At Green Delta Insurance Company (GDIC) Tower in Mohakhali, one particular person is known for being in the office on time every day. Despit
his age-82- Nasir A Chowdhury, the founder of ton-life insurance company in Bangladesh barely takes a break from his daily routine-one of which is being in the office on time. Nasir A Chowdhury is considered an institution by himself. He is revered for his work ethics, knowledge, vision; and most importantly for his amicable behaviour. To each and every employee of all of his companies, Nasir A Chowdhury is the embodiment of a ‘perfect employer to work for.’
Fintech recently visited GDIC tower to have an interview session with this insurance giant. In an hour long interview, Nasir A Chowdhury indulge in reminiscence about his life and the insurance sector of erstwhile East Pakistan and Bangladesh.
FINTECH: Before taking insurance as your professional career, you were a journalist and you were very active in the student politics. What motivated
you to get involved in those things?
NA Chowdhury: It’s long story. I grew up in Sylhet town during the 40’s. I was born in the undivided India and when the partition happened I was a 12 year old kid. It put an impact in my mind. I was a student of Sylhet Pilot School. The Finance Minister AMA Muhit and I studied in the same class.
We were very close friends and we were both very active with cultural activities.
After school, we used to go to Muhit’s house. At that time his house was more liberal minded than any of ours. His father was a renowned lawyer and his chamber was in the house. There was always influx of many people at any given time of the day there. Muhit’s mother used to give us delicious nasta (snacks) and we used to talk about story books, songs, poetry and many more things. Muhit’s little brother (Dr. Momen, who would later serve as Bangladesh’s ambassador to UN) and his little sister (Dr. Shaila) also joined us in our discussion and activities.
One of my elder brothers (a former IG of Bangladesh police) meanwhile stated bringing out a hand-written Deal Potrika (wall newspaper) named
‘Sabuj Pataka.’ He asked us to submit articles for it. We got very excited and
“I might have problem speaking in Urdu with you because I am used to speak in Urdu with the servants.”
started writing for the paper. That was how my interest for journalism had started.
Meanwhile Mahmud Ali brought out a weekly magazine called ‘Noubelal’ for the youth in Dhaka. I started sending my articles for ‘Noubelal’. It was
around 1952. At that time, the world was polarized between communist and capitalist blocks. Communism was very popular among the young generation at that time. In ‘Noubelal’, I wrote an article on communism and because of that I got marked as a communist. Some of the uncles of our locality even told my parents that ‘your son has become a communist.’
After passing my intermediate examination, when I went to draw my testimonial from college, I found that the principal didn’t write the sentence
‘He was not involved with any anti-state and subversive activities’ in my testimonial, as it was known that I wrote articles about communism. Because of that testimonial, I couldn’t get admitted into Dhaka University. Muhit by that time went to Dhaka and got admitted into the university.
I went to study BA (Passcourse) at Ananada Mohon College in Maymensingh. There was no option for studying in an honors course at Ananda Maohon College at that time. Mahbub Anam, the elder brother of Daily Star editor Mahfuj Anam was the VP of Ananada Mohon college student union. He had a charismatic personality and I was drawn to it. His father Abul Mansur Ahmed was a very famous person. I used to go to his houseand learned about politics from him. After doing my BA in Mymensingh, I came to Dhaka for studying MA in Islamic History. I also started working for ‘Noebelal’ for full time. The editor Mahmud Ali became a member of the central assembly and he got very busy. So, the duty of bringing out the magazine fell onto my shoulder.
While doing my MA in Dhaka in 1957, I got the chance to take part in a training program on social welfare under a United Nations program. There were 10 male and 10 female participants and each used to get Tk 100 stipend which would be equivalent of Tk 10,000 of today. I was very interested about the social welfare program because that program was known for sending its participants to USA. I wanted to go to USA madly. We successfully completed the training program. Two of the participants immediately got job in social welfare projects and the rest of us were waiting for our opportunity.
While I was waiting for a job in social welfare, I saw a circular in the paper that Pakistan Insurance Corporation (PIC) was taking two trainee executives for its head office in Karachi. I applied for the job and got it. My family too wanted me to take the job so I joined. I still remember the day. I
wrote my last editorial piece for ‘Noubelal’ and sent it to the press. After that I went to the old Tejgaon airport and headed towards Karachi. That is how my life as a student political activist and journalist ended.
