Unpacking GD Assist, The Future Of Insurance Business, and Life’s Lessons With Syed Moinuddin Ahmed, MD, GD Assist, AMD, Green Delta Insurance Company Limited

Unpacking GD Assist, The Future Of Insurance Business, and Life’s Lessons With Syed Moinuddin Ahmed, MD, GD Assist, AMD, Green Delta Insurance Company Limited

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Syed Moinuddin Ahmed, Managing Director of GD Assist, Additional Managing Director and Company Secretary of Green Delta Insurance Company Limited, on his childhood and how his upbringing in a middle-class household shaped his life, influence of family values like discipline on our later life, his journey from Southeast Bank to what he is doing today, how he ended up at Green Delta Insurance Company LImited and his work at GIDC, Green Delta’s foray into digital insurance, how Green Delta is devising new strategy to grow its business, the beginning of GD Assist, how GD Assist has achieved a double digit growth, why execution is the key to growth, the relationship between achievement and discipline, and much more.

Enjoy the conversation!

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Where did you grow up? Could you please tell us about your background and your journey to what you are doing today?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

I was born and bred in Dhaka. I went to Dhanmondi Government Boys’ High School and Government Science College for my secondary and higher secondary education, respectively.

I received my bachelor’s degree in business from the Independent University of Bangladesh and Master’s in Finance from the University of Dhaka.

After my graduation, in 2000, I joined Southeast Bank (SEB) as MTO. We were the first batch of management trainee officers at SEB. I worked there for the next four and half years. As a Management Trainee, I had the opportunity to work in different departments and capacities within Southeast Bank – head office, branches and both in Dhaka and Chittagong. It was a great journey and a wholesome experience in banking. I worked hard and learned a great deal.

Afterward, in 2004 I joined BRAC Bank. I stayed at Brac Bank for about five and a half years and worked mainly in SME Banking Division. While I was there, SME banking in Brac Bank had experienced an enormous growth, what you could see now in terms of Brac Bank SME Banking, the foundation was laid in 2004-07, those years. Initially, I worked in the SME Credit, then moved into SME Banking Development, then I worked as Head of Small Business, and finally, I was there as the acting Head of SME Banking.

BRAC Bank was the real learning ground for me. The experience that I had there – working long hours, collaborating with a team, not complaining about needing to work too hard – prepared me for my journey in later years. Those five and half years were my formative years.

I left BRAC Bank and joined Green Delta in July 2009. Since then I have availed a few positions within Green Delta Group.

I joined as the Deputy Managing Director (DMD) and Company Secretary for Green Delta Insurance. At that time, I was also given the responsibility as DMD, Operation, for Green Delta Securities, the only subsidiary that Green Delta had during that time.

In 2010, December, Green Delta Insurance got a license for merchant banking which is Green Delta Capital and from Green Delta Securities I was then given the responsibility of Managing Director of Green Delta Capital along with my responsibility as Company Secretary and DMD at Green Delta Insurance. It continued till 2014, I believe. Then I was given another responsibility to set up a new subsidiary called GD Assist, which is focused on health-care and value-added services in the healthcare sector. At the same time, I continued my responsibilities at Green Delta Insurance. In addition to that, I was given the responsibility to assist the internal audit department in structuring and laying down processes and also given the responsibility of supervising technology department from 2015. Till now, I have been playing these three roles within my best ability.

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There was a sense of discipline in our household. My parents were not exactly strict, but discipline was a central part of my life. For instance, my parents would never buy me newest toys in the market or most expensive dresses. Instead, they would encourage me to buy books. This small teaching in prudence and discipline has served me throughout my life. I realized early in my life that not getting everything I wish for and being satisfied with what I have is a key to a good life.

Future Startup

I would like to talk more about Green Delta Insurance and GD Assist in a moment, before that I want to learn a little more about your personal story. What was the motivation behind starting your career in Banking?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

When I was in school, I had an uncle working at a bank. He was a very polished and intelligent guy, someone all of us used to adore.

At that time, in the early ’80s, he used to live a fairly aristocratic life. That led me to believe in the prospects that the field of banking holds. It was one of the reasons why I later decided to pursue a career in banking.

Add to that, during my undergraduate days, banking was on the top of career choices for business students. It continues to be one of the top career opportunities even these days.

