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We Are Looking To Build Edelweiss Tokio Life Into A Multi-channel Business: Sumit Rai, MD & CEO

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Sumit Rai, MD & CEO, Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, spoke about distribution network, business goals and more

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Congratulations on your appointment a MD & CEO of Edelweiss Tokio Life! What are the focal areas on your 100-day plan?
Thank you for your wishes. It is indeed a matter of pride leading the Edelweiss Tokio Life team in the next phase of company’s growth. We are currently one of the fastest growing insurers in the industry and we want to maintain this robust pace going forward without compromising on our company ethos of customer centricity and quality.

Our Customers will remain our primary focus - be it short term or the long term. Everything we do is with the objective of protecting the dreams and aspirations of our customers – be it product design, delivery or servicing.

With this objective in mind, we have determined two focus areas to maintain the robust growth momentum - exploring new partnerships and investing in people development. 

Strengthening our distribution capabilities will be an important enabler. We are looking at building Edelweiss Tokio Life into a multi-channel business that is easily accessible to our customers from all quarters. In fact, we have already taken steps in this regard. We recently added two new partners which provide us a unique opportunity to engage with different customer segments – Fincare Small Finance Bank and Muthoot Insurance brokers. 

From a people-perspective, we want to continue building a meritocratic culture and nurture our people into quality employees – irrespective of the work they are engaged in. We want to attract the right talent, provide them adequate training to equip them in the best way possible, promote superior performance and ensure they get equal and full opportunities. 

How do you plan on leveraging digital and InsurTech to shore up business? Are you keen to develop the direct model of distribution?
With the emergence of digital technology, life insurance industry is witnessing a paradigm shift. The online space is offering exciting opportunities for us in terms of business acquisition amid a competitive environment. Going forward, what will matter is how we engage our partners, distributors and customers throughout the life cycle. Digital is undoubtedly the next exciting frontier and we are keen on scaling up our capabilities. 

Our digital strategy is quite simple – 

* Develop the right products that are easy to understand, making them easy to buy or sell,
* Build the right platforms that will create seamless processes and
* Enable a unique customer experience which will create reasons for a long-term happy association.

At the core of this strategy is one objective – create a simple and easy experience for our customers. It has been a couple of years since we started paperless processing, led by a need to be operationally efficient. 

We have a tab-based application in place for customer acquisition. Today about 50% of customer on-boarding happens through this Tab-based application. We also recently launched an insta-issuance service for our online Ulip customers which allows us to issue the policy to our customers within nominal time and without any hassles. 

We also endeavour to strengthen our direct channel, which we added in FY 2018. It aligns perfectly with our strategy to build our multi-channel business. We have seen a significant uptake in the channel over the past 12 months; robust analytics and technology-led approach has helped us build this as a significant part of our individual business. We have added around 700 people to the Edelweiss family under this channel.  

How do you plan to shore up persistency numbers over the next few years? Do you see this as a key aspect of your long-term business growth?
Customer loyalty is undoubtedly crucial to building a sustainable long-term growth and it is our primary priority that we earn and retain it. In a mere span of 7 years, we have achieved a persistency ratio of 80% and our endeavour is to scale it up to 85% by end of FY 2021 - 2022. 

Our focus is not just on sales, it is on quality sales. If you have given the right advice to the customer and sold him the right product, it creates a strong drive for long-term association. We are also proactively finding ways to make the customer journey interactive and simpler at every touch point to create a seamless end-to-end experience. Our aim is to boost customer satisfaction throughout their journey with us. 

In terms of product development, what niches will you be focusing on – pure risk, ULIP’s or traditional?
When it comes to presenting solutions to our customers, we follow a need-based approach wherein as per the need of the customer, the suitable product is offered whether it’s pure risk, unit linked or traditional. 

To ensure that we have a variety of products which we can offer based on varying customer needs, we constantly review our portfolio to evaluate the possible gaps in any of our products. At the same time we study industry trends as well as macro-economic factors which help us identify the product category which is likely to find flavour with the customer in times to come. 

Whatever the approach, we constantly look for customer insights which help us design products which cater to unmet (and many a times unsaid) customer needs. Our focus is on identifying the gaps  and address those with innovative solutions. The result of the above exercises help us in prioritising our product development activities and the new products may fall in any of the product categories or customer needs.

How do you plan to go about educating insurance buyers about best practices?
At the very beginning of our journey, we recognised that we must take the onus of equipping people with the right tools to understand insurance better and provide the right advice to them. With this aim, we created an analytical tool called Vijaypath to help our customers understand their needs. 

Very recently, we have taken several marketing initiatives including conducting Finance forums to sensitise the public at large regarding the nuances of insurance, notably Ulips. Ulips, in general, have been a misunderstood product and we wanted to educate the buyers regarding the nitigrities of the product and how it has evolved over the years.  

We are also proactively looking for opportunities to identify ways to make all communication relating to insurance simpler for a layman to understand and avoid any jargons. 

Lastly, please tell us a bit about your business goals for the next 5 years, in terms of new clients, premium mobilisation, and the like.
We are one of the fastest growing new-age insurers in the industry currently and are positive about maintaining a strong growth momentum going forward. We are aggressively strengthening our distribution capabilities and our focus will be to engage with our customers in the right way and with the right solutions. This is also reflective in our constant drive to create innovative solutions; our two recent product additions – Zindagi Plus ( a term plan) and Wealth Plus (a new-age Ulip) are a testimony to that.  

Customers will continue to guide our business decisions and we aim to improve indicators like persistency ratio, and NPS over the coming years. We are targeting to improve the 13th month persistency ratio to 85% by end of FY2022. 

We are making aggressive efforts to beef up our distribution network across channels. The organic agency channel has stabilised and is the highest contributor to the overall growth. We will continue to add advisors to our network under this channel and aim to increase our Personal Finance Advisor network to over 70,000 by end of FY 2022. We are especially betting big on our Bancassurance channel and are pursuing opportunities to expand that channel. As mentioned before, we recently joined hands with Fincare Small Finance Bank, which is opening up a new segment of customers to us and provides us an opportunity to improve our retail penetration. We expect to add more partners over the next few years. We are looking at reaching an annual APE of Rs. 1,000 crore by end of FY2022.