Interview: Mufazzal Kajiji, CEO of Zurich International Life

Mufazzal Kajiji - CEO of Zurich International Life in the Middle East
CEO of Zurich International Life in the Middle East, Mufazzal Kajiji talks leadership transition, digital transformation and embracing AI to innovate

Let’s confront the elephant in the room – nobody likes to talk about insurance. That’s because insurance, by its very nature, suggests something bad is going to happen, and while it’s reassuring to know you have protection, you only appreciate it in bad times.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Long seen as something as a laggard when it comes to changing with the times, the insurance industry is undergoing a much-needed transformation – and with any transformation comes opportunity. 

Someone who spotted that opening was Mufazzal Kajiji, who moved from a successful career in wealth management to become CEO of Zurich International Life in the Middle East, part of Zurich Insurance Group

Zurich has a presence in the region that spans the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar, and through strategic fronting partnerships in Saudi Arabia and Oman. 

Committed to becoming the market-leading domestic life insurer and employee benefits

provider of choice in the Middle East, Zurich Life Insurance has significantly contributed to the Group’s success in the region, providing more than US$58 billion in total cover. 

Kajiji joined Zurich in 2022 – was that something of a departure from wealth management, or a logical progression?

“My transition to Zurich was a strategic move aligned with my passion for innovative solutions and exceptional customer experiences,” he tells Business Chief. 

“Zurich's global presence, brand equity and commitment to growth and innovation presented an exciting opportunity to apply my 25 years of experience in banking and finance to drive the company's strategy in the Middle East region.”

This is the first CEO role for Mufazzal Kajiji

Kajiji may have a quarter century of experience to draw on, but often a fresh pair of eyes – in this case his first foray into insurance – can be just as important.

This is significant as Zurich is 150 years old, and while heritage and longevity are fine attributes, such roots can also hinder innovation.

“Zurich's 150-year heritage is a testament to our enduring commitment to stability, reliability, and customer trust,” says Kajiji. “It provides a strong foundation that resonates well with the values of the Middle East market, where trust and reputation are paramount.

“While we recognise that the insurance landscape is evolving rapidly, with innovation playing a crucial role, we intend to continuously leverage our heritage as a source of strength while actively embracing innovation. We aim to blend the best of our established practices with cutting-edge technologies and modern business approaches.

“Our vision is to use the Zurich heritage as a launchpad for innovation, ensuring that we remain agile and responsive to the changing needs of our customers in the Middle East market. It's about preserving the trust that comes with our history while embracing the forward-thinking mindset necessary for continuous innovation and growth.”

This is Kajiji’s first CEO role, so is he finding the step up harder or easier than he expected? What extra pressures does he face compared to his previous roles?

“Embarking on my first CEO role has been an incredibly fulfilling journey,” he says.

“One of the standout aspects of this transition is the need for a more expansive perspective. As a CEO, the role demands a profound understanding of the entire organisational ecosystem, delving into the intricacies of each function and its interconnectedness. 

“Decision-making takes on a strategic depth, involving thoughtful planning with a keen eye on the long-term vision and mission of the company.

“Comparatively, the CEO role feels like a more personal journey, where every decision and action carries weight and resonance. While it does come with its unique set of pressures, it also presents an unparalleled opportunity for personal and professional growth, allowing me to shape the organisation's trajectory in a way that feels deeply meaningful and impactful.”

Everybody is talking about AI right now, and the insurance industry is an obvious beneficiary of this technology, with its ability to digest and interpret vast amounts of data.

So how is Zurich embracing AI and other emerging technologies to adapt and innovate?

“Emerging technologies, particularly AI, have ushered in a transformative era for the insurance industry, impacting various facets of our operations,” says Kajiji. 

“Firstly, we've prioritised enhancing customer experiences through AI-driven solutions. Our chatbot, powered by AI, ensures prompt and personalised responses, contributing to heightened customer satisfaction.

“In the realm of risk assessment and underwriting, AI has become an invaluable tool. Our algorithms analyse extensive datasets swiftly and accurately, enabling more precise risk evaluations and informed decision-making.

“In claims processing, AI expedites assessments and payouts, delivering quicker resolutions to our customers.”

CEO Mufazzal Kajiji with his team in the Middle East

It certainly sounds like Zurich is moving with the times, and the strategy for the next 12 months involves further driving digitalisation and adoption to enhance the overall customer and partner experience.

Kajiji says Zurich will address the changing landscape and emerging trends in the insurance industry, ensuring that they remain agile and responsive. This is especially important in a region that continues to change at pace.

He points to the rapid digitalisation, especially in the UAE, as being the most significant factor in it becoming a global finance hub. Technology has become a game-changer, influencing how financial services are delivered and reshaping the customer experience. The industry's move towards digitalisation has not only improved efficiency but has also opened up new avenues for innovation.

Yet while there is change, there are also constants, and while Zurich is evolving, the pillars of the company remain the same – customers, people, and the planet.

Kajiji says this is something all Zurich employees believe in, and a constant reminder of what the team are working towards.

Every team needs a leader, and Kajiji says his leadership style is all about fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment where every member feels empowered and valued. 

“Over the past year, I've embraced a continuous process of learning and adaptation, drawing insights from impactful works like Simon Sinek's Leaders Eat Last,” he says.

“As a CEO, my role is to positively influence those around me and create an environment where everyone can shine. I'm always ready to adapt and be whatever the team needs me to be. Touching the lives of colleagues and those I interact with, genuinely helping them, is a core aspect of my leadership philosophy. 

“I believe that honesty, clear intent, and genuine actions contribute to creating a positive impact and fostering a culture of goodness within the team.”


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