Satish Sharma, Kuwait’s insurance doyen

Satish Sharma is a veteran in the insurance industry in Kuwait with more than 40 years of experience in selling and agency leadership. Having run a profitable agency operation for the American Life Insurance Company (ALICO), now known as Metlife, he today helms his own company, Insure and Secure. An entrepreneur by nature, he has successfully established insurance brokerage offices in Kuwait, Dubai and India, and now serves as a Senior Regional Executive for the GCC, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan for Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association (LIMRA), as well as being their Global Trainer and Certified Agency Manager.

Sharma’s family put down roots in Kuwait when his uncle first moved to the country in the 1930s with Sharma’s father following in the late 1940s. Sharma was born in Kuwait in 1952 and spent his early years here before moving back to India for his schooling. “I was the first student of the Indian School of Kuwait since my uncle was one of its founding members. Since the school had classes only up to the 1st grade back then, I went to Jaipur for my studies, visiting Kuwait every year during holidays.”

On completion of his higher education, Sharma came back to Kuwait in 1973 and took up a job as a typist for an insurance company in 1974. “Things were difficult back then, I remember my salary was KD45 at the time. I joined the insurance industry by accident, my college degree is Bachelor of Science.”

But Sharma took an interest in the field and decided to stick to it. After a short stint in local companies, he was tasked to establish a branch for a local Lebanese insurance company in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in the early 1980s. In 1981, he was promoted as General Manager of the company and was for first time challenged to sell insurance. “That is when I got into sales. All of my previous work was clerical and administrative.”

Sharma could not suppress his entrepreneurial drive and in 1983, decided to start his own insurance brokerage. Another pivotal career move came a few years later when he was approached by a mentor to venture into the life insurance business to supplement his general insurance brokerage. In 1985, he joined American Life Insurance Company and became a unit manager.

But on 2 Aug 1990, all the advances he had made in his career were brought to a standstill with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Around seven months later, the tide turned and Sharma was asked by ALICO to re-establish the office after the manager who was previously controlling operations was unable to return following Kuwait’s liberation. “People were reluctant to come to Kuwait at that time. There were oil fires blazing, a lot of pollution and little infrastructure support. But to me, Kuwait always presented the natural market, I was born here and my friends and relatives were here, so there was a level of comfort here. To sell insurance, you need to go to people who you know, they are the immediate market. Here, the whole society knew my family. So, I was eager to come back”.

But the return to Kuwait was not without its challenges. Sharma returned to Kuwait in April 1991 and restarted the ALICO office but there were a lot of security issues. He operated the office for about a month and had to leave again. He commenced full operations in August that year, “It was very interesting time, we were trying to find people who wanted to buy insurance, and all the people that we found in the market were trying to encash their policies, surrender them. No one was talking about buying a policy. I needed to make a sale so I started the new phase of my career buying two policies for my third daughter who was an infant at the time.”

His career in insurance since then has been marked with many accolades, from recognition in ALICO’s Gallery of Stars, as well as from industry platforms such as the Million Dollar Round Table where he is a lifetime member after 24 successful qualifications from 1994-2018 and making it 14 times to the Top of the Table benchmark.

Sharma was a pioneer in starting a bancassurance arrangement in the entire Middle East, the agreement between ALICO and the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) led to the NBK Generation Account. He also partnered with Al Mulla International Exchange Company to provide free insurance to its customers. “I designed a life insurance plan for Al Mulla Exchange tied to remittances. The intention was to help those who were not able to buy regular policies and create a win-win situation for the exchange through customer loyalty, while helping the families of those affected.”

Sharma retired from ALICO a few months shy of his 65th birthday and focused on Insure and Secure. In 2017, he was approached by LIMRA to join their team and he jumped at the opportunity to give back to the industry. As a certified trainer for LIMRA, Sharma has recently held workshops in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Manila, Philippines. He is headed to Bangkok, Thailand in May, to train insurance agents on how to achieve success.

At this stage of life, Sharma is focused on giving back and helping the Indian community. “I have a desire to reach out to Indians in Kuwait who are facing the challenges of stagnant pay and the rising cost of living standards, and limited saving potential. I want to enable them to supplement their income by utilizing their extra work hours to serve as insurance agents.”

He points out that insurance agents receive immense job satisfaction because of the lives they protect. “Today, if I have been able to sell a life insurance policy to a family, it gives me great satisfaction to know that they will be secure and financially protected in the case of a tragedy.” Sharma’s formula for success is a simple one, “There are two elements required to become successful, one is vision and the second is action. If you remove either element out of the equation, the result is failure.”

Reminiscing about Kuwait, he shares, “Kuwait has been very good to my family and me. We have had a very comfortable life here and we are indebted to Kuwait for all that it has given us.” He adds that Kuwait has helped him maintain his roots with India. “Unlike Western countries where you can get citizenship and a passport after living there a certain amount of years, I look at Kuwait’s lack of similar provisions as a positive thing because I have maintained my roots with India. We built our lives here but we have also built our lives back home. We have offices in Delhi and Bombay that two of my daughters take care of. “

When asked what stirs his nostalgia for Kuwait of the 1950s, he says, “We used to live in Sharq, just across the Dickson house. We didn’t have air conditioning or fans and it was still as hot as it is nowadays. My father used to take my brothers and me, in our vests and trunks, to sleep on the beach in the area where Souq Sharq is today. It was the only place that was cool and at 4am as a new day broke, he would wake us up and take us back to the house.”

Sharma remembers how the house in Sharq, with a courtyard in the center had a well from which water was drawn for non-drinking household purposes, and how Salmiya now a bustling suburbia was a picnic spot with no defined roads leading to it and that the only one cinema hall was in Ahmadi. He commends the progress Kuwait and its government has made, “Kuwait has come up very well and the Kuwaiti government has been good to the foreigners. They followed a balanced approach in economic development as well as in relations with other countries. I am proud of the strong ties Kuwait shares with India.”

Despite being in the business of selling life insurance, Sharma has a very optimistic outlook for the future, “The future is always bright. Let today be the first day of your life, forget the failures of your past. The future holds good things for every generation. Life is a cycle and the good that I did yesterday, someone may better today, and another will make excellent tomorrow. At every stage of our life, we have to remain positive about what the future holds for us.”

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