Future Startup

Impatience seems to be one of the defining characteristics of our time. Many young people these days find themselves in a state of constantly seeking the next exciting thing and unhappy with whatever they are doing at the moment. It is understandable because people do start their career with certain expectations and when they come to face the reality, they realize that the reality is quite different. They experience a certain type of dissonance. Did you face any similar struggle in the early days of your career?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

No, not that I remember. To be honest, throughout my career I didn’t plan the path. I accepted things as they happened. I took risks and I was content with the outcome as well. That’s why I had never been particularly discontent in my career.

There was one particular incident in my early life which taught me a lot about life and work. I just completed my final semester. As you know, internship after the final semester is a common thing for business students. We had to do an internship after final semester. It was tough to find an internship opportunity in those days if you didn’t have a good network. I was initially anxious about it. I applied for internships at many banks and FMCGs, but all to no avail. Then I applied to Asian Development Bank’s Bangladesh Resident Mission. After the application, I almost forgot that I applied for it. It wasn’t until the last week before the internship confirmation deadline that I got a reply from ADB that I had an interview with the Deputy Resident Mission (DRM) in Dhaka. I went the next day and luckily, I got selected as an intern.

While working there, the DRM asked me one day whether I could guess why I was chosen. When I couldn’t give him an affirmative answer, he explained me the reason. All the applications they received for the internship came with recommendation except mine. That is to say, someone influential recommended those people for the position. However, among all the applicants I was the most eligible one with good academic qualifications. While they started calling the applicants for interview, initially, I did not make it to the shortlist, because my CV did not follow any recommendation but breaking the norm, the DRM asked to call me for the interview as well. And after the interview, I was given the opportunity.

I was awed and surprised by this event. You see, this was an absolute chance. Many other things had to happen to produce that result.

Mostly, things happen at a different level. Often beyond our comprehension. From then on, I have never really planned for anything.

Future Startup

Do you see a connection between the nature of your upbringing and the person you are today and the way you operate?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

I was brought up in a middle-class family. My father was a government official. Although my parents never let it trouble me, often there were financial strains in our family. I didn’t always get what I wanted. And there was a sense of discipline in our household. My parents were not exactly strict, but discipline was a central part of my life.

For instance, my parents would never buy me newest toys in the market or most expensive dresses. Instead, they would encourage me to buy books. This small teaching in prudence and discipline has served me throughout my life. I realized early in my life that not getting everything I wish for and being satisfied with what I have is a key to a good life.

The environment we grew up in was very different than what the world looks like today. Growing up, patience was an integral part of our lives. Things are very different these days. You upload a photo – you get likes, you order a product- it comes to your doorstep. Everything is instantaneous. We had to wait if we wanted to have something. These small things have shaped my worldview.

Now, I convey the same lessons to my child. Growing up with values and principles does make a difference in your later life.

Discipline is not only about having a control over yourself, it is also about how you think and act in every sphere of your life.

This year, we have launched a 3-year plan under the digital insurance initiative. During this period, we want Green Delta to pioneer in the technology adaptation. We aim to introduce InsureTech with internal or external funding by 2020. All of these strategies are to make sure that our company is ready to greet the millennials, who will be the majority decision-makers and consumers in the country by then.

Future Startup

As you mentioned, there is no doubt that discipline is a cornerstone trait for a good life. Apart from guidance from parents and teachers, how could one develop a habit of discipline?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

It’s possible when someone is self-driven and committed to better self-management.

It helps to have a mentor or a guide. But most of all you have to be willing to take the responsibility.

Driven people are usually disciplined because without discipline it is hard to accomplish anything worthwhile. By definition, when you are driven you have to be disciplined in nature because in order to apply your drive. Now, many driven people fail in life due to lack of discipline which I think, is an outcome of the absence of the commitment.

Future Startup

Coming back to your work, tell us about your work as the Managing Director of GD Assist and the Additional Managing Director of Green Delta Insurance. How do you approach your work?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

I believe the credit for my ability to multitask goes to my days at BRAC Bank. Banking is an interesting profession and there is a conservative mentality attached to it when it comes to taking risks.

When I joined Southeast Bank, I was posted to credit department. As a personnel of the credit department, I always had a negative response to every business proposal that came to my way. Because that’s what credit department people usually do. As you may know, when you are looking at the credit proposals, your job is to look for flaws and decline things whenever there is a chance. This changed when I joined Brac Bank. The nature of work I did at BRAC Bank and its working environment taught me to say yes when it was necessary.

