The Insurance industry has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. In 1994, the competitive landscape was different. Consumer awareness and regulatory bodies in the UAE were still in their infancy. Today, the Insurance and Investments business is exceptionally competitive with multiple brokers and even providers vying for a slice of a client’s investments.
Continental Insurance was founded in 1994, and we’ve had a front-row seat to the past two decades’ ups and downs. Much like the insurance industry, Continental has undergone a major transformation. From startup to market leader, Continental now offers a portfolio of products from a wide range of providers and professional financial solutions and services. From a handful of clients to a worldwide customer base, Continental has leveraged every opportunity thrown at us to create a strong contender in ourselves.
We went about to discover what makes twenty years this special, and what makes our people tick in discussion with the MD
“Twenty years is a massive milestone, It has been a great long journey and I look forward to the next twenty years, we started with a team of three in a tiny office in Karama, we’ve come a long way from then and we’ve still got miles to go”.
How do you think the company has evolved over time? What has the journey been like?
“We’ve grown tremendously however I believe that the ethos we started with has stayed, I started the company with the sole motive of being able to provide unbiased, useful and good advice to clients, although there have been significant technological advancements, significant growth in terms of numbers and consultants on board, I still believe the promise we began with, which is and always will be exceptional client service.”
Do you see any evolution from a business perspective over the last twenty years?
“There were certain solutions we didn’t offer, but now we do. When we started out there was a larger focus on life, now we do all lines of business, in fact I remember the first brochure we ever printed, it said ‘we can offer insurance from 1 million – 100 million’, today we actually write business for 100 million and that’s us reaching goals.”
What is your vision for the company in the next 20 years?
“We want to become a billion dollar company without compromising on our ethos. Looking at larger picture, bigger team, and international expansion is already on the cards, we’re already looking at a couple of countries to set up shop in.”
Do you remember the first day of running Continental Group?
“Yes I do, vividly, it was raining that day, I went to visit a small business owner who needed medical insurance for his staff, that was the first policy I sold as the MD of Continental, that client is still with us today.”
Do you think there are opportunities for Continental today that did not exist twenty years ago?
“We didn’t have terms of business with a lot of major providers, today we do.
When I approach people they’ve heard of my company, this is a source of great pride, it stems from the fact that we’ve trained our consultants to do the right thing, sell the right advice. Which is extremely important and which is what we’ve stuck to; In my opinion we’ve also been blessed with the right type of people, today when I look back at the people we have, these people are determined, they believe in the industry and the work they do. Which is a blessing for us and for themselves too.”
Tell us about the challenges you’ve faced building Continental.
“Every roadblock we faced, we’ve come out stronger, the first time was when we got audited by the central bank, For four days we had ten people from the central bank in our office going through every single file, sure enough, they didn’t find any misrepresentation. Now that I think of it, if we hadn’t been audited, we wouldn’t be approved by the central bank for a brokerage license.”
Tell us about projects and initiatives that have been close to your heart?
“In my mind the associate model stands out, it was a pioneering move on Continental’s part, today all of our associates have the freedom and flexibility to conduct business as per their desires, and it’s great to see them do so well.
Another project that is close to me is our YES216 Children’s Education plan, a plan we developed with providers that works as the perfect savings plan for children getting ready for college.”
You’re well known amongst your peers for your ability to nurture and maintain relationships, has that always been the case?
“I was sharing my flat with my manager in 1976, he had a friend in ALICO who taught me a lesson, he said that New Years, Christmas and Diwali is for everyone, but birthdays are only for the clients, send them something every year, since then every time I met someone their birthday automatically went into the system. I met someone at the airport recently, the client introduced to me his daughter as the uncle that sends her ice-cream coupons for her birthday every year.”
What is the one lesson that you’ve learnt in your twenty years running Continental?
“The one lesson I’ve learnt is taking care of people, my clients, my staff, my family. It doesn’t matter who someone is today, maintaining that relationship and investing time to develop each one leads to wonders down the road, that’s something I believe in.”
In addition to our MD we also sat down with some key people who have been part of this wonderful journey to tell us about what their experience has been like.
Nazneen Abbas is a group manager with us and she’s been a part of the journey for over 15 years.
“20 years of Continental mean only one thing, dedication, hard work and professionalism”. “I’ve seen the company evolve and grow leaps and bounds since the day I joined, from starting out in the small office at Karama, we’ve opened so many new offices, when I started we were barely a team of 12”.
How has your role evolved at the company since the time you have joined?
“When I joined we were primarily focused on Life Insurance, the MD used to concentrate on this vertical and it was of core importance, as you can see over the last fifteen years, and we’ve expanded our repertoire into all lines of Insurance. We have a solid General Insurance and Employee Benefits team that takes care of both individual and group policies. We have a dedicated investments department. Every department is now streamlined and agile, we all understand our roles and all of us come together to function like a well-oiled machine”.
What are the values you believe Continental has stuck to through these twenty years?
“We always put the client first, an example I can give you is seven year commissions, consultants don’t get paid out for every year, the reason is that this helps a client’s cost go down. It’s practically unheard of, but this is how we do things, client’s always come first.
Another example that I can think of is 25 year plans, we don’t recommend them to clients, simply because we believe that life is more dynamic to invest in such a long term plan, although advantageous to us, we believe in financial advice that is right and relevant to a customer”
What was your first day like at Continental?