FINTECH: How was your experience in PIC? Did you like the job at PIC from the very beginning?
NA Chowdhury: To tell you the truth, I didn’t like the job at insurance from the beginning at all. I didn’t like Karachi and I also didn’t like the food
there. Besides, I hated speaking in Urdu. Though I joined the PIC, my mind was still drawn towards working in the social welfare sector. I was still looking for the opportunity there. Incidentally, it came. There was a deputy secretary named Akbar Kabir who used to like me a lot. He knew about my craving for working in social welfare. One day he told me that a program in the social welfare ministry
“I didn’t get the job. Now, I believe that not getting the job was a turning point of my career. Because if had I gotten that job, I would have ended up
retiring as a Deputy Secretary, because during that time it was hard for an East Pakistani to get up the rung of promotional ladder.”
had a vacancy and he asked me to apply for it. I applied and got selected for an interview. I went to the interview board.
In that interview board, there was Amir Ali, the Secretary of Social Welfare Ministry. He was known for his grumpiness. He told me that if I had to work in social welfare, I had to visit slum areas and converse with people in Urdu. He asked me whether I knew Urdu properly or not.
I replied that my Urdu was not that good and I was still learning. He then asked me to talk in Urdu with him. I was very young then and without thinking about consequence, I told him that ‘I might have problem speaking in Urdu with you because I am used to speak in Urdu with the servants.’
He got very angry with my reply but he didn’t show it. After a few days, I got a call from Akbar Kabir. He asked me to go to his office. When I went there, he showed me my interview evaluation paper of Amir Ali where in the remarks column he wrote, “His attitude is bad”.
I didn’t get the job. Now, I believe that not getting the job was a turning point of my career. Because if had I gotten that job, I would have ended up retiring as a Deputy Secretary, because during that time it was hard for an East Pakistani to get up the rung of promotional ladder.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan government sent two persons from PIC to London for higher training in insurance and reinsurance. I was the first East Pakistani to get that opportunity of having that extensive training on insurance. It was a yearlong training. During the first two months, we had to take classes about insurance at Chartered Insurance Institute and the rest of the ten months, we were posted in an insurance company to learn about it firsthand.
Before getting into that training program in London, I didn’t find insurance interesting. But after that training, insurance got injected into my blood. I started to like it very much. Right after finishing that program in London, PIC sent me to Munich for another three months long training. I came back to PIC with two foreign trainings and started working very seriously. I used to love my job at that time.
FINTECH: Can you tell us about one of your best experiences in PIC?
NA Chowdhury: On 20 May 1965, a Boeing 720 operating as Flight 705 of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) crashed while descending to land on
Runway 34 at Cairo International Airport. A total of 121 people died in that accident. That PIA flight was insured with PIC.
I was handling the aviation insurance from the very beginning. After the crash, I was given the duty of dealing with PIA about the insurance money. In PIC, we used to reinsure our insurance and the insurance of that PIA flight was also reinsured with a number of insurance companies in
I got the courage and I started Green Delta Insurance Company Ltd. (GDIC) along with some local and expatriate Bangladeshi entrepreneurs.
London. The insurance value of the aircraft was 6.5 million US dollars at that time and from PIC, we just needed to pay only 0.15 million US dollar as
the rest of the money was reinsured with other insurance companies.
I went to London to reclaim the insurance money from our reinsurers. Then the chief of Pakistan air force was Air Marshal Asgar Khan. He also went
with me. We stayed in the new Hilton Hotel in London. After getting back with all the money from our reinsurers, PIC wrote a check of 6.5 million US Dollar to PIA. I had a signature in that check.
I still remember the day when I went to hand over the check to PIA Chairman- Retired Air Marshal Nur Khan. After I first came back from England finishing that training, I brought a Moris Minor car with me which I bought with 334 British pounds sterling. I was driving that car from the PIC office at Bandar Road to PIA office 23 miles away. I had the check of 6.5 million US dollars in my pocket and I stopped my car on the way for four or five times just to bring out the check from there and to look at it. I never felt so excited in my life like the way I felt on that day.
FINTECH: After the liberation war, you joined Sadharon Bima Corporation (SBC) of Bangladesh? How was your experience there?