I realized the importance of flexibility through working in different departments with varying responsibilities. As a result. I learned how to coordinate among several jobs. This is why, I think, Green Delta choose me to take the helm whenever the company ventures into new forays. And I’m excited to be a part of digital insurance movement that Green Delta has initiated. It has been a rewarding journey.

Vertical-wise, GD Assist is completely different from what we commonly do. I didn’t know much about health care and value-added services before.

I took responsibility and started GD Assist in June 2014, although it wasn’t until the next year when the operation actually began, and we have made good progress. We are learning a lot and implying trial-and-error method since our business model is a little unorthodox compared to the existing ones. Things have been going well in this new venture.

Future Startup

We will talk about GD Assist in a moment. Before that, could you tell us more about the digital insurance project that Green Delta has initiated?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

If we consider insurance as a part of the broader banking industry, it’s evident that our businesses haven’t been able to grow as well with the rest of the field. It’s still in the condition similar to what banks were in the ’90s. But due to rapid technological developments and its high acceptability, the insurance industry has been able to leapfrog to fast modernization in many parts of the world.

In my opinion, technology and the young generation are two important forces that will drive insurance businesses in the coming days. At Green Delta, we are paying a lot of attention to these two factors. In order to address this new reality, we have to upgrade our infrastructure and make our services technologically up-to-date so that it matches the expectations of the future generation.

Fortunately, Green Delta has a strong customer base. We lead the industry in terms of the number of policies (under non-life insurance category) and in the amount of premium collection. We currently have more than 150,000 policies issued to a clientele of around 50,000 people. 80% of our portfolio that consists of half a hundred thousand customers are retaining users.

We are exploring ways to introduce technologies in how we operate as an organization. Our entire business network is being observed and scrutinized for introducing technology in our operation. We have heavily invested in revamping our technological backbone.

This year, we have launched a 3-year plan under the digital insurance initiative. During this period, we want Green Delta to pioneer in the technology adaptation. We aim to introduce InsureTech with internal or external funding by 2020. All of these strategies are to make sure that our company is ready to greet the millennials, who will be the majority decision-makers and consumers in the country by then.

We are working on a few areas. For instance, we already have an app for women which is Nibedita. We are working on an overall platform. We are making investments both in software and hardware part of it.

There are several obstacles ahead of us that we recognize. The market is not ready for the shift yet. As a result, our efforts will not yield instant results.

We may have to wait a few more years until the market reaches its maturity. Add to that, there are regulatory challenges too. One thing that can help the industry enormously if the Government introduces new policies like E-signature and E-stamp.

It’s possible when someone is self-driven and committed to better self-management. It helps to have a mentor or a guide. But most of all you have to be willing to take the responsibility. Driven people are usually disciplined because without discipline it is hard to accomplish anything worthwhile. By definition, when you are driven you have to be disciplined in nature because in order to apply your drive.

Future Startup

There are two parts to your business, one is distribution, which is modular in nature and then the backend. How are you planning to integrate technology into your distribution module which I think technology could easily disrupt?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

Good question. Upgrading the distribution module, as a matter of fact, serves as a precondition for our scalability. But it’s a pretty investment-heavy job to build our own distribution network. So, for now, we are piggybacking on third party’s network system. We are using channels like ICT Ministry’s distribution network for different projects, agent network of some commercial banks, and various mobile financial services.

Green Delta is the first company to launch an online platform where people can request for insurance. Although due to technical shortcomings we haven’t been able to open it to the mass users, it is the first of its kind in Bangladesh. So, as you can see, we have already started working on making distribution easier and making it accessible to more people. However, we have a long way to go.

Future Startup

Could you give us an overview of GD Assist? There’s obviously a connection between the kind of services you plan to provide from GD Assist and the insurance products that you already provide from the Green Delta Insurance. How does your overall strategy at Green Delta Insurance connect with GD Assist?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

Lion’s share of our portfolio, at Green Delta Insurance, consists of traditional corporations. We realized that we need to shift our focus to the smaller businesses for growth. That’s one of the reasons we came up with the idea of GD Assist with a view to tapping into the retail and SME businesses.

Our prior market research showed that people aren’t interested in traditional non-life insurances like they used to be. If someone is healthy, s/he thinks of health insurance as unnecessary. For them, it is more of an expense than an investment.

