system is digitalised. Maybe we are doing well in the insurance business because we are operating this way.”
“These systems are working and we get to utilise our global expertise or capabilities here. That’s why MetLife plans to move forward by retaining its business structure and current operating procedures,” he added.
Tackling the pandemic
When the Covid pandemic started in Bangladesh, MetLife realised that it was their time to prove that they keep their promise and contract made to the customers, Ahmad told The Business Post.
“It was the time to serve the customers. We started an online service for customers through which they could consult doctors for free. Also, with our operating system already digitalised, our agents were able to contact customers online at home. Officers did not even have to come to the office and took care of work online,” he said.
At the same time, they also introduced the digital policy submission system to ease agents’ activities during the pandemic and it’s still ongoing.
Ahmad said, “When the pandemic situation got worse, we informed our clients that if someone dies from Covid, we will settle the insurance claim within three hours and the money will be deposited to their bank account within three working days.
“We paid on time the insurance claims of more than 150 customers who died from Covid. Because we kept our promise, the customers’ confidence in us has increased.”
In recent times, people’s interest in insurance has increased due to various initiatives taken by the government. It was not the same even five or 10 years ago. The insurance sector will hopefully expand more over the next few years, Ahmad said.
“However, there is a lack of skilled manpower in this sector. Technical people in particular are in short supply. Also, bringing in automation will require increased investment. But many companies are not seeing it that way. If you consider the customers, many companies are yet to come under automation. They should treat this as a project,” he added.
Talking about the severe lack of actuaries, he said the actuary profession has not become popular and established in Bangladesh due to various reasons and insurance companies should work together to change that.
“The government has introduced the scholarship facility to create more actuaries and that is really commendable. Along with them, insurance companies should also come forward with measures to encourage people in joining this profession,” he said.
“Doing its part, MetLife has taken the initiative of creating actuaries for the last two years. We offer scholarships to undergraduate students in private and public universities. Last year, we gave scholarships to 10 people. We aim to do the same this year as well,” Ahmad said.
Talking to The Business Post, Ala Uddin Ahmad said that the government recently has started considering introducing bancassurance, which is responsible for a major portion of the insurance sector’s penetration rate in many countries and will play a key role in increasing the rate here.
“Most banks have good acceptance among people. Banks have good relationships with customers who have not taken up insurance policies yet. If bancassurance is introduced, banks will be able to provide one-stop service to their customers for all the facilities.
“So, the introduction of bancassurance will make the promotion of insurance easier,” he said.
Ahmad said that the insurance sector should be made more accessible. “Firstly, the number of people who sell insurance products should be increased and they should be given the necessary training to make them efficient. Secondly, the quality of service and transparency should be improved so that people’s confidence in insurance increases.”
On the other hand, he said, insurance companies will have to keep management expenses within limits, make safe investments, and settle insurance maturity or insurance claims in a timely and easy manner.
“That will increase people’s trust in insurance companies. The sector’s contribution to GDP will rise if the guidelines of the Insurance Development and Regulatory Authority are properly and regularly followed,” he added.
The MetLife CEO said that insurance can no longer be viewed separately given the increased financial ability of the people. “So, the need for insurance is increasing from all points of view.”
“If more people get covered by insurance, the pressure on the government will be reduced. In the end, insurance is just as necessary for the economy as it is for a family’s financial security,” Ahmad stressed.