On Thursday November 6, 2014, at the Professional Liability Underwriting Society (PLUS) International Conference in Las Vegas, the PLUS1 Award will be conferred on my good friend, Aruno Rajaratnam. The PLUS1 Award is presented annually to a person “whose efforts have contributed substantially to the advancement and image of the professional liability industry.” I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award than Aruno, one of the true legends of our industry.
Aruno, who is now with the Ince & Co. law firm in Singapore, has been a trailblazer and a leader in the professional liability insurance industry for nearly four decades. She has the distinction of having placed the first D&O insurance policy in Asia, and during her long and illustrious career she has served as an in-house claims manager, a loss adjuster, a specialist broker, a reinsurer, an underwriter and now as an Insurance /reinsurance lawyer. She has also been a mentor and a friend to an entire generation of industry professionals. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to see Aruno’s many contributions to our industry recognized through her receipt of the PLUS1 Award.
Because she has spent her career in Asia, many readers of this blog may not be acquainted with Aruno and her many contributions. I thought it would be a good idea to interview Aruno for this blog, in the form of a Q&A. I would like to thank Aruno for her willingness to participate in this Q&A, and to congratulate her again on the award. Here is the the Q&A (my questions are in boldface). Be sure to check out the news clippings below the Q&A.
1. You have had a long and storied career in the professional liability insurance industry. How did you first wind up in the industry?
AR: I need to tell you a little background story first to set the scenario on my career.
I was born and brought up in a tiny village in North Malaysia. My parents were immigrants from the old Ceylon and we are called Ceylonese Tamils as a race.
We are a minority race in Malaysia and in Singapore too.
It was literally the norm for every Ceylonese Tamil child to be brought up to aspire to be a lawyer, doctor, accountant, engineer or a teacher if you are a female.
My village had electricity for only 12 hours a day. A rich neighbour had a television and allowed us to watch PERRY MASON for 1 hour a week. It was an awe inspiring experience.
I started dreaming about being a lawyer though I never met one in my village or the country!
I then met an American Peace Corp Teacher, Richard Johannessen, from Oregon, USA in my final year in school.
He became my mentor (still is my mentor) and opened my eyes to a whole world outside my village and school……he convinced me that I was smart and had talent and to look far.
That is how I went to Law School in Singapore.
When I completed law school and was admitted to practice as an advocate and solicitor in Singapore in FEB 1975, I was asked to do very uninteresting legal work.
Someone in my law firm told me about a new Insurance Co-Operative called NTUC INCOME that was looking for a trainee for their claims division.
I was told 90 people turned up for the interviews. After 3 rounds, I got the job.
When I wrote to my family in Malaysia to tell them of my new job, they had no clue as to what general insurance was….and still today do not really understand what I did and still do!
Even today, I am still asked to explain what I do at every family gathering we have.
And that was how it all began………..
2. I know that during your many years in the industry, you have worked on some very interesting matters and been involved in some of the landmark developments in the expansion of the industry in Asia. What are some of the most interesting matters and landmark developments in which you have been involved?
AR: After a few years of doing motor, workmens’ compensation, marine cargo and personal lines claims, I joined an international Broker, Heath Langeveldt Rollins (A subsidiary of the UK C E Heaths) and had my very first experience of dealing with Medical Malpractice, Lawyers, Surveyors and Construction claims. The experience was tremendous and I started making a name for myself as a tough negotiator.
My very first claim involved a brain surgery that went wrong. The surgeon and the hospital (my client) were sued. We could not get any surgeon in the country to testify…the medical profession was a close knit group and would not testify against each other at that time. We finally had to bring in a surgeon from Holland to testify if the local surgeon did the right surgery. It was an emotional case as in the end, the victim got pittance. It made me very sad.
In 1982, one of the big US Insurers started holding workshops in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong on the D&O Policy. I was fascinated with this product and spent a lot of time doing my own research.
It was a difficult sell in Asia and many brokers did not really understand it enough to talk to their clients.
I joined Citicorp Insurance Brokers (now called Locktons) in 1986 and sold the very 1st D&O policy in Asia.
It used to take me about a year to 18 months to convince a client to purchase the D&O Policy as nearly all companies in Asia believed that their Ds + Os cannot be sued!
It was a tough and uphill task. I used to term this period as the elephant’s gestation period!
I finally placed more and more D&O policies during the next few years (beating every other Broker) and earned the nickname “D&O QUEEN” from my rival brokers!
In fact one of the brokers said ”The D&O Train came into town and only Aruno got on to it!”.
At the same time, my then Boss, Ian Lancaster, told me to work on a project to convince the Law Society of Singapore Executive Committee that they should consider a Mandatory Professional Liability Program for all their members.
After 2 years and several rounds of Broker presentations, we won the tender in 1989.
I was privileged to draft the policy, implement and manage this very prestigious project from inception.
My reputation gained momentum in Asia and apart from placing more D&O Policies, I also implemented and managed a few more Professional Liability Schemes around Asia for engineers, realtors, accountants, life agents, travel agents, stockbrokers, computer professionals.
I then earned the nickname “THAT SCHEME / SCHEMING LADY” from my rival brokers!
When I was the Deputy Financial Lines Regional Head in AIG, my staff from all over Asia would call me “Mother Of Financial Lines” and would actually send me a Mother’s Day Card every year.
Years later, when I worked for the same Boss in Marsh and Willis, Roger Wilkinson, he would introduce me all over Asia as “MRS. FINPRO” (in Marsh) and “MRS. FINEX’ (in Willis).
