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GIG sees potential for takaful industry in Egypt

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Daily News Egypt talks, in an exclusive interview, with Hesham Abdel Shakour, Managing Director of Egyptian Life Takaful Company, Gulf Insurance Group (GIG)

Hesham Abdel Shakour, Managing Director of Egyptian Life Takaful Company, Gulf Insurance Group (GIG Insurance)

Hesham Abdel Shakour, Managing Director of Egyptian Life Takaful Company, Gulf Insurance Group (GIG Insurance)

By: Lamia Nabil

Would you give us a brief about the Egyptian Life Takaful Company, Gulf Insurance Group (GIG)?

Our company is just two years old, the company was established in 2006 and started operation in 2007. GIG restructured in 2011, joining the group to capitalise on their international name. It is regulated by the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA) and a Sharia Supervisory Committee with authorised capital of EGP 500m, and issued capital of EGP 100m.

Our main shareholders are Gulf insurance with 59.5%; they are the main shareholder. Faisal Islamic Bank with 8.25%; the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB) with 8.25%; and 8% for each of Banque Misr (BM), the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), and the Social Fund for Development (SFD).

We have about 12 branches all over Egypt. In the fiscal year 2011/2012 we achieved EGP 45m, and achieved EGP 16m in the first half of this fiscal year, this is a 250% yearly increase. We hope to achieve EGP 120m this year.

What is the main focus of the company, whether individual or corporate?

We depend on direct sales, and the company strategy focuses on corporate insurance as corporate portfolios are better, and we are still a young company and we can sell corporate products much faster. Individual products, on the other hand, take some time for their portfolios to mature, usually three to five years, until we build our individual portfolio of premiums and clients as well.

Are there any new products coming up, and what are your most successful ones?

We just launched our new product last week “Prestige”. It’s mainly related to a saving and protection pension plan that is the ideal choice for customers who are interested in a high quality of life during their golden years but do not want to be burdened with never-ending contributions. Our most successful products so far are “Guardian” and “Omnia”.

What do you think about the Takaful market right now?

Unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness about insurance as well as takaful. This explains the poor market penetration for these products. However, there are huge potentials in the market as the total market is currently 1% for Egypt.

We don’t compete with others on this low percentage but we try to create our market share and also encourage others to enter this market, although we compete with both Takaful insurance companies and conventional insurance companies.

In the Egyptian market, insurance products are not things usually to buy; we have to go for our customers, although the risk factors we wetness these days means people are seeking to insure their property and themselves, so there are many people looking for insurance products right now.

The market’s main problem is there are no any reinsurance companies, not only for Retakaful, which has its main concept as that of sharing the risk.

What is the difference between Takaful insurance and conventional insurance products? Is Takaful insurance simply truly Sharia-compliant or not?

There are some few technical differences between the two, and it does not represent any difference for clients, for whom the most important thing is the spirit of Takaful and Islamic spirit.

The spirit of takaful is bigger than this; we will be accountable and hold responsibility for the great religion of Islam itself. It’s really scary when you think about it. That, in fact, we are representing Islam fundamentals when we introduce these products, or when we talk about takaful.

Whether we like it or not, once we start talking about Islamic products or concepts or an industry like ours, the recipient or the client automatically will be ready to accept a product that is built on an Islamic foundation, and the risk is if we get it wrong all the blame will not be on the product or the company or even on the concept, but it will be Islam itself that will take the blame, because you will hear things like: “Is this the religion? Is this Islam?”

Our burden is much heavier than others  think.

I don’t want my client to buy Takaful only because it’s a Sharia-compliant product; I want them to buy it due to our Islamic spirit, which we introduce as a team, and which is different from that of other companies. We can’t sell products and then lie about it; we can’t go to the client without providing an honest answer to his questions. I always ask myself: “Who carries the burden of Islam?”

Are takaful products suitable for Muslims and non-Muslims?     

Yes, my sales head is Christian. There is no difference; it’s for everyone. We don’t sell Islamic concepts as a religion for people. Clients are looking for good products with very reasonable prices, and highly trained customer service and international standards regardless of whether the product is Islamic or halal or not.

What do you think if we provide all these, and in addition, it’s a Sharia-compliant product? We have a major number of Christian clients as well as employees, and we don’t have to put the “takaful” or the “Islam” label on it in order to increase our sales or to gain more revenues. It’s wrong to market it this way. We provide the costumer with what they need regardless of their religion.

Do you think that the Egyptian market moving towards Sharia-compliant products?

Yes, when you come to Islamic banks they are more stable than conventional ones. The concept of “sharing the risk” provides success in many ways. Islamic products are numerous in other countries, and after presidential elections and the current political situation, it makes sense that the market moving towards these products. But in Egypt it’s difficult to find investment tools according to Sharia; our Sharia scholars have only approved on treasury bonds, and treasury bills.

What do you think about EFSA’s decision?     

EFSA has decided to separate non life insurance from life insurance in 2008. In Egypt, it’s a very useful decision to take due to every company having to focus on one sector in the market and not to mix between the two, because this caused a lot of manipulation and mis-selling non life insurance products while offering life insurance products for free, especially for large accounts. Now they have to sell it as an individual product.

What about bank assurance?

Five years ago the Central Bank stopped dealing with bank assurance, in order to control the manipulations of contracting by insurance companies.

The main purpose of bank assurance is that it’s easy to find clients. Bank assurance activity has stopped now for five years due to planning and enhancing deals between the banks and the insurance companies. Why such a long period of time? There are three main government-run insurance companies still dealing in bank assurance. This is unfair for the market, as there has to be uniform decisions applied for all companies.

I can’t blame the insurance companies if there is a monopoly now. The Central Bank stopped everyone from dealing in bank assurance.

What about microtakaful?

It’s essential for us due to our high poverty rates, but it must be introduces with microfinance, in order to be able for us to collect our premiums.


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