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We Offer A Diversified Portfolio Of Products From Protection To ULIPs: Munish Sharda

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Munish Sharda, MD and CEO, Future Generali India Life Insurance Company, talks about insurance industry, products and more

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Generali Group recently hiked its stake in the joint venture. How do you intend to put this capital to use? Do you have any plans to aggressively expand your footprint in any particular market segments or catchment areas?

The stake hike by Generali is a testimony of immense potential that exists in the Indian Insurance Industry. This indeed is a highly encouraging development for our business and an endorsement of our Strategy in India to make Insurance Simpler, Smarter and Faster. Over the course of last 3 years our business has grown rapidly through augmenting distribution, creating differentiated products, forging new partnerships and leveraging technology in a big way to build efficiency and support scale of operations. We have ambitious plans for the next three years and are excited about our prospects in this growing market. As of now, our business is well capitalised to grow our distribution footprint – We plan to launch 17 new branches by March 2019 and to invest in technology infrastructure and brand building. 

In terms of distribution, we will focus on expanding our agency channel by hiring new agents and opening new branches. We are currently present in 70+ cities through our branches however, we are available in over 130 cities and towns through our distribution partners. We will also continue to look for distribution partnerships with businesses that have long term quality and customer focus to help us reach out to a wider market.

Recent times have seen quite a dramatic build up in interest in pure risk plans. Is this a net positive or negative trend for the industry? 

We are finally seeing significant traction in pure risk business primarily on account of rising awareness, innovative features, competitive pricing and online access to these products. This is very positive trend for the industry as the mortality protection gap in Indian life insurance exceeds US$7 trillion and there is an immense growth opportunity for life insurance companies to grow this with appropriate risk underwriting practices. Term plans, critical illness and specialty health plans should form the core of customer’s financial planning to secure the future of their loved ones from all uncertainties

What is your current product mix? Within savings products, are you focusing on ULIP’s or traditional plans, and why?

As an organization committed to long term security and prosperity of our customers, we offer a diversified portfolio of products from Protection to ULIPs to help customers choose an appropriate solution as per their needs and risk appetite. We have a range of simple and efficient savings products therefore, large part of our volumes come from long term traditional savings products however, in terms of number of policies protection contributes 15% of our total portfolio sales. We have recently added some innovative protection plans (Term and Critical illness) to our bouquet to further increase portfolio penetration of these products. For our discerning online customers we have launched a no charge, extra allocation ULIP to help them meet their long term financial goals such as retirement, child’s education or estate planning. Our philosophy is to provide Simpler, Smarter solutions to our customers in a friction-less manner.

What steps are you planning for 2019 on the technology front?

We are a ‘Digital first’ thinking company that believes technology is a strategic imperative for the business. Given the fast paced developments in this space, it is important for us to stay ahead of the curve by embedding technology in all facets our business be it front end enablement, back end automation, customer experience, decision support system or employee engagement. We were the first Life Insurance company to launch WhatsApp for customer service which has been highly appreciated by our customers. For 2019, we will continue to reimagine customer and distributor experience. We are in process of enabling a virtual branch for customer on-boarding with a 15-minute simplified onboarding process, including 14 touchless self-servicing options and business performances. We believe in harnessing power of microsystems therefore, we are creating an API ecosystem that enables us to interact effectively with business partners, solution providers and fintech companies to improve experience and speed to market.

Some of the other themes we are focusing on are – (a) Combining Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to optimize underwriting processes, reduce manual intervention and auto fine-tune underwriting algorithms to improve risk management (b) Data & analytics – Data from our policy administration system is being supplemented by unstructured data from websites, social media, voice interactions, virtual assistants and email communication. Together, the insights gained could potentially lead to new and innovative way to service customers. A modern data platform to integrate all this seamlessly across enterprise business systems and throughout the ecosystem is on the cart.

How does FG go about addressing the familiar bane of low long-term persistency that plagues Indian markets?

We believe the narrative here is fast changing with product innovation, process simplification, focus on customer experience and heightened awareness about the long term value of life insurance products. Industry has worked very closely with the regulator to fix some of the fundamental issues and more is being done here. At our organization, we have made rapid progress on this front by providing simple, easy to understand products, investing in training of front line customer facing teams, providing technology support to enhance customer experience and using data analytics to sharpen our engagement with the customers. This is a key metric for entire organization and all constituencies have hard goals around it. We listen to our customers closely using NPS tool and proactively identify and eliminate pain areas some of those include and not limited to – Enhancing premium payment options, simplifying customer communication, launching Whatsapp for customer service, providing mobility solutions to front line teams etc. However, large part of our focus is to ensure we sell right and sell to the need of the customers for which, we have digitized our front line sales process too.

The insurance industry in India has traditionally earned a bad rep due to its sharp selling practices. As an insurer, what steps have you taken to promote cleaner sales?

This is indeed an issue for the industry and as an insurer we constantly educate our distributors and sales teams to explain the benefits and features adequately to their customers. Like I had mentioned earlier, we offer simplified products that can be easily explained which reduces the margin of error significantly. We also have control processes in place such as Pre-Issuance Verification and Welcome call where post sale, customer is spoken with to reconfirm their understanding of benefits and features. This helps bring immense transparency in our engagement with the customers. We have a strong ethics and compliance policy in place and take a very strong view on inadequate or mis-selling cases. 

Our company has recently instituted “Best in Industry in terms of Business Quality” initiative. As per the initiative, the company has identified 8 critical Business Quality Indicators and have set benchmarks to be achieved on periodic basis. We have witnessed improvements across all indicators since launch.

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