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Profile of a chief executive:
Aristotle Alip (CARD, The Philippines)
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published by ICMIF (International Cooperative & Mutual Insurance Federation) in Voice magazine, 2014
Aristotle Alip, the CEO of the CARD family of initiatives in the Philippines , was in Cape Town last November  at a cooperative conference when news broke of the catastrophic typhoon which had just hit his homeland. As soon as the long-haul flight back from Africa was over, Dr Alip was on the ground in the worst affected area, taking direct charge of the relief efforts – and ensuring that insurance payments to members in need were made within days.
Geography has treated the Philippines unkindly. Its position means that this string of beautiful islands suffers far more than its fair share of natural disasters. But even in a country where typhoons are all too common, the typhoon which struck on November 8 th last year was something else. “The worst,” says Aris Alip. “Yes, this was the worst ever recorded.”
The world generally has used the Chinese name Haiyan for the typhoon but in the Philippines it went under the name Yolanda. Typhoon Yolanda was a terrible visitation on the Filipinos, especially for the provinces of Samar and Leyte . At landfall its speed was over 300 kms/hr, and the high winds also whipped up the sea causing tidal surges which in places were five to six metres high. Over six thousand people lost their lives, many in coastal areas where these surges swept away all in their path.
“Many families were devastated, with their homes and livelihood destroyed. Food became scarce, electricity and communications cut off,” Aris Alip says. For CARD itself, with around 290,000 members in the provinces worst affected, the typhoon required an immediate response. Aris Alip hurriedly left his Cape Town luggage and papers behind, and immediately made his way overland to the epicentre of the destruction.
CARD is a manifestation of how one person's vision can be made reality. What is now a thriving network of interlinked organizations (they are known collectively as CARD MRI, the MRI standing for ‘mutually reinforcing institutions') began in 1986 as a small scale venture known as the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development. “The vision was really to establish a bank which is owned and managed by the poor,” Aris Alip says. At the time he was still in his late twenties. An agricultural economist by training, his first job had been in a rice research institute where, he says, he rapidly grew wearied of the task of inspecting seeds and counting the leaves of rice shoots. His second job, at a Philippines NGO working for social progress, seemed more worthwhile. “It furthered my desire to start my own organization. I saw that there is a way to help the landless rural workers,” he recalls.
Microfinance is still at the heart of CARD's work, although the group now also has its own clinics and pharmacies, a training and educational institute, a business advice and support service and much else besides. CARD's microfinance banks provide both loans when they are needed and a home for savings, operating in partnership with CARD's dedicated insurance company, a fully-mutual insurer established using the Philippines ' legal form of Mutual Benefit Association, or MBA.
Meeting women's needs
CARD MBA offers simple loan protection insurance linked to loans from CARD's banking arm together with other affordable types of life insurance cover. CARD also, through a separately structured insurance agency, can offer non-life cover including its calamity insurance Packaged Assistance in-Case of Disasters (PAID), designed to assist local people to pick up the pieces when events such as typhoon Yolanda strike.
Taken all together, the family of CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions has built up a very significant presence in Filipino rural life. CARD has always addressed itself particularly to the needs of women, and over 99% of the two and a half million people who have signed up as CARD members are women – although CARD also has a small number of male farmers among its members. CARD operates from the city of San Pablo , south of the capital Manila , but has over 1400 branches around the country and about 8000 staff.
So CARD had the resources to be able to spring into action as soon as Yolanda struck. As Aris Alip explains, staff quickly made their way from other areas not affected by the disaster and CARD itself was able to get relief packs, including food and drink, into the field in just a few days.
Coordinators in the community
Almost astonishingly given the scale of the challenge, the insurance arm CARD MBA was paying out claims payments almost immediately. Fast claims handling is, however, something of a CARD speciality. “We have a 1-3-5 day policy for claims. Normally if there is a claim we will pay it, within the day. Around 97% of claims are normally paid within the day. If there are deficiencies in documentation, we pay with three days and a further 2% are paid within three days. If there are still questions, we will make a decision whether to pay or not to pay within five days,” Aris Alip explains.
