Disruptr: Malek Ali, Founder and CEO, Fi Life Sdn Bhd.
Share with us on what you do and what inspired you to start the business.
- I have been disillusioned with the life insurance industry. My interaction with life insurance agents and even private wealth managers (who sell insurance too) is always transactional in nature. It is less about my needs and more about the insurance and investment products that they want to sell.
- Sadly, life insurance in Malaysia is made unnecessarily complicated. I hold a Harvard MBA and was top of class in accounting for my undergraduate degree but till today, I cannot make the numbers add up in a typical sales illustration document of an investment-linked policy!
- So, when there was an opportunity to enter the industry, I took it on. An upstart new entrant had introduced direct-to-consumer life insurance to the Malaysian market in 2015, but they were struggling, so I, together with some investors bought them over.
What has the journey been like?
- In the life insurance industry, there is a common saying, “Life insurance is sold and not bought”. What this means is that people need to be prodded and cajoled into buying life insurance, because it is not uppermost in their minds. This is why life insurance agents are in the driving seat for most life insurance companies.
- I have been trying to prove that saying wrong by creating awareness so that consumers will initiate their insurance purchase on their own, without the need for an agent intermediary. It has not been an easy journey, as it is about changing or disrupting the structure of a whole industry, but we are getting there.
Biggest achievement and what is one regret that you wish you had or had not done?
- Our biggest achievement to date is to receive approval from Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), to offer life insurance and critical illness policies that we underwrite ourselves. This is because we are an approved participant of BNM’s regulatory sandbox.
- Our biggest regret is we did not make the case to get BNM’s approval sooner, but we are making up for lost time.
Where do you see yourself in the next 1 year?
- I see Fi Life as still plugging away at the direct-to-consumer life insurance business, but by them, preparing to graduate from the sandbox to become a fully licensed life insurer.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
- I see Fi Life as a proven product innovator in the financial services industry. We will continue to provide affordable financial solutions for Malaysians, so that they can live their lives without financial anxiety.
What keeps you going to keep running the business?
- What keeps me going is the knowledge that half of working age adults in Malaysia do not have life insurance, and have no fallback if a calamity happens (e.g. death, disability). And among those who are insured, the sums involved are woefully inadequate.
What is one local startup you would like to work together with and why?
- I think a start-up in the digital investment managers space (aka robo-advisers) would be an interesting partner given that we both offer financial products that promise zero or very low fees. Fi Life would offer protection, the robo-adviser would offer investment.
Who is one founder that you look up to and why?
- Bill Gates. Yes, he might have been hyper-competitive in the past, but he has returned so much back to society. In 2019, his foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, was the second largest donor to the World Health Organisation, second only to USA and ahead of UK, Germany and the European Union!
- In addition, his foundation took a central role in the fight against the Covid-19 by funding vaccine development, production and distribution. He is also the founding member The Giving Pledge where members pledge at least half their fortunes to give to charity.
Why should investors invest in your startup?
- We are disrupting the life insurance market in Malaysia right now by being the first to offer a price guarantee: The cheapest life insurance for women below 55. But this is only the beginning, in terms of products as well geography. We have a pipeline of innovative financial services products waiting to be launched, first in Malaysia, then hopefully with the right partnerships, regionally.
- At the end of the day, investors are investing in the entrepreneur, and they will be investing in me, someone who has experienced early failure (KL Classifieds, a classifieds newspaper in the 90s) but also successes (JobStreet, an online job portal, in the noughties and BFM, a radio station, for the most of 2010s). I have lots of battle scars, but I also possess optimism that is augmented by pragmatism.