We have understood that in order to change people’s disposition toward insurance we need to offer value-added insurance services. The idea is to provide the insured with periodical claims even when they are not entitled to any. But this is not feasible through formal insurance channel because you are not allowed to that. But if we could not do that, the growth opportunity is limited. We had to come up with a better strategy.

Previously, we had a health insurance package which was just that, an insurance package. Insurance regulation bars companies to offer anything else other than insurance claims to incentivize customers. It’s a challenge to growth. This is why we decided to start GD Assist. We accumulated a bunch of other new and exciting services into a basket which offers value to our customers.

Our offer has boosted medical tourism in the recent times. When we began, we were only offering treatment in Malaysia. Now, GD Assist offers foreign treatments to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and India.

Then we thought that in addition to outbound ones could we do something for the patients who are receiving treatment inside the country. The result is the Second Medical Opinion that we have introduced for our domestic patients.

Clients who are party to this offer receive opinions, in addition to their personal physicians, from medical experts who are internationally recognized. They only need to provide whatever medical reports they have and based on those reports, a doctor from countries like USA or Thailand gives a comprehensive suggestion. It has proved to be specifically effective in such situations when a patient has consulted two doctors and they have differing opinions. It is helpful because medical advice from a third-party physician has high potential to be unbiased.

We started Second Medical Opinion with just online medical correspondence. Now we have introduced telemedicine and audio-video consultation. We are also connected to over 50 hospitals which helps us to provide treatments at discount and scheduling medical appointments for our clients in Bangladesh.

We have integrated our offers into a subscription-based model now. Any client who is subscribed to any of our packages can avail a host of benefits ranging from e-consultation and second medical opinion to domestic and international air ambulance service.

To put in an orderly fashion, we are offering a host of services to our clients. Our clients can subscribe to our service for a small monthly fees through our [email protected] Card which includes health insurance, healthcare services in domestic and international hospitals, discounts in our partner hospitals in Bangladesh, second medical opinion service, health tourism facilities, air ambulance service, tele and video consultation, and we also provide every possible supports related to your travel starting from tickets to visa arrangement to pick and drop service in the destination place.

Lion’s share of our portfolio, at Green Delta Insurance, consists of traditional corporations. We realized that we need to shift our focus to the smaller businesses for growth. That’s one of the reasons we came up with the idea of GD Assist with a view to tapping into the retail and SME businesses.

Future Startup

How do you provide the independent services such as telemedicine and e-consultation? Do you have partnerships with external parties or GD Assist does everything?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

Primarily, we are managing it ourselves. For services like telemedicine, we have a dedicated hotline. To provide e-consultation and appointment scheduling services, we are vigorously trying to partner with more and more hospitals.

We have a separate team to manage the hospital network. Although costly, we prefer to manage our entire operation with our in-house resources to ensure high quality.

We also have independent IATA license through which we provide travel related services to our clients.

Future Startup

How big is your operation at GD Assist?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

We are a small team of eight people at GD Assist. We prefer lean team. My personal management style is: multitask and delegate. As a result, each of my teammates has a varying set of responsibilities.

GD Assist is an IATA-approved travel agency which was first started out as a project to facilitate traveling for our employees at Green Delta Group only. Later on, we expanded our operation to provide medical tourism to our entire client base.

To sum it up, we are offering a range of services to our customers. We are providing health insurances, planning and facilitating medical trips abroad along with a number of other additional health-care services.

The response that we are having from our customers is fairly satisfactory. Although our operation is small in terms of the number of subscribers, last year we brought in a revenue of around 50 million taka. With a double-digit growth rate, we hope to attain sustainability before long.

To that effect, we are trying to incite infrastructural development of the health-care industry. We have developed expertise and network that we can use to help local organizations who are interested in investing in healthcare space.

In fact, we are collaborating with large business houses and non-profit organizations that can contribute to the healthcare industry. With the help of our international partners, we can help interested companies with issues like feasibility study and regulatory assistance. We believe that this endeavor will help the entire industry to reach a new level

Future Startup

How have you attracted customers and grown GD Assist as you mentioned you have been experiencing a double-digit growth?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

From the very beginning, we have maintained a keen attention to our existing clients. We regularly collect feedback from our customers and work hard to improve. This has helped us to create a ground of loyal customers who refer us to others, which has been a solid source of growth for us.

Another reason behind our consistent growth is our ability to adapt to digitization. We have recently launched our official website which is unique in the industry.

