Uninterrupted services at difficult time is our Commitment

Nirmal Kajee Shrestha
Nirmal Kajee Shrestha, Vice President & General Manager, MetLife Nepal

The coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge of World today. The entire globe is facing the critical situation of Locked Down. Few sectors are in operation at this adverse time, among these Insurance is one. Aarthiknews.com has forwarded some relevance queries to the Vice President & General Manager, MetLife Nepal, Mr. Nirmal Kajee Shrestha. Here is very clear and informative answer by him that may project the present situation and view point of entire insurance.

How are insurance companies managing their day-to-day activities during the lockdown period?

It has been a great learning experience for all Companies during this lockdown period. All Companies are trying the best for continuity of their day to day work in different ways and it has become an opportunity for all to explore new ways of doing things. Our philosophy at MetLife is to fully protect our customers, our people, and our communities. To this end, we are 100% continuing to serve our customers through this challenging time digitally.

We have a robust Business Continuity Plan in place and these ensure that we can continue to serve our customers and partners during this current pandemic.

We have taken several proactive steps to make it easier for our customers. We have improved the facility for online premium payment. Customers can pay their premium through payment channels eSewa and Fonepay. All active policies are continued even if the payment premium due date has passed during the lockdown period. We are thankful to our regulators for appropriate guidelines in this situation. We are not charging a late fee on due premium during this period, and we are consistently providing necessary preventive health information via FM Radio, Facebook, and e-mail to all our customers and partners.

Overall, I’m very proud of our people and their efforts to ensure that all functions are smoothly operating day-to-day activities in serving our customers.

Which area or functions of a life insurance company is the lockdown having the most impact on?

 Since we were well-prepared for such a crisis, all our critical teams were able to function from home since the first day of the lockdown.

This has enabled us to continue our major services to our customers like claims, payment of maturity, Policy Loan, Reinstatement, premium collection through online, etc.  seamlessly and our agents are constantly in touch with their clients via telephone and other digital methods. We are proud that MetLife Customers have appreciated those services even during this difficult situation.

We are continuously exploring ways we can fulfill these tasks digitally at the convenience of all.

Will life insurance policies cover damage due to COVID-19 infections?

MetLife is committed to supporting our existing policyholders and new applicants so, yes, all our existing life and accident and health policies provide coverage against COVID-19, subject to the terms and conditions of the policy.

Additionally, our global MetLife Foundation has committed US$25 million to the communities most impacted by COVID-19 globally, including those in Nepal. The funding from MetLife Foundation will span all regions where MetLife operates and will address both short and longer-term relief efforts here and elsewhere. In addition to this, we have also contributed to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund through the Nepal Life Insurer’s Association.

Is there a scope of introducing new life insurance policies? Can life insurance companies introduce products covering pandemics like this?

 It is absolutely core to our purpose to ensure that our policyholders are protected and that pandemic exclusions do not apply.

But we always recommend that customers check the policy exclusions before they buy an insurance benefit, as not all policies are the same. The policy exclusion spells out under what situations and circumstances the benefit of the insurance are not paid.

Coming back to the question, pandemics like the current one has historically been rare events and creating pandemic-specific insurance may mean that a customer never gets any benefit or use out of the insurance product.

Instead I advise people to buy policies that cover death, disability, hospitalization, and outpatient medical need and provides coverage regardless of a pandemic or not because an insurance policy should be able to compensate for your financial loss under multiple scenarios rather than only under one.

Various digital medium is being used for premium payment etc. How easy and trustworthy are these services?

Digital payments are without a doubt easy and convenient.

Security is always an issue, but the right due diligence, proper security measures, and constant monitoring create an environment in which customers can use digital payments with confidence.

As we were one of the first life insurers to provide online payment solutions to our customers last year, our team including Global IT had done a lot of technical studies especially on the security aspect. Only after their approvals, we introduced the payment system which is why our customers can make their premium payments through these portals securely. Currently they can make online payment through eSewa or Fonepay and we are working on increasing the number of payment partners.

What changes in digital transactions will enable online policy purchases?

We have been looking closely at the online insurance purchase system for some time now.

We are happy that our regulators are very open to this and have motivated to come with the procedure.

We have been looking at other developed countries in Asia and the methods they use to protect customers in the purchase process. Those countries, having end to end digital sales process, have been able to perform good sales during this Covid-19 situation too though not to the extent of the normal situation. We have simplified and digitized some processes in Nepal too. But we are working now to explore and develop further.

