KUALA LUMPUR: AmMetLife Insurance Bhd is looking to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 24% over the next four years to help the company break into the top five of the country's life insurance companies by 2019. Its CEO Ramzi Toubassy (pix) said the insurer, currently ranked 10th among 14 life insurers in the country, aims to strengthen its distribution channels as well as focus on its customers to become the preferred insurer in the process. The life insurer, a joint venture between AMMB Holdings Bhd and MetLife International Holdings Inc, is set to register a single-digit growth in terms of premiums for the year ending March 31, 2015 (FY2015). In FY2014, the insurer then known as AmLife Insurance Bhd saw its gross premium earned grow by 6% to RM467 million from RM453 million a year before. Toubassy noted that as at February 2015, its bancassurance business contributed 44% to the company's annual premium followed by agency (32%) as well as employee benefits and direct marketing (24%). "We have to make sure the agency business is sustainable and profitable but at the same time, if we want to grow this company to be in the top five in the future, bancaassurance, employee benefits and direct marketing will have to play a huge role," he told SunBiz in an interview recently. AmMetLife offers a range of life assurance and wealth protection solutions distributed through a combination of over 200 AmBank and AmMetLife branded branch offices. AmMetLife plans to expand its agency to about 2,000 strong by the end of next year from 1,100 agents currently. The company aims to get back to its former state of having 5,000 agents within three to four years. "We used to have 5,000 agents and we've been 'cleaning' the agency force. We want to become a compliant agency force," said Toubassy, explaining that the cut in agents was to address issues such as misselling before MetLife came into the picture. Toubassy noted that Malaysia's life insurance penetration rate, as measured in terms of the total number of policies in force to total population, is still low and offers growth opportunity for the company and the industry. "There's a long way to go, not only for AmMetLife but all the (insurance) companies to work together to insure as many people as we can because life insurance is important and it helps the economy as well," he said. He said Malaysia is part of MetLife's designated markets or "markets of the future". MetLife's designated markets include Vietnam, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nepal and its Asia powerhouse includes Korea, Japan, China and India. Headquartered in New York, insurance giant MetLife has operations in nearly 50 countries worldwide. "MetLife is one of the top employee benefits insurers in the world and this will give us the opportunity to tap into the global experience of MetLife and try to work with multinational companies that is based in Malaysia," said Toubassy. "What Malaysia brings to the table is diversity and it is one of the stronger economies in Asia, (based on) the population, the geography, the insurance penetration, the GDP (gross domestic product). He added that the population in Southeast Asia tends to be younger, which is good for insurance operations. "We want to make sure we insure as many people as we can because life insurance is about protecting people. As we grow, the more successful we are, the more people are protected," said Toubassy. "If you look at MetLife as a whole, we have not only the regional support and best practices of global support. We're always getting regional people coming in working with us closely, whether it's on an audit basis, actuarial basis, sales basis." He said the outlook for life insurance in Malaysia is promising, as Asia is the place where growth opportunities are. With most of its sales coming from life insurance, the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is also not expected to impact AmMetLife's business. "GST is not (applied) on life insurance products but on the riders so it doesn't affect us like how it affects other industry. If you look at other countries and how they've managed it though, it doesn't affect people much and it is not going to be something drastic when you annualise it. It's not going to be a hindrance," said Toubassy. MetLife owns 50% plus one share in AmMetLife, with the remaining shares held by AmBank group, and AmBank group owns 50% plus one share in AmMetLife Takaful Bhd, with the remaining shares owned by MetLife.