Fifty years in the insurance profession

By Dinesha Matthias
As a young boy striving to become an insurance professional in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s, Sri Nihal Senaratne fought loneliness by concentrating on his studies. “I was feeling a little lonely but completing my studies overcame my loneliness,” Senaratne recalled in an interview.

In 1954 the 20-year-old Senaratne was sent to work and study at the Royal Globe head office in Liverpool. Aiming for a bright future, he started doing the difficult Chartered Insurance Institute Exam of the UK and completed the first stage. “I was very focused, wanted to complete stage II and III of the exam, gain experience and return home. Those days you could do only one exam a year.” He managed to complete both exams in the next two years.

Senaratne, who marked 50 years in the insurance industry yesterday, was the second boy in a family of three boys and one sister. His father was a well-known eye surgeon, O.L.F. Senaratne and his mother, Loranee Senaratne, the country's high commissioner in Italy and then in Ghana. He is also the great grandson of C.H. de Soysa, the wealthy businessman and philanthropist.

Senaratne was educated at Royal College, Colombo, where he took part in many sports, winning colours in rugby and boxing, and from which he passed his Senior School Certificate Examination.

On February 1, 1953, he joined the Insurance Department of Bosanquet and Skrine Ltd., (which later became a constituent of the Whittals conglomerate) as assistant manager. The company was the local agent for the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company Ltd. When asked how he felt being interviewed by British officers of the firm he said, “I didn't feel nervous, I was calm.” As I interviewed him this was evident to me; he was a calm and collected gentleman.

After completing his studies in the UK, Senaratne became an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute and returned home to join the same firm he had been employed in. At a time when many young professionals sent for training abroad by their employers join other firms on their return, Senaratne is a good example of loyalty.

In the era following nationalisation of the insurance industry principal agencies of foreign companies who were once handling everything from issuing insurance polices to settling claims, became just a post box. This was not good enough for Senaratne. He wanted to remain active and involved and got the approval of his superiors to look after the firm's tea, coconut and rubber plantations.

Thus began another chapter in his career in which Senaratne ended up becoming the chairman of Colombo Tea Traders' Association. He also became a Member of the Executive Committee of the Colombo Rubber Traders Association.

With the experience he gained while working for a principal agency of a foreign insurance company for many years he started Senaratne Associates Ltd. in 1979 with just six employees. Today it has 35 employees, including experts in the insurance field.

Asked what he values most as a professional who advises the public, he said: “I believe that working professionally, upholding ethics and standards of the industry should be the core responsibility of an insurance broker.”

Remembering his gurus in the profession, he said: “An insurer's duty is to pay claims and not to look at the small print to avoid claims.” Today more than 90 percent of the revenue of Senaratne Associates comes from corporate clients. As Richard Reddaway, the current vice president of Corporate Insurance & Risk Management of GlaxoSmithKline, UK in a message prepared for a felicitation ceremony for Senaratne held yesterday, has said, “Nihal's professional dedicated service is often better than that provided by the world's leading brokering houses. His commitment to insurance and education is one that has been of benefit to the insurance industry and its clients, both inside and outside Sri Lanka.” Senaratne is one of most experienced men in the insurance industry and has held many distinguished positions such as the president of the Sri Lanka Insurance Brokers Association, president, Sri Lanka Insurance Institute, the local affiliate of the Chartered Insurance Institute, chairman of the Insurance Sub Committee of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of the Insurance Committee of the Planters Association of Ceylon.

Speaking of the insurance industry as it was when he started, Senaratne said,

“If one was to look back at the pre-nationalisation era, it will be recalled that, there were over 50 insurers operating in a small fraction of what the market is today. Thus, from the point of view of the insuring public, the regulator should not impose restrictions on the number of insurance companies operating in this country provided they fulfil the necessary statutory requirements.

In other words, an oligopoly situation should be avoided as collective agreements may not only give rise to undue restrictive practices prejudicial to consumer interests but also maintain prices at a high level particularly, if there are barriers to the entry of new companies.” Asked for his views on the future of the insurance industry, he said, “We need young professionals who are well trained in the industry.”

He stressed the importance of obtaining a well-recognised professional qualification, as it sets the foundation for a successful career.

“We need far reaching changes to be introduced so as to encourage the two way cross-border insurance business which should in the long term be beneficial to Sri Lanka as a whole in terms of foreign exchange earnings, and to the consumer in particularly who would enjoy cheaper if not better products.” Today, as the chairman of Senaratne Associates, Senaratne, amidst his busy schedule and responsibilities, spends much of his time with his grand children, which he enjoys thoroughly. He also finds time to read and play bridge. His advice to young professionals is to strive for excellence in what ever they do. “Aim at the stars and at least you'll hit the tree tops.”

Sri Lankan “ SMILE ” a winner to market

A natural and, genuine smile which reflects the entire culture, is the easiest and simplest thing for people to understand which is difficult to replicate whereas competitors could replicate product, price, place and promotion, according to a top marketing guru.

“It is your people who differentiate your organization from the rest. Delivering the brand promise and reputation starts with your employees and cultivating an organizational culture, that reinforces that brand on a daily basis,” Kevin Thomson, President Enterprise IG Business and Brand Engagement, London told The Sunday Times FT last week after conducting a seminar in Sri Lanka on “ Emotional Capital and Internal Branding."

The seminar was organized by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Sri Lanka Division (CIMA) .

Factors of production have been defined as land, labour, capital, organization, but later human resources or manpower have been brought in. Likewise in marketing there are the four Ps - Product, Price, Place and Promotion, he said .

Thomson said if a product is considered unique, nobody would want to put it forward. Manufacture a product like Ford - cheaper than anybody else's, distribute to a new market - nobody else has reached, a new distribution channel, or an advertising concept and then see customers rushing to buy that product.

He said that today the global market place was quite different.

The world has got too many competitors “ just as good as you are”.

The only unique development is the “personality” which could not be replicated.

The difference between the Mercedes, Jaguar, Roles Royce and Mini is that each has a different personality created by the organization. “ That is why your internal branding has much to do about developing your overall brand internally, ” he said.

Commenting on the “Smile” that is unique and synonymous with Sri Lanka, Thomson said Sri Lanka cou ld be sold in the tourist world with the “smile” which is wrapped around its culture. He said that not all cultures have this smile.

He said that to market with the Smile, several other things in the country have to be rectified otherwise, this unique feature could be misunderstood.

He said that he visited the Kandy Dalada Maligawa and though the people had always greeted him with a smile, the policemen guarding it had stubborn faces, repelling the pleasantness.

Further, corrupt practices such as policemen and other officials requesting and accepting bribes also ruined the pleasant atmosphere for the foreign traveler.
(QP )


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