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Author Interview: Muhammad Rahim

Today we're talking to Muhammad Rahim, one of the editors of Memoirs of a Life Insurance Icon: Khuda Buksh.

FQ: This book was compiled 35 years after the death of Khuda Buksh. What prompted the decision to collect all the articles and present them in a book?

After my father’s death in 1974, I talked with my younger brother about writing a book on my father’s life. However, I was a student and was not mature enough to work on a book during that time. As soon as I entered my professional life, I had hardly any time to work on the book. After I immigrated to the USA, it took some time to permanently settle in this country. Family life kept me busier than ever. In 2000, my mother visited the USA. In the course of our discussions, my mother told me about my father’s life stories. This inspired me and triggered my memory about the book. In the meantime, Wolfram Karnowski, a German writer, published The EFU Saga, which included a chapter on my father titled “Life Insurance Was His Mission.” Inspired, I started to work on a biography. It took about seven more years of research. American libraries paved the way for my research work. I was able to collect data on my father from the Library of Congress and various other libraries in the USA. In the meantime, my mother became sick, but the biography publication was delayed. I had promised to present a book to my mother, but her time was running out. Given the situation, my editors advised me to publish a memoir with all the articles and present them in a book. The first printed book was given to my mother when she was in a hospital in Dhaka (Bangladesh). This was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

FQ: Few Americans have heard of Mr. Buksh. What would you like them to learn, both about the man as well as and the evolution of life insurance in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh?

In the early part of the twentieth century, Indian Muslims were reluctant to buy life insurance policies. They believed that reducing risks in life through insurance was like going against God. They were not only reluctant to buy policies but also deemed it appropriate to eschew insurance workers. Buksh, a kind and soft-hearted person, took on the insurance career to serve humanity. He was a workaholic, and he possessed a magnetic personality and a “highly developed sense of persuasive power.” In 1935, Buksh joined the Oriental Government Security Life Assurance Company as an insurance agent. He had a passion for the job. He was obsessed with insurance and took this profession as a motto in life. He sold insurance door-to-door in Calcutta and adjacent regions for 17 years. He became very popular with Hindus and Muslims, and earned a reputation as a first class insurer in the region.

In 1952, Buksh joined the Eastern Federal Union (EFU) Insurance Company as life manager of East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Armed with 17 years of sales experience in India, he was able to reverse the Muslim mentality on life insurance by recruiting, training and motivating field staff. He used to say: "Be proud of your job. Let it be written in gold letters on the pages of your mind that it is your honorable duty as a life insurance salesman to mobilize and to channel the social force of life insurance in the greater parts of your community. Keep your watchful eyes ever vigilant so that no breadwinner of your area of activities dies leaving his family uncared for. Fight like Hercules, the colossus of uncertainty, of unrest, of hard times by offering life insurance protection. Attain belief in the job. Have firm conviction that life insurance is the noblest profession..."

Muslims were hostile to life insurance, considering it a transgression of faith. Buksh wrote several articles to motivate people towards life insurance. Among his articles are, “Selling Life Insurance Successfully,” “Life Insurance Selling, A Profession,” and “Your Duty is Onerous,” published in the book. His writings describe the role he played as an educator to the vast number of field force workers who placed faith in his leadership and came to view selling insurance as an honorable career.

Buksh became a household name and a popular figure in the country. During his tenure in East Pakistan (Bangladesh), life insurance was synonymous with Khuda Buksh. Under Buksh’s leadership, life insurance flourished in Pakistan. He built up EFU practically from scratch and rose to the position of general manager. Field workers in East and West Pakistan admired him as a charismatic leader and loved him as a person. He gave individual attention to members of the field force, regardless of their race, nationality, religion, or heritage. Buksh made sure that his workers succeeded, so that they could provide for their families. He traveled all over Pakistan to promote life insurance. Buksh inducted leaders into the insurance industry and is recognized as the driving force in expanding life insurance all over the country by developing a large number of field organizations. He helped EFU to become the largest company not only in Pakistan, but in nearly all of Asia and Africa.

After 17 years, Buksh resigned from EFU in the wake of an investment disparity between East and West Pakistan. After resigning from EFU in 1969, he established the Federal Life and General Insurance Company, which became highly successful in a short period of time. After Bangladesh was born, the government nationalized all insurance companies. The Jiban Bima Corporation (JBC) was formed and Buksh became the managing director of JBC. He was removed from that post in November 1973 following vehement labor unrest. He died on 13 May 1974. Khuda Buksh is often called the father of insurance in Bangladesh.

