TBY talks to Michel Khalaf, President, US& EMEA at MetLife,Inc., on how the UAE's needs have changed and how the company is adding value and a wider range o services to a growing population.

Michel Khalaf
Prior to assuming this expanded role, Michel Khalaf was President of EMEA and, before that, Executive Vice President and CEO of MetLife’s Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. Prior to that, he was Deputy President and COO of Philamlife, AIG’s operating company in the Philippines. He is a graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in engineering and an MBA in finance. He is a fellow of the Life Management Institute (FLMI).

How is MetLife transforming its business to meet the evolving needs of its customers?

Transformation is central to our strategy. Our goal is to offer customers truly differentiated value propositions that allow us to ultimately drive more value for our customers and shareholders. We do this through our range of products, ensuring they are accessible to the customer. This is being enhanced through developing our digital capabilities. We are investing in innovation, drawing particularly on the deep talent pool we have within our company. An impressive recent example of this innovation was the introduction of a customer service platform in the UAE. The platform was launched to enable ongoing digital engagement and dialogue with our customers. This unifies simple policy management and online payment, but also packages health management and wellness information with a unique health-tracking tool. Among many other examples is Turkey, where we are engaging customers through social media, which is applicable to that market due to Turkey's young and technologically savvy demographic. We now offer products through a social media platform. Product and distribution innovations like these that are simple, digital, and customer centric will ensure that life insurance companies remain relevant and continue to offer long-term value.

The UAE has around 50 banks, roughly one per 200,000 people, while there are 60 insurers for the same population. How are you assessing growth opportunities in a relatively saturated market?

The UAE market has significant potential for further growth and development, notably due to the low levels of life insurance penetration alongside the growing population. To be successful within the UAE market, companies must be financially stable in order to meet their commitments to policyholders and offer the service that their customers are demanding. As part of our business transformation we are refreshing our brand globally and our new tagline, Navigating Life Together, reflects the trusted partnership our customers tell us they want from MetLife. We are also well underway on our journey to innovate, whereby we will enhance the added value for both customers and shareholders alike. We were recently honored to win the Life Insurance Company of the Year award for the MEA region for the third consecutive year, at the 2016 Middle East Insurance Industry Awards (MIIA), organized by Middle East Insurance Review in UAE. This award pays testament to the efforts of our employees to continually innovate and serve the needs of our customers, and reflects the fact that MetLife has established itself as a trustworthy brand. MetLife Gulf also recently won the 2016 Employee Benefits Provider award by MENAIR, another great accomplishment, being one of the 12 insurance companies granted Participating Insurer (PI) status by Dubai Health Authority (DHA). Generally speaking, competition is healthy in all industries, as it provides the consumer with options and drives cost, product, and technology innovation.

How is MetLife tackling the challenge of long-term economic, political, and regulatory uncertainty in EMEA region?

We are caught between macro-economic volatility, regulatory uncertainty, and rising expectations on the part of our customers and shareholders. This makes it a challenging time to be in the life insurance business. To continue to thrive in this environment, we have had to respond effectively to these challenges and so recently refreshed our strategy to transform MetLife into the kind of company that can succeed in any economic environment while continuing to deliver superior value to our customers and shareholders. In EMEA, MetLife has a long-standing presence and is well diversified, which means that we are not overly reliant on any one market. While we experience headwinds in some countries, it can be largely offset by growth in other markets—we maintain leading positions in a number of growth markets in the Middle East and Central & Eastern Europe, and continue to focus on attractive niche segments in more developed markets.

While the UAE economy will still post growth of around 2.6% this year, both the country and the region are experiencing headwinds. Where is the company currently looking to invest in order to return strong returns for the stakeholders?

The UAE is a key market of growth for MetLife. We look closely at potential growth opportunities in the UAE and continuously conduct customer research and analysis, including Net Promoter Score (NPS), to assess how we can provide value and differentiation to our customers. In addition to the digital innovation I mentioned earlier, some of our other investments include a simplified sales platform that enables a convenient, digitized, and end-to-end customer experience; wellness programs focused on education, prevention and screening; mobile e-services including submission and claims tracking and data analytics to help establish controls with our healthcare partners to minimize waste. We have been in the UAE since 1962 and we are here to stay and grow along with the country, our partners as well as more than one million customers.