These days, most of the Asian industry folks call me ‘GRANDMOTHER OF FINANCIAL LINES.”
3. In your many different roles, you have been a mentor for so many people. Who were your mentors and who were the people who were most influential in your career?
AR: I have to go back a little to my Law School days when I did not have money for the fees and the books.
The President of the Singapore Rotary Club, Keki Medora, gave me a scholarship and also gave me a monthly pocket money from his own funds.
A mysterious gentleman (who heard about my dire straits) would leave new law books every year (for 4 years) at my hostel reception counter for me with a note: “Do not look for me to thank me / I don’t need any thanks….just make sure you pass your exams and then pass on these books to the next needy person”.
Then when I started my first day at the claims job in NTUC INCOME, my GM, Tan Meng Siang, told me: “In this job it is easy to be bribed by the insureds and the motor repairers. Even if you take a million dollars, you are telling the world you have a price and can be bought. You should be ‘priceless’ as a true professional!
At my next job in CE Heaths, my MD, Peter Comerford, told me on the first day: “You have come here as a professional……………I am going to give you a long rope. It is your prerogative to manage your responsibilities well or to hang yourself!”
Later, when I joined Reliance National as the Asian MD, my Boss, Joseph Graziano, told me ‘You must be firm as a leader, but remember that it does not hurt to also be nice.”
When Reliance National had to be put into run off, I was in a quandary.
Chubb Asia’s then former Head, Chris Giles and the CSI Asia Head, Steve Blasina, both came to my rescue and gave me a year’s consultancy project to draft all their Asia Pacific CSI Policies.
That was a wonderful gesture as it kept me still involved in the Professional Liability Market and still in the Asian limelight.
Last but not least, I owe a lot to Elizabeth Kennedy, who is a good friend and a great Public Relations professional. She was instrumental in keeping me and my achievements in the news all over Asia. She made me famous!
On another note, I wish to say I have always been a great believer in imparting knowledge and mentoring / training as many young people as possible.
I started doing training courses for the Financial Lines people from 1985 and still conduct a number of workshops all over Asia in a year.
I have been berated by some former bosses for ‘training the enemy’ but I believe it is good to have more trained professionals around for the industry to progress.
4. As a result of the many roles you have served, you have worn many hats. How would you compare your experiences as an in-house claims manager, a loss adjuster, a specialist broker, a reinsurer, an underwriter and now as an Insurance /reinsurance lawyer? What are your views of the various roles?
AR: Yes……. I have served many roles in the industry and am glad I did that….. though some people would say I was job hopping!
I have done the right thing and can now speak with some authority about the various roles in the industry.
I am now often teased that the only role I have not done is to be a Regulator!
After 40 years of various insurance /legal industry experience, I would say that the reinsurance role is the best!
It is a B2B business and you do not have to deal with unreasonable (and sometimes really horrible) direct insureds or risk managers.
If God gave me back my life, I would never ever want to be a Loss Adjuster! It was my worst experience and you get badly treated by really ‘power crazed / stupid claims mangers’!
The most challenging and really tough role but also very rewarding was that of a broker.
Brokers have the best overview of the markets and definitely have better knowledge of what sells and what does not.
It is a pity we do not practice the concept of ‘quantum meruit’ in insurance broking as we do with legal work.
Brokers do a lot more work for the insureds than any others in the industry but can get ‘kicked’ out without any payment for the work done!
I found that very painful to bear …..coupled with the fact that clients had no loyalty or proper appreciation of ‘true professionalism’.
They take your work and hand over to another broker without any qualms.
I also find it sad that in many Asian countries, except for Hong Kong, brokers are not free to go around the world to get the best coverage and terms for their clients.
Insurance regulations forbid a broker from freely seeking terms outside the country.
This is no doubt from a market protectionist standpoint … even though a number of these countries are members of WTO and signatories to the GATS and should have Freedom of Services.
5. Your background and experiences in the Asian Financial Lines market are varied and deep. What do you think professionals in the U.S. and U.K. markets need to know about the Asian insurance market?
AR: There are varying stages of development in Asia with regard to Financial Lines products like D&O, POSI, EPLI, Standalone Entity, PI/E&O, BBB, Commercial Crime, Medical Malpractice Liability + Medical Defence Unions , Cyber Liability , Multi-Media Liability, IP / Patent Infringement, Mandatory Professional Liability Schemes, etc.
I have always assessed the Asian markets as to how ‘developed’ they are not by the large premium base but by the availability of these Financial Lines products locally.
On this basis, the more ‘developed’ countries are Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and India.
The second tier countries are China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea,.
The third tier ones would be Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.
The fourth tier would be Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Laos and East Timor.
The different languages, local /customary practices, strict policy registration regimes and legal systems can be a very challenging prospect for someone from USA or UK.
At the moment there seems to be a serious price war with a lot of capacity available in the market.
New companies from USA, Bermuda, UK and Europe are setting up in Asia but they just ‘poach’ employees from the companies already operating in the market…….it seems to be a big round of musical chairs.
I am actually concerned that there is a lack of local talent in the Financial Lines arena……….and not many companies seem to invest in training.
I believe there should be more product development and less strict policy registration requirements.
6. Many of the members of PLUS are young and are just starting out in the industry. Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to someone just beginning their career?
AR: I have often advised the people I mentored and trained over the years that they should really stay and forge a career in Financial Lines.
This is the only Insurance sector with very exciting and challenging products.
The policies are always evolving to cater to new challenges.
The coverages actually stretch across all industries.
They must always keep abreast of happenings around the country and the world …..it is a global village.