The American Life Insurance Company (MetLife) has been in Bangladesh for 66 years and employs 16,000 people to help serve its one million customers in the country. MetLife Bangladesh General Manager Syed Hammadul Karim tells the Dhaka Tribune’s Rafikul Islam about the company’s history and its current and future plans
What is MetLife?
MetLife is one of world’s leading financial services companies, providing insurance, annuities, employee benefits and asset management to individual and institutional customers.
MetLife was founded in 1868 and has operations in 44 countries. Our corporate headquarters is in New York (and) we are among the market leaders in the US, Japan, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
We serve around 100 million customers across the world through 49,000 employees.
How did MetLife arrive in Bangladesh?
Leveraging its strong financial credentials and world class capabilities, MetLife has pursued an organic growth strategy in Asia supplemented by a number of alliances and acquisitions to broaden its locations, product and service offerings to capture the attractive growth opportunities in the region.
MetLife operates its Asia business through its regional headquarters in Hong Kong, (but) its story in Asia can be traced back to Bangladesh, where operations first began in 1952.
The company was popularly known as ALICO until its acquisition by MetLife Inc globally in November 2010. Thereafter it was co-branded as MetLife Alico, before becoming MetLife in 2015.
MetLife Bangladesh is the largest life insurer in the country (and) has been the market leader since 1997. It now serves over one million customers and is a major employer in the country with over 16,000 employees.
What services do you offer in Bangladesh?
MetLife offers financial protection to the people of Bangladesh through a mix of traditional and innovative products such as individual and group life insurance policies, pension schemes, children’s education policy, Shariah based savings schemes and accident and health products. The products are designed to suit people of different age groups, professions and income ranges.
What are your future product plans?
Bangladeshi customers would like to get digitalization facilities, so we want to fulfill that need. There is no alternative to digitalization in the modern world.
Our marketing system needs to be further diversified. We will bring various products into the markets in the future.
Our future plan is to develop the industry (but) we cannot develop it by ourselves.
What are the major challenges for the insurance industry in Bangladesh?
The major challenges here are a lack of awareness, a lack of skilled manpower, and inadequate resources for insurance. Insurance penetration is very low here; the contribution of life insurance to the GDP is below 0.5%.
Also, insurance regulatory environment is not up to our expectations (and) neighbouring countries are more developed in this area than us. If we can overcome these, then the number of customers will increase in this sector.
Infrastructure is another problem because we depend on infrastructure to deliver services. We would like to get our services to remote areas but the communication systems are poor. If there are no banks, no courier services or postal offices, then how can we sell policies?
What can the government do to increase awareness?
The Insurance Development and Regulatory Authority is working to increase awareness among people. They often also call the companies to the table to hear their views, while insurance companies take part in different fairs and programs. This is all very positive.
What policy support do you receive from the government?
We get good government policy support. Insurance laws - such as Insurance Act 2010 and Insurance Policy 2014 - and the activities of the IDRA authority are very positive for the business.
If the authorities continue these activities then the industry will be developed more in in future.
How does your service meet with expectations?
Generally, you can look at service from two angles: from the legal point of view and in terms of customer expectations. These are not the same things; customers can have certain expectations but we have to see the matter from a legal point of view. For this reason there is a gap.
However, our standards is not what we give to customers, but what the customers want. We try at all times to give the best services to our customers as per their expectations.