Our fan pages on social media are also very active in getting in touch with our existing and potential clients.

Future Startup

What are the challenges for GD Assist now?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

There are two major challenges. These are also the challenges for the entire industry. The first one concerns the health-care industry which is still considerably unstructured.

Apart from hospitals and doctors, there is no professional network in the industry. This has contributed to a persistent lack of trust among the public. Due to regulatory loopholes, even a tiny travel agency can provide medical tourism service which, in reality, takes a lot of effort on the back-end. So, credibility will be an enduring issue going forward.

Finding qualified human resource is another key challenge. The health-care industry needs not only doctors but properly trained paramedics and nurses as well. If we can tackle these two challenges with effective strategies, we can hope for a better future for GD Assist as well as the industry.

Future Startup

Could you please give us an insight into the organizational culture at GD Assist? How do people work collaborate?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

We have a very young team at GD Assist right now. The median age of our team is less than 30. We mostly recruit young people because they can tune easily to the culture of flexibility that we are trying to cultivate here.

We encourage our employees to lead and delegate. They are given enough authority, within the scope of their responsibilities, to make decisions that would prove beneficial for the organization.

Since the team is young, we have built a workplace of fun and excitement and challenges. I believe this would allow us to attract better talents.

Future Startup

What are your future plans for GD Assist?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

We don’t plan for too far in the future at GD Assist. Since the local health-care industry is still not ready to scale to an international level, we do not think planning for the long-run would work.

For the next two years, we aim to fully integrate our insurance and ancillary services into a digital platform so that we can serve customers swiftly and efficiently with the help of modern technology.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

There is no shortcut to success. Both sincerity and perseverance can get you to your destination. Similarly, you have to be thoughtful and strategic. It doesn’t count if you work hard for a sales pitch but come up with no interested prospect. You have to be mindful to make sure that your hard work produces results.

My second lesson is on adaptation and flexibility. Change is the only constant component in life. Industry changes, company changes, market changes. For instance, technology is changing almost every industry now. Be flexible so that you accept the change and prepare accordingly. Change is inevitable. I like to see changes within and around me. So you have to be willing to accept change, be able to deal with it, and then thrive.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

My management philosophy, which might be pretty evident by now, is delegation. I have been fortunate enough to work with really talented people who entrusted me with responsibilities, which has helped me to grow personally in the early days of my career.

I try to give the same experience to my employees. I want them to grow more vigorously than I did and nurture a sense of belonging to the team and the organization.

Future Startup

Three pieces of advice you would give to your 25-year-old self.

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

I would suggest him to practice discipline in life, to never compromise with sincerity and perseverance, and maintain integrity in all walks of life.

Future Startup

What does it take to be an effective leader?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

Patience, I believe, is one of the greatest virtues of a leader. Because leadership is an act of patience.

If you are not impatient in nature, you would not be able to deal with people effectively. And dealing with people is the most important jobs of a leader.

A leader should lead by example. It makes leading a lot easier and effective.

Future Startup

A couple of books that you have recently read and enjoyed and would like to recommend to our readers.

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

One of my favorite books from 2017 is Breakout Nation: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles written by Ruchir Sharma. It talks about many of the emerging economies in the world; although, Bangladesh, unfortunately, is absent in that list. Interestingly, I had the opportunity to meet the author in person and asked him why Bangladesh was excluded. He amusingly dogged the question.

Future Startup

What is your take on the overall insurance and health-care industry in Bangladesh?

Syed Moinuddin Ahmed

A quick study of the current circumstances suggests that the health-care industry and the insurance industry should grow together to form an ecosystem. The relationship between these two industries needs to be reciprocal, one filling up for the other.

The insurance companies should also upgrade their services in line with the international standards and adopt digital technology as soon as possible. Otherwise, we can’t hope the industries to grow.

On the healthcare side, the healthcare industry in the country has a long way to go. There is a growing reputation issue and an increasing number of people today mistrust our local healthcare institutions. There are solid reasons behind this sentiment. I think there need to be meaningful initiatives to address this trust issue otherwise it will be an even greater challenge in the coming days.

There is no shortcut to success. Both sincerity and perseverance can get you to your destination. Similarly, you have to be thoughtful and strategic. It doesn’t count if you work hard for a sales pitch but come up with no interested prospect. You have to be mindful to make sure that your hard work produces results.

Interview Ruhul Kader, Transcription Rahatil Ashekan

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