FQ: Over and over, the articles tell us of Mr. Buksh's generosity. I was taken by the story of the farmer dying of gangrene and how nobody in the village would help or go near him. Buksh took the man to the hospital and saved his life. Can you tell us another story of Buksh's generosity that holds meaning for you?

In December 1971, East Pakistan was separated from Pakistan and Bangladesh was born. In early 1972, two American Rotarians visited Bangladesh on a Rotary Club mission. Buksh was a philanthropist and a popular Rotarian. He was the honorary treasurer of Dhaka Rotary Club. Perhaps Buksh met the Americans at the Dhaka Rotary Club meeting. Buksh invited them to stay at his residence. They gladly accepted his invitation and stayed with Buksh’s family for a week. The Americans enjoyed their stay and loved Bangladeshi food. They came to know Buksh closely and enjoyed Buksh’s company; they were fascinated by his personality, hospitality and generosity. After the Americans left Bangladesh, they did not forget Buksh. One of them corresponded with Buksh for a year. This person probably knew the Governor of Kentucky. Later Buksh was bestowed with “Kentucky Colonel,” an honorary title which is given in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, a state or the nation. The certificate (page 337) reminds us that Buksh’s accomplishments, hospitality and generosity were recognized by a foreign nation.

FQ: Would you tell our readers a bit about the Khuda Buksh Memorial Trust and Foundation?

The Khuda Buksh Memorial Trust and Foundation (KBMTF) was established in May 2003. The KBMT&F is dedicated to helping needy people, including flood victims, with medical and education expenses. It offers about eight scholarships every year to needy students. Recently it donated a research grant of Tk. 500,000 ($7,200) to the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. The grant will be utilized by an established scholar once every two years for conducting original research in the area of economics, history, social sciences or human rights.

FQ: What has happened to the field of life insurance in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India in the 30 years since Buksh's death?

The insurance companies in Pakistan were nationalized after East Pakistan separated from Pakistan. As nationalization did not bring any significant economic development, financial sector reforms were initiated by the government in the early 1990s. This encouraged investments in the insurance business. The number of domestic insurance companies increased, and the insurance industry of Pakistan has made some great progress. The volume of business has also increased as the insurance industry is now evolving new products to meet the needs of consumers. Besides the State Life Insurance Corporation, presently there are nine life insurance companies in the market, but the top 3 insurers hold 96 percent of the market share. The insurance industry in the country is growing slowly. With a population of 170 million the current life insurance penetration rate in Pakistan is only 0.27 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which is one of the lowest in the world. The sector is growing by only 6 percent annually, and most of the companies do not cover deaths caused by terror attacks, although it is a key threat to individuals and business concerns in the country.

Buksh saw the insurance nationalization in Bangladesh but did not live to see the outcome of nationalization. Due to slow economic growth, the Bangladesh government adopted the insurance privatization policy to allow the establishment of insurance companies through the Insurance (Amendment) Ordinance and Insurance Corporations (Amendment) Ordinance in 1984. This policy paved the way for the emergence of 17 life insurance companies in the private sector. This resulted in a substantial growth of premium incomes, competition, improvement in services, and introduction of newer types of business in wider fields that were untapped. The quantitative growth of the insurance industry is quite impressive. In the life sector, the rate of annual growth is around 25–27 percent. However, with a population of 162 million, the life insurance penetration rate is 0.42 percent of the GDP.

Many changes took place in India since insurance companies were nationalized in 1956. The insurance sector has reopened in the 1990s with substantial reforms: The private sector has been permitted to enter the insurance industry. Foreign companies are allowed to enter by floating Indian companies, preferably in a joint venture with Indian partners. The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) now regulates and develops the insurance industry for promotion of competition, to enhance customer satisfaction and choice and to lower premiums, while ensuring the financial security of the insurance market. Foreign companies are allowed ownership of up to 26 percent. The insurance sector in India is growing at a rate of 15–20 percent. With a population of 1.15 billion, the life insurance penetration rate is 4 percent of the country’s GDP.

FQ: How do you think Khuda Buksh would feel about the state of life insurance in his homeland today?

I think Khuda Buksh would be very pleased about the positive development of life insurance in Bangladesh, as it is now a well-established and respectable profession. People no longer look down on insurance workers. Many people have taken on life insurance as a career. As a result, the number of life insurance policy holders has grown rapidly.

To learn more about Memoirs of a Life Insurance Icon: Khuda Buksh, please visit our website and read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

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