July 05, 2019
“It’s important to have a conversation with the person,
understand him or her a bit more. Then, give only advice that is to
the client’s best interest — even to the extent of not making a sale.”
Insurance honcho redefines the approach to pushing coverage
Kamaludin Bin Ahmad is all too familiar with the scenario — he hands over his business card to a new acquaintance that he’s just met at a cocktails. The person scans what is written on it and conversation that started on a lively note, suddenly peters out and the guest wanders off to another circle.
Ahmad is in insurance. He is group chief executive officer of Etiqa, a member of the Maybank Group, that offers a full range of life and general conventional insurance policies as well as family and general takaful (type of Islamic insurance) programs. Etiqa’s products and services are offered through multi-distribution channels, including over 8,100 agents, 46 branches and 17 offices, over 490 bank assurance network and online through its presence in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia.
It is currently present in Malaysia and Singapore via Etiqa International Ltd., the Philippines via Etiqa Life and General Assurance Philippines Inc., and Indonesia via Etiqa Indonesia.
Ahmad is well aware of the ambivalent impression the public nurses of insurance agents. He says: “No one really wakes up in the morning, thinking they want to buy insurance.
“We all have competing priorities, especially the young people. There’s always a higher priority, and buying insurance is still not up there.”
Ahmad and his team are working tirelessly to change mindsets — both internally and out in the marketplace — to nurture the value and appreciation for protection and coverage.
Ahmad explains: “At Etiqa, we want to recondition the attitude of insurance companies these past 30 years of making it difficult for clients to get their claims. The true product of an insurance company at the end of the day is the pay out when something bad happens.
“If we can do that really well, then we live up to our name as an insurance company,” he adds.
“Selling insurance is no longer about getting rich quickly, but being a useful member of the community and helping others. It’s about someone doing good and being proud of it.”
An actuarial scientist, Ahmad is no stranger to a minority that regularly tries to fleece insurers’ deep pockets. “The concern that people may try to cheat us is very real and has led to making the claims process cumbersome. There will always be that 5 percent who try to do it, but why penalize the other 95 percent who do deserve that payout.”
Etiqa, he says, has taken “the bold step of making payouts as fast as possible,” even at the risk of getting it wrong occasionally. But here is where technology has stepped in to strengthen detection. A special team uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics among other cyber tools, to trigger red flags when potentially false claims pop up.
All adhere to Etiqua’s service tenet, which Ahmad repeats: “We don’t want the 95 percent (who are genuine claimants) to suffer, and we want to be known as a company that provides easy and quick delivery of service.”
The pushy insurance agent of yore, Ahmad believes, has no place in today’s marketing landscape. He reminds his sales force (now identified as financial advisers or in some companies, as relationship managers) of the negative feelings these types manage to evoke in customers.
Ahmad says: “I ask them: ‘Do you feel good when you see people trying to avoid us?’ It’s important to first have a conversation with the person, understand him or her a bit more. Then, give only the best advice that is to the client’s best interest — even to the extent of not making the sale.
“If you can make a package affordable for them, then you can push the deal. But if there’s nothing that suits their needs, then you don’t push. When people see that you have their best interests at heart, they will grow comfortable talking to you.
“When they face a crowd, I want my staff to feel proud to say they work for Etiqa because we are a company that facilitates fast claims and always puts our customers interests first.”
For decades, insurance firms fired up their sales people with the lure of dazzling commissions. Etiqa management and Ahmad, however, seek to go beyond the material. Says Ahmad: “We want people to subscribe to values. We want them to realize that in this job, they can actually help make the world a better place.
“That may sound corny, but see it this way: Imagine, if a breadwinner met an accident and died. Insurance would enable his children to continue their education. Or if he needed rehabilitation, insurance would help get him back in the work place.
“The by-product for our team members would be a comfortable life and the assurance they had helped others. Selling insurance is no longer about becoming rich quickly, but being a useful member of the community, and not someone who just wants to close a deal.
“It’s about being known as someone who does good and is proud of it.”
In hiring staff, Etica searches for individuals, who possess character traits such as sincerity and empathy, and show good values. Previously, Ahmad used to interview all candidates shortlisted by the company’s Human Resources department to make sure the fit was right. “We are after all in the service industry, so our people have to have the skills to relate to the customers.”
Insurance literacy should start as early as possible in one’s life. Ahmad counsels millennials to take up some form of coverage, starting with a personal accident plan. Premiums for such schemes are low and reasonable in the Philippines, ranging from P400 to 500 monthly, with a claim of about P1.3 million in case of any untoward happening.
As a youngster, who was good in numbers, Ahmad stumbled into actuarial science — the discipline applying mathematical and statistical methods to assess risk in insurance, finance and other industries — when he was looking for the right university course to enroll in. It promised a stable career for those mathematically inclined, not too much stress and an above average salary. He graduated with a bachelor of science (Honors) degree in actuarial science from the University of Bristol in Kent, Canterbury, UK.
Back in Malaysia, Ahmad did not gravitate to insurance, the logical choice for his discipline, admitting: “because I had these traditional images of the insurance industry.” He started off with Malaysia’s Securities Commission and Bank Negara Malaysia (Central Bank), moving on to an investment bank until he finally succumbed to joining the trade he initially avoided. He says: “The pay was very good and I was starting to raise a family.” He has spent over 25 years in the financial services industry.
Being an actuary, Ahmad reflects, appeals to the problem solver in him and honed his determination. “It’s like climbing a mountain. At university, there were some concepts (in the science) that were just too difficult to understand or weird. But I’m the type who like to sort things things out, so I persevered and saw the mountain peak.
“Throw me at the deep end of the pool, and I’ll work out how to swim. Actuarial science has taught me to see things differently.”
This father of four devours between 50 to 80 books a year, mostly non-fiction, how-to and self-improvement tomes, which he finds extremely helpful leading his workforce in the region.
With three children in the UK for studies, and one in boarding school in Malaysia, Ahmad and his entrepreneur-wife Nazura are empty nesters, but they make it a point to reunite with their brood during school breaks and travel together.
His idea of a work-balance formula is integrating both spheres of his life. This helps lessen any guilt about one taking precedence of the other, he says.
If there are individuals born to convince us to take coverage and protection, Kamaludin Ahmad is the person who won’t stop at finding ways to make this happen.
* * *
Etiqa group chief executive officer Kamaludin Bin Ahmad — or ‘Kamal’ to his friends — prefers to experience the 80 or so books he reads a year the old way, by turning their pages. Good to Great by Jim C. Collins is one that made a difference in his life. Here are some tips from the corporate bible he still finds useful to this day.
• Right people. Before management can achieve anything, is has to have the right people in the team. And they have to share the same values, which is important. If not, arguments may crop up frequently, and may become personal.
• Long-term goal. This should be big enough to guide company growth for years.
• Company pride. Everyone should buy into the company vision and goal and be proud to be associated with such efforts.
PHOTOS BY HARVEY TAPAN
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