NA Chowdhury: After the liberation war, two new corporations were formed in Bangladesh-one was Jibon Bima Corporation (JBC), which dealt
with life insurance and SBC which dealt with general insurance. I had expertise in dealing with general insurance, so I joined at SBC. I also had expertise on reinsurance which others didn’t have.
After some promotions, I became the general manager of SBC. It was the second post there after the post of Managing Director (MD). At that time the MD used to get Tk 3,000 as salary and I used to get Tk 2,850. I also got another Tk 250 as lunch allowance. Since I brought lunch from my home, I saved that amount. Besides, as an executive, I used to get a packet of cigarette and a box of match every morning. In those days, the high officials at the corporations used to get that. Since I was non-smoker, I gave my packet to the colleagues. That made me very popular among them.
While working at the SBC, I got a 5 katha government plot in Uttara. I constructed a small two-storied building there by taking a Tk 3 lakh loan from House Building Corporation with 5% interest. The amount of money that I needed to pay against that loan was almost equal to my salary. So I was having acute financial crisis. Because of that, I took an early retirement from SBC and joined a German Insurance company named Carlowitz & Company as its Bangladesh head with a very handsome salary.
FINTECH: When did you first think of forming an insurance company? What was your motivation behind it?
NA Chowdhury: I used to get a very good salary and bonus in that German company. I was there from 1982 to 1985. In 1985, President Ershad gave
the provision of opening insurance company to the private sector. Before 1985, all of the insurance industry was publicly owned.
I, however, did not have the courage to start a private sector insurance company. I was not at all confident. I was afraid to take the risk as I was working with a healthy salary in a German company. But Shafat Ahmed Chowdhury, the first actuary of Bangladesh, insisted me consistently to start an insurance company. He used to call me four or five times a day for doing that. Because of his constant persuasion, I got the courage and I started Green Delta Insurance Company Ltd. (GDIC) along with some local and expatriate Bangladeshi entrepreneurs.
From the very beginning GDIC has been able to hold its position as the number one non-life insurance company of the country. We are still the highest premium earner in this sector.
FINTECH: We often hear incidents involving insurance companies that hassle clients when it comes to insurance claim disputes, what makes GDIC different? Is there a success story you would like to share?
NA Chowdhury: In the insurance business, risk bearing institutions buy security from us. If I cannot become secure, how can I provide security to
others? Keeping this in mind, at GDIC we obtained proper reinsurance security from overseas companies. Thus we have sufficient reinsurance to cover any losses. What makes GDIC different is that it is fully secured through overseas reinsurance.
We attend to customers with utmost professionalism and courtesy. We are dedicated to giving the best service possible. Our success rates, reinsurance
security and impeccable service have earned confidence from the people.
There was an incident of claim settlement with an important client a few years back. We had provided insurance to a company called Lafarge Surma. Lafarge had been one of our biggest clients thus far. They had taken the business interruption insurance policy from us. So their factories were insured under this policy. A few years back, one of their new factories had to be shut down for unavoidable circumstances right after it started its operation. Lafarge had to face tremendous loss due to its abrupt shut down. It brought forth a claim of more than 32 crore 75 lakh taka from Lafarge. We then took prompt action to settle this claim.
The independent surveyors from the reinsurance company came and looked at this case. The reinsurance company approved the claim and settled it. Quite suddenly, from the United Kingdom, the re-insurers sent a check directly to Lafarge and settled the claim. In the settlement, GDIC covered the entire loss. 99% of this claim amount was reinsured. The relationship with Lafarge cement strengthened a lot after this incident and they always put their trust on Green Delta Insurance now.
FINTECH: Technologies have changed the way how businesses are conducted. The insurance sector also couldn’t save itself from the technological disruption. How does GDIC adopt with the technological changes?
NA Chowdhury: In GDIC, we have evolved with the technological changes. I always knew that if we don’t adopt with the technological changes,
then we would have lagged behind others. All of our 39 branches across the country are now digitally connected and our customers can pay their
premium online through credit and debit card. Besides, we have launched a special mobile app named ‘Nibedita’ for our female entrepreneur customers. This app has numerous options.
However, the changes in technology and how customers use it, is the really big game changer, and a great one. We cannot ignore the realities of what the customer is expecting. With the ability to glean more insights about our customers, we can build products and service models to better suit their
needs. At the same time, our existing legacy systems must be adapted with technology more quickly. So, most significant challenge for the Insurance Companies is to adapt with technology and the speed.