This rapid response helps ensure that CARD's members, some of the poorest in the country, have the money they need immediately after suffering an accident or mischance. It is possible partly because of the links between CARD MBA and the CARD banking operation: “We utilize our existing microfinance branches because they're right in the village and can easily make all the payments,” Aris Alip explains.
It is also possible because of CARD's network of village coordinators, local women elected by their peers who serve for two year terms and who play the key role in undertaking the first validation of new claims. MBA coordinators are not on CARD's payroll but they do get an allowance and are reimbursed for their expenses. The presence of coordinators helps reinforce the message that CARD MBA really is a mutual, owned by and run for the benefit of its members.
With claims paid by CARD MBA so promptly, is there not a real danger of fraudulent claims slipping through? Not according to Aris Alip: “Actually fraud now is almost zero,” he says. “Because our coordinators are living in the community and because people talk, we know within the day if there is a fraud. And when there is, we go to the client and we say, look, we cannot allow this to happen, you have to return the money. We pursue cases even though mostly the amounts are very small, to show the community that this is their money. Remember, the MBAs are owned by their members and we have to protect this,” he adds.
In the case of typhoon Yolanda, CARD was able to pay PHP 59m (USD 1.3m) within days. Of this PHP 6m was in life and loan insurance claims for about 330 members who had lost their lives, handled directly by CARD MBA. The remainder were for claims from over 10,000 members on household cover arranged via CARD's insurance agency and underwritten commercially.
This commitment to fast claims handling pays off. Word of mouth has meant that a growing number of people have been choosing to take out microinsurance through CARD since November's typhoon. And the growing membership base in turn helps make CARD even stronger.
Building the mutual network
Aris Alip's vision which has driven forward the CARD initiatives in the Philippines has now extended to other parts of South-east Asia . CARD's expertise and technological know-how has meant that it has been invited to replicate its operations in Viet Nam , Cambodia , Laos , Indonesia and Myanmar . It also operates in Hong Kong, and is establishing a presence in Thailand and Singapore , with Malaysia also a possibility. CARD has also been the leading organization responsible for establishing RIMANSI, a network of mutual microinsurers structured as MBAs in the Philippines .
Looking back, Aris Alip thinks that it was his father who implanted in him the idea which later blossomed into CARD. His father, who owned a small copra plantation, was socially-minded and would always do what he could to help when approached by local workers who were short of money. But for Aris, the challenge was to move beyond these ad-hoc acts of charity, to try to eliminate the root causes of rural poverty. “I said to myself, I want like my father to help, but I want to do it in a very sustainable way,” he says.
Now in his middle fifties, he is only a few years away from CARD's retirement age of 60, when all staff have to step down. Retirement will give him more time to spend with his family (he has three grown-up sons and three grandchildren) but he also hopes to continue in a voluntary capacity by serving on CARD's Board. He is confident that CARD has among its senior staff plenty of talented people who will be able to take over his role. You really have to be prepared to let go, he says, adding that he has seen too many institutions which have been too dependent on one person. “The vision for CARD has to be, Where should we be, not in five years' time, but in fifty and a hundred years from now,” he says.
In the meantime, he has recently taken over as Chair of ICMIF's Development Network. He is passionate about advocating the role which mutual insurers in general and ICMIF in particular can play here: “I want to get across the message that microinsurance is a real opportunity for ICMIF to promote,” he says. “Microinsurance is serving the underprivileged, the bottom of the pyramid.” And delivering microinsurance the mutual way brings direct ownership to the poor in a way which commercial insurers cannot never offer.
“Mutuals in the North started in the same way as us, so I think they understand. I think we can do business together, we can work together,” he adds. The market, he points out, is enormous: microinsurance could potentially make a real difference to more than two billion people around the world. “We really have to push for microinsurance. I think this can really bring ICMIF into the limelight.”
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