Lebanon 2013 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fateh Bekdache, Vice-Chairman & General Manager of AROPE Insurance, on new digital solutions, competition in the sector, and the regulatory environment.

Fateh Bekdache
Fateh Bekdache is the Vice-Chairman and General Manager of AROPE Insurance. He holds a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Southern California, and began his professional career in 1984 in retail and marketing at a department store in California. He later moved to Beirut to work as a Marketing Director for Import and Export at GAPP. He moved into the insurance sector in 1992 when he was appointed Managing Partner at LECTA. In 1996, he joined AROPE Insurance as Assistant General Manager, soon becoming General Manager. He was elected Vice-Chairman and General Manager in 2007.

What have been the milestones of AROPE Insurance and the insurance sector in general over the past two years?

Despite the slowdown in the Lebanese market, a new traffic law was published at the beginning of 2013. Third-party liability insurance covering material damage became mandatory in addition to the compulsory bodily injuries insurance stipulated in 2003. Unfortunately, this law was put on hold due to many legal flaws. As for AROPE Insurance, the past two years were digitally fruitful. AROPE Insurance was the first insurance company in Lebanon to develop a mobile app with unique features to provide full assistance on the go. It can be downloaded from Apple store, Google Play, and Blackberry App World. Our website was re-designed, a new mobile website was developed, and social media activated to give us a full presence in the digital world to better communicate with our customers.

What are your rankings in Lebanon's insurance sector?

Today, customers are less price-sensitive, but quite demanding in terms of the quality of service they seek. Consequently, what differentiates one company from another is neither product nor size, but rather customer service. Committed to being a customer-centric company with a good reputation, AROPE Insurance's focus is also on achieving excellent bottom-line results. In 2012, the company held a market share of 10.1% in the life business and 6% in the non-life business. We rank fourth in terms of production in the life and non-life business among 52 insurance companies operating in Lebanon. We are proud to rank first or second based on bottom-line results. Now that the Insurance Control Commission (ICC) has started publishing detailed figures of sector companies—the last report was in 2011—a clearer view of the market has emerged.

What can be done to increase the attractiveness of the insurance sector in Lebanon?

Even though Lebanon ranks high in the region in terms of insurance awareness, I believe we still have long way to go. Insurance is negatively perceived by customers and considered, most of the time, as a burden or a tax to be paid, rather than a tool of protection. However, looking at the figures, we can clearly see the amount and number of claims that companies pay on a yearly basis. Investing in educating people about insurance is a major role that our government, the ICC, and the Association of Insurance Companies in Lebanon (ACAL) should play in order to better position the market.

How has your product portfolio evolved in recent years?

We are market leaders in motor insurance, and one of the major players in life insurance. Our focus is on the personal line of business, wherein we perceive the future. There is a need for such protection in our market due to the weakness of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the absence of social support from the government. Most of the time, Lebanese citizens must secure at least their own health insurance, retirement plan, and education plan for their children to preserve their financial stability and ensure the future of their families in case of unforeseen events.

How does AROPE Insurance work with BLOM Bank?

For us, every branch is a hub, and we operate a one-stop shop model to answer all customer inquiries. Customers visit the bank not only to execute financial transactions, but also to settle bills. Insurance has become a part of these transactions, due to the introduction of mandatory insurance and as a guarantee on bank products.

What needs to be done to enhance the regulatory environment?

Our regulatory environment requires improvement since it doesn't properly regulate all industry activities and products, especially considering that the last amendment was published in 1999. Because of the political environment and instability, there is a slowdown in passing new laws. A new draft insurance law has been shelved for many years now.