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Health insurance is a must as it provides financial security during unforeseen circumstances: Amar Joshi, SBI General Insurance,

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Amar Joshi, Chief Business Officer, SBI General Insurance, talks

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1. How has the COVID 19 pandemic impacted the General Insurance ecosystem in India, broadly speaking? Have you witnessed an increased interest in Health Insurance products? 

Covid-19 is an unprecedented event and has affected many industry sectors. The overall economy had also seen a degrowth in Q1 FY21, however, a positive sign has been witnessed since June. The outlook for the GI industry is now positive as we are on the road to recovery and the indicator is the positive growth rate of 1.57% in H1FY21. 

With COVID-19, there have been newer learnings for the GI industry, like operational excellence and cost efficiency will be a top priority, process automation is being aimed at across functions, distribution channels have included additional mode of selling keeping a balanced mix of digital and physical (phygital) and so on. 

Health insurance has gained a big momentum due to the awareness created by the pandemic which has further translated into enquiries leading to health insurance business. Health insurance pie in the overall non-life insurance industry has been recorded at 29.7% for Q1 as compared to 26% in last year Q1. 

Considering the need for health insurance, regulator has felicitated supportive guidelines in this business line by introducing a standard health insurance like Arogya Sanjeevani and two Corona specific products viz Corona Kawach and Corona Rakshak. Overall industry has seen good traction for these standard products. 

2. Do all Health Insurance plans cover COVID 19 related expenses? Are there any regulatory guidelines in this regard and anything else that the general populace needs to be aware of?

The Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has mandated all general and health insurers to cover COVID-19 related hospital expenses in customers’ existing health insurance policies. Apart from the coverage, even the COVID-19 related claims have been taken up on fast-track mode by the industry. 

To ensure proper treatment measures across segments, Ministry of Home Affairs made it mandatory for all SMEs to have a mandatory health insurance for its employees as a part of the unlockdown plan.

3. What’s your business outlook for the next fiscal? Business wise, has the current pandemic situation been a blessing or a challenge?

The year started slow owing to the pandemic, however, there was a sudden demand for Health Insurance across the industry. Overall, at SBIG, we have seen a growth of 17% in the H1FY21 which has been encouraging to strive for more. As a result, we have crafted a 3 pronged strategy to follow:

Deeper penetration in Health, Home & SME

Widening & deepening reach with focus on channels like Banca, agency, booking, direct

Offering simple, easy to understand and affordable products 

Business at SBIG has been uninterrupted, at large, as it also reflects in the H1FY21 financial results. In fact, to reinstate our commitment to our customers in such challenging times, we have launched our new brand identity defining our brand promise as “Suraksha Aur Bharosa Dono”.

While the pandemic situation has definitely posed some unprecedented challenges but if we view it from a medium to long term perspective, it has brought about a few necessary changes. It has helped people understand the need and importance of having health insurance thereby increasing insurance awareness, it has made people more comfortable with digital interactions/transactions resulting in greater reach and opportunities. The situation has lead companies to think, innovate and evolve expeditiously.

4. Tell us about some digitization initiatives that you’ve undertaken amidst the new normal? Have they paid off measurably?

COVID-19 triggered lockdown led to a sudden shift in the business operations across industries leading to almost overnight shift to digital platforms. We were able to continue BAU with the robust BCP and digital infrastructure in place. In fact, it enabled seamless transition of all employees to the WFH mode, adopting phygital approach for business channels, switch to process automations in most operational functions and much more. Digitization also helped us in minimizing the impact on Customer Services during the lockdown period.

Along with the constant proactive communication with channel partners, we focused on converting the existing face-to-face personal equity with our channel partners to digital platforms. Robust digital infrastructure helped carry out the business transactions through various modes like intermediary portals, micro-sites and full-scale digital integrations.

Most important element in the non-life business operations is the actual issuance of policies for new as well renewal businesses. At SBIG, our digital infrastructure readiness ensured operational BAU in terms of policy issuance and addressing customer queries; making it digital/contact less and seamless.  Through the lockdown phase there was a lot of thrust on renewals through online modes and a significant chunk of our renewals have now transitioned into that mode. 

At SBIG, people have been always considered as cornerstone of our business, including employees, customers and channel partners. 

5. Lastly, please share some words of advice for Health Insurance consumers in India.

Health insurance is a must as it provides financial security during unforeseen circumstances. 

The pandemic has made this more significant than ever before. I would urge people to opt for comprehensive health plans to adequately cover these risks. Today, there are multiple options for buying health insurance; and is becoming increasingly affordable, accessible and indispensable. It’s advisable to have a right mix of base policy of indemnity, top up plan and critical illness. It is also prudent to evaluate your and your family’s health risks and consider a family floater plan that will enable you to provide comprehensive coverage for your entire family including spouse, children and parents by paying a single annual premium.  Additionally, there are options for add-ons and few short-terms health covers.

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Amar Joshi SBI General Insurance