Looking at the rapid development of the digital transformation happening in the country, and our regulators and companies working towards it, it is not far off where a consumer can purchase an insurance policy online.

 The pandemic has brought some opportunities for the insurance market, can Nepali insurance companies grab these opportunities?

We are very optimistic though we can see plenty of challenges ahead. The market should be able to overcome those challenges with specific policies and strategies. It’s important to us that we protect our customers during times of challenge and difficulty.  A pandemic is not a time for sales, but a time to make sure our customers have what they need from us, and that we are giving them as much support and convenience as possible.

Our purpose is to serve our customers. To this end, awareness is critical, and not just because of the pandemic. The companies must join hands with our regulatory bodies to combat low awareness. While having an insurance penetration rate of approx. 25 percent, and rising rates of critical illnesses such as cancer, there is a sizable protection gap which means that most people do not have coverage to financially protect themselves against the costs of uncertainty. Companies, and their products, must place more focus on providing proper coverage against unanticipated incidents rather than on potential returns.

We believe it is a core responsibility of all parties involved in the insurance sector to increase awareness for the greater population and ensure Nepalese can fully utilize insurance for their protection.

Even though technological development is growing in Nepal, it mainly exists in major cities. Internet penetration is rising every year giving more access to rural parts of the country. Insurance companies like MetLife have been focusing on digital to improve their services to its policyholders like sales platform and online payment solution. If these kinds of services can be implemented in all insurance services, then access to it can be increased. Together with that, it is very important to enhance the knowledge of digital sales to our distribution team and we are moving towards it.

What is the difference in the working of a Foreign and Local insurance company?

 I don’t think it’s appropriate to compare the two, all companies are doing very well in Nepal. All are very competitive; the only difference is each company will have its own policies, priorities, and strategies.

Given that as I am working in an international insurance company for the last 18 years and can only share my experience with MetLife. Without a doubt, as a 152-year-old company with operations in more than 40 countries, MetLife brings a significant amount of global expertise in both mature and developing markets to Nepal’s flourishing insurance market. As the only global life insurer in Nepal, we provide a broad range of products covering life, accident, health, credit, and group insurance (employee benefits) through multiple channels.

Its global expertise and long history of innovation and customer focus mean that we have always been a pioneer in Nepal’s insurance market, bringing new protection solutions like Critical Illness, micro insurance, universal life, Life Care (female-centric product), Employee Benefits, etc. and even new distribution channels like bancassurance. MetLife also developed the professional Agency Distribution Channel of the international level which is continuing to grow and develop.

Additionally, we have a great focus on talent and innovation, of which I am truly proud. We have great insurance education programs and specialist leadership programs. Plus, we have a dedicated training department that designs structured training programs for our agency sales force and managers to build their skills at different career stages. All these programs combined, mean that we can train and develop a robust internal talent pool to support our growth and the growth of the whole industry.

MetLife Nepal has been playing a big role in the insurance industry and awareness in Nepal. Is MetLife Nepal working to introduce any new products? If so, what type of product?

Whatever we do, we put our customers in the center. We are consistently trying to make people understand that insurance is not only an investment tool but highlighting majorly the protection benefits that help them build financial resilience and protect their wealth. As an industry, we need to raise more awareness about the risks people face every day, as well as the protection benefits insurance, offers and this is where MetLife will focus in Nepal.

In response to customer needs, MetLife launched LifeCare last year. LifeCare is a term insurance policy that provides comprehensive financial protection against loss of life, unanticipated incidents, and diagnosis of 24 serious diseases. The first-of-its-kind insurance plan in Nepal offers packages specifically designed for women, as well as a general package for all.

As a future-focused company, MetLife is investing heavily in digitally enabling our workforce and serving customers. Through innovations like our online Global Sales and Service Platform (GSSP), we’re becoming faster and easier for our customers in terms of service. We are also in the process of launching our App for customers which will make it convenient for them to receive updates and reminders of their policies. Together with this, we keep on developing professionals and talent whether in the office or in the Agency Field Force which is our strength of the future.

To ensure our business continues to evolve with our customers’ needs, we are conducting research to identify key insights of insurance gaps and needs in the country and develop new products accordingly. This is a continuous process for us as the situation might keep changing with time which might bring new requirements for our customers. We already have expanded our presence to all 7 states which take our total office number to over 30. We plan to have one branch office in each state by 2021 so that our services can be availed by our customers in every state.