In a country long beset by economic instability, security concerns and a history of conflict, Rima Antonios sees the only sure thing in the insurance industry as the advisor herself.
“Since we are all working in the same industry and offering the same service, I believe the advisor is the product itself,” said Antonios, an 11-year MDRT member from Beirut, Lebanon. “The most important factors in building a trusting relationship between the advisor and the client are knowledge and know-how. I realized the most important aspect I can work on is educating myself.”
The Lebanese government has few regulations regarding the insurance industry. Under these, it only takes completing an official registration and getting a bank guarantee (about $3,500) to sell life insurance, making it easy for unethical advisors to operate.
“It becomes in the end a matter of trust. And for trust to be enhanced, it needs a lot of hard work and follow-up with the clients,” Antonios said. “I deliver what I promise, exactly when I promise. It’s what we are trained to do by MDRT in Lebanon: Spread the Code of Ethics. If you do this, your business will multiply by 10 or 100. A long-term relationship will pay off.”
Antonios is MDRT’s Zone Chair for Lebanon, and has made it her mission to visit every agency in Lebanon to strengthen the quality of education for advisors and to expand the training and coaching on ethical techniques and conduct.
“They need the right tools to go to the next level of professionalism,” she said. “This is what we are trying to do, help them get the right training.”
It comes back to Antonios’ personal belief, and the one she believes will strengthen the insurance industry in Lebanon. “We are spreading the word that if you are ethical, trustworthy and a good agent, everyone will want to work with you,” she said. “This is your asset.”
Antonios also believes it’s important to educate her clients, so they understand the importance of reaching out to her during life changes.
“I do a complete approach with every single client. I educate them on how important it is to do financial planning for their retirement, their children’s education and protection for their family,” Antonios said.
She starts by clarifying misconceptions about the insurance industry, then does a needs analysis and develops solutions that fit the client’s budget. She compares the reports year-over-year so she can anticipate a client’s change in priorities or needs, but often they understand their own changing needs based on conversations with Antonios.
“My clients call and tell me, ‘Rima, you told me I should update my insurance when my liabilities increase, so I need to upgrade my insurance because I took a loan out with the bank,’” Antonios said. “This is good. This is the awareness that comes from the education.
“It’s not that easy to contact every client when their liabilities change. You don’t know they have a new baby or new loan,” she said. “But if they’re aware of this, they will call me.”
Antonios has also developed strategies to overcome challenges from the country’s economic instability and religious attitudes toward insurance products. “Because the country is financially unstable, it’s even more important to protect assets. We can always find the right budget,” Antonios tells clients. “The insurance doesn’t cost a lot of money. You can look at options like term insurance. You can pay $100 for $100,000 worth of protection.”
Her approach to overcoming objections based on religion has more mixed success. The country is primarily Christian and Muslim. Many Muslims eschew insurance because they think it’s against their beliefs, Antonios said.
To combat this, Antonios has some letters from Muslim leaders stating that because insurance is meant to cover financial loss, it’s not an illegal profit and is therefore allowable for Muslims. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” she said.
The country’s refugee crisis and lack of a prime minister also make it difficult to operate in Lebanon. “We have a number of refugees equal to the population here. The infrastructure can’t support this number,” she said. “We have so many challenges at the security level too.
“But every country has its challenges when it comes to this industry,” she said. “I’m Lebanese and my clients are Lebanese, so we’re used to working under these conditions. We’re survivors.”