“This is quite the story! I knew Ashok from our days working at a provider, one day, something just snapped, I cleared my desk at my previous employers and went down to Ashok’s office and sat down in the conference room. I called him from there saying, ‘Ashok, we’re here’ he said ‘have you come to see me?’ I said ‘No, I’m here for good’ and it’s been fifteen years, I’ve never looked back.
For me it’s always been about satisfaction, I didn’t want to be a tied agent, working with a brokerage enables me to give provider agnostic advice, which is what clients are genuinely looking for”.
Tell us a memorable story from your time here.
“I had this one High Net worth client, to get his life insurance issued, I took him to one of the listed doctors, the funny thing is, this doctor’s ECG machine was not functioning, he didn’t bother telling us that.
The next day I received an angry call from my client saying the doctor had overturned tables in his office, strapped him to the heart monitor and asked him to jump from one table to the next.
It was surprising and we both had quite the laugh, it goes to show how far we’ve come as an Industry from those times to today”.
Shylaja Premnath has been with the company for 17 out of twenty years – Currently heading the Life Insurance department she shares her experience with the company.
What does twenty years of Continental mean to you?
“It has been a fulfilling journey for me, seventeen years is a considerable period of time, I’ve seen the company when we were a small team of nine members and today we’re touching two hundred. It’s a humbling and motivating experience”.
Tell us something about the company that hasn’t changed in all these years.
“The only thing that hasn’t changed is Ashok, he’s the same person I knew all those years ago, I think that’s why we’ve been at this so long, his warmth for his employees, his passion and entrepreneurial spirit are exactly as high as they were twenty years ago. Ofcourse he tends to be a lot busier nowadays, but he’ll still make time to stop by and say hello to the newest of our employees, that’s what keeps us all together in my opinion”.
Do you believe there are more opportunities for us now than there were twenty years ago?
Yes, however I’d like to call them process driven and organized opportunities. With the UAE government bringing in many regulations on the Industry such as qualifications for consultants, the DHA law and more mean that we have to be ahead of the game, Insurance will finally start to be seen as a legitimate financial investment, today we have the opportunity of being seen as advisors not sales people, that is a tremendous opportunity in itself.
Aditya Sathe is a manager advisory with Continental for the last ten years, he sheds some insight on his journey.
How has the company changed since your time here?
I’d say numbers, the values and figures we used to talk about ten years ago versus the values and figures we speak of today are vastly and refreshingly higher.
What was your first day at Continental like?
It was a breeze, it was my first day being a consultant, for once I wasn’t subservient to a clock, I was running my own business. It was a feeling of delight and I knew for once, every input I gave would have a direct return to me.
That was the happiest day for me.
What makes you love the work you do?
“I’ve been lucky to have settled ten claims in my career, having to claim for life insurance is one of the most tragic moments for a family, making sure it’s done smoothly is my job, I know how much this money means to the family, and to be able to have this delivered makes all the work I do worthwhile”.
Nowshath Ali has been with Continental for over thirteen years and is currently an administrative officer and he shares snippets from his journey.
What does twenty years of Continental mean to you?
“I’ve seen the company grow, now when I am on the street and I say I work with Continental, people recognize the name, which is a great feeling.”
What was changed since you joined?
“When I joined the company had a flexible hierarchy, now we have dedicated departments, every department has a head and structure to it, and it makes work easier”.
How has your role changed over time?
“I started as a messenger, I did daily runs, I eventually moved to an officer level, I now assist with all administrative functions including public relations and liaison with banks and government offices for our employees”.
How has your experience been in all these years?
“I’ve learnt the redeeming value of hard work, I’ve learnt that no matter how big we get, the firm has been built on family values, everyone is treated like family, I all of us the best for the next twenty years”.
Kirti Mehta is an AVP with Continental and has been around for thirteen years! He shares his story with us.
What does twenty years of Continental mean to you?
“Twenty years signifies a tremendous trust in our clients eyes, for an insurance brokerage to keep growing over two decades means more and more people trust us, and we’ve been delivering everything we promised, I joined when we were a much smaller team. I’m proud to be a part of this journey”.
Do you think the company has evolved since you joined?
“The main focus has always been the client – Which hasn’t changed, we’ve always believed in this. We might have better technology supporting us, dedicated teams for each line of business, but I believe our fundamental value of providing each client with valuable and correct advice hasn’t changed”.
What about the next twenty years?
“I believe the next twenty years will be about adapting technology, it’s not going to be as all of us have been doing it, we’re dealing with a whole new generation and we need to be on top of technology”.
How was your first day at work?
“In all honesty I was completely lost, I was saying hello and trying to get a semblance of what I needed to do and how I was going to do it, it was exciting and scary at the same time”.
What is your opinion on the Insurance Industry and how it has matured since your time as a financial advisor?
“High Value life insurance wasn’t very well known back in the day, now it’s a top selling product? So yes, the market changes, the products and portfolio changes, client needs and aspirations change – markets have always been dynamic and that’s the way it is.
But that being said, the market has become more open and more receptive to Insurance, 20 years ago an individual would purchase medical and life, today clients want critical illness, today they want all sorts of general insurance before we can suggest it, this goes to show the maturity of the market and that means yes, there are many more opportunities”.
One thing you’ve learnt.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is, stay focused, I’ve kept doing what I’ve been doing, and I saw it through, it’s important to be on the pitch for as long as you can, hitting the fours and the sixes isn’t important, staying on the pitch is”.