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Michel Khalaf

UAE, DUBAI - Finance

Customer First

President, Middle East and Africa at MetLife

Bio

Michel Khalaf has been a member of the company’s executive group since 2011. He has held a number of leadership roles in various markets around the world including the Caribbean, France, Italy, Egypt, Poland, Romania, the Baltics, the Philippines, and has been based in Dubai since 2008. He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Engineering and an MBA in Finance. He is a fellow of the Life Management Institute (FLMI).

TBY talks to Michel Khalaf, President of Europe, Middle East and Africa at MetLife, on being recognized at the Middle East Insurance Industry Awards, using technology, and the potential for takaful.

MetLife recently won the Life Insurance Company of the Year Award at the first Middle East Insurance Industry Awards. What is the significance of this award to MetLife?

We are pleased that MetLife was recognized as the Life Insurance Company of the Year in the Middle East. This is an important recognition from our industry peers, particularly as the award focuses on excellence. The award citation “Putting customers first, embracing best standards, making things easier, and succeeding together” are the values behind MetLife’s Life Insurance Company of the Year Award, capturing the essence of who we are as a company. The award also reflects our long presence and service in the region and our ongoing commitment to meeting the evolving needs of our customers through our broad product range, extensive distribution capability, and commitment to customer service—all backed by the dedication, energy, and passion of our employees. MetLife has been a pioneer of life insurance in the Middle East and Africa for more than 60 years and this recognition validates our strategy and reinforces our leadership position in the region.

A recent E&Y report suggested that, in the Middle East, technology is going to shape the way insurance markets operate. How is MetLife implementing technology to continue its growth throughout the Middle East?

Technology plays a vital role in helping the industry drive growth, improve efficiency, and boost service delivery for customers as well as lower operating costs. Companies that are able to take advantage of technological developments and use them to drive business innovations are gaining a significant advantage. MetLife is making a significant investment in technology in order to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible and to enhance the customer experience. We have clear objectives to break down geographic and organizational boundaries and take a global view to leverage scale, simplify how we operate, and create a differentiated customer experience. We’ve focused on innovation in products, distribution, and services, including digital communications, such as SMS and email, and the launch of online portals, as well as the optimization of back-end processes. We were first to launch an e-claims service here in the Gulf, an online claims application process designed by MetLife so that medical providers and claim administrators can undertake a range of claims-related functions online, easily and conveniently. It’s made an instant impact and helped us to reduce significantly the time taken for pre-approvals, claims receipt, and processing. Technological advances such as e-claims provide the foundation for achieving our customer-centric objectives and ensure that the experiences provided to all customers are of the highest standard.

One of the visions of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is to lead Dubai to the point of being the Islamic economy capital of the world. How is MetLife positioned to embrace Islamic finance?

The UAE is a dynamic market and we continue looking at takaful as a potential opportunity. In 2014 we conducted a preliminary analysis for the further assessment of the existing opportunities in the region, given the growth potential experienced in recent years in Islamic insurance. One of the benefits of being a global business is that we can draw on our Islamic insurance experience in other parts of the world, such as our joint venture with a leading Malaysian bank.

How do you think recent legislation increasing capital adequacy requirements for insurance companies will affect the market?

We do not think the new capital framework introduced by the Insurance Authority will disproportionally affect smaller firms. Smaller firms write less volume of business and their capital requirements will be proportionate to that. What is important is that the new rules mean that all companies in the market will have to abide by the same rules. In our view, this creates a level playing field and ensures companies that serve customers are adequately capitalized. In the long run, this is good for the development of the insurance market and ultimately good for the consumer. This is particularly important for the life insurance industry, where policies are designed for the long term.

Can you comment on the Dubai Health Authority’s first phase of mandatory health insurance cover, which began at the end of October 2014?

MetLife has been operating in the UAE insurance market for more than 50 years, and we were pleased to be able to put our substantial experience at the disposal of Dubai Health Authority when it was formulating the new law. MetLife was one of only seven insurance companies to be granted Participating Insurer (PI) status by the Dubai Health Authority. Under the new law, which makes health insurance mandatory for all residents by 2016 in Dubai, we can provide basic health insurance benefits to employees with salaries under $1,088 per month. Dubai Health Authority estimates that around 2 million people fall into this low salary band bracket. We plan to play a leading role by leveraging our distribution reach and creating new and enhanced products.

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