TRUST MATTERS

Lebanon 2015 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Pierre Talhami, General Manager of Beirut Life, on links with the banking sector, gaining a foothold in the local market, and raising awareness of insurance.

Pierre Talhami
BIOGRAPHY
Pierre Talhami is the General Manager and Member of the Board of Beirut Life Insurance and Reinsurance Company and General Manager of Beirut Brokers, both affiliates to Bank of Beirut. With 33 years of insurance experience, he started his career with ING Canada as a Senior Underwriter and was selected as a senior management candidate, after which he moved back to Lebanon joining Bank Of Beirut Group in 1996. He holds an MBA in Management and Finance, a BSc in Management Information Systems, and is an Associate to the Insurance Institute of Canada (AIIC).

How does Beirut Life benefit from its relationship with Bank of Beirut?

It has become internationally acknowledged that banks are no longer banks in a sense of offering only banking products but rather financial institutions offering financial services and products. This includes a broad range of banking, insurance, investment, and financial advisory and planning services, with any combination of them. While bankers are professional in banking, underwriters and insurance experts are professional in insurance and financial advisors are professional in planning and investment. When it comes to banking and insurance, these industries are complementary to each other, since bankers are risk averse and insurers are risk takers. Bankers accomplish their analysis of the finances and the current ability of clients to meet their obligations, and transfer all or part of the unforeseen risk to us to study and manage. Therefore, in order to become providers of a complete line of financial products and services, we joined efforts to design the products needed to satisfy our clients' needs, and convert our branches into a one-stop-shopping place for financial products and services. For us, Bank of Beirut comprises a captive client and their customers are our largest target market. Their physical locations and branches are our best channels of distribution. We see synergy as a situation where one plus one equal more than two, and with Bank of Beirut we experience synergy at its best. This is not an edge to our group only, but to our clients as well, who benefit from our lower costs leading to products and services that are fairly priced.

What does Beirut Life add to the Lebanese insurance sector as a newly established company?

We believe that competition is the only way towards perfection. We have a vision of becoming providers of specialty life insurance products, thus driving other companies to compete with us to the ultimate benefit of our customers. We aim to enhance the awareness of our market base on the importance of planning and protection against the financial impacts of life's unfortunate events and their resulting trauma. We also aim to tackle our customers' priorities by offering the most appropriate solution. All this will be coupled with the proper education, which will feature and emphasize the qualities of each product, its target and limitations if any. Only then will the client learn how to compare and contrast and choose the best. In addition, our ability to physically reach a wider market through our branches will certainly help the industry gain new insurance loyal clients and contribute positively to the size of the national portfolio.

What steps does Beirut Life follow to promote insurance awareness in Lebanon and the region?

Although awareness is not a variable that can be measured in numbers, other indicators may be used to depict its magnitude. Once we realize that an average citizen of Ireland spends 35% of his income on insurance products and that of England spends 25%, while an average Lebanese citizen spends only 1% on insurance, we will simply conclude that awareness among other constraints is inadequate. Moreover, most people fear the unknown, or more specifically, things that they cannot comprehend. In this context, we have to admit that an insurance contract and its fine prints is a document that is hard to grasp and consequently can generate ambiguity. At Beirut Life, one of our objectives is to contribute to the process of building customer awareness and invest to gear up and enhance the image of insurance in Lebanon. To accomplish that, we intend to play three major roles while assuming our duties as insurers. We intend to be educators, distributors, and fair claims payers. Each of these roles will have an obligation towards our customers, which will ultimately lead to more awareness, trust, and confidence.