Amit Malik, CEO, and MD, Aviva India, takes a cue from his father, an Armyman, to believe that he may not be a soldier, but it is still a war when he is leading his team, and his job is to support people in their most difficult times. Here, he talks of helming Brand Aviva India through the pandemic, how life insurance as a category has evolved and his mission to grow financial awareness among the masses.
Amit Malik has leadership roles across organizations such as Bank of America, Royal Bank of Scotland, American Express and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare in geographies such as India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to his credit. He took charge as CEO and MD, Aviva Life Insurance Company India Limited, from January 1, 2021, having worked with the company in various roles since 2012. Here are excerpts from a conversation with him:
How has the life insurance market changed post the COVID-19 pandemic? What are some tactical decisions that you took at Aviva Life Insurance to redefine your strategy?
COVID-19 has had an impact across industries, including the life insurance industry. According to a study in 2022, term insurance has seen a considerable increase in popularity in the last two years, with ownership jumping to 43% from 39% in 2021. Other life insurance policies, like savings and market-linked plans, are also gaining popularity among urban Indians, according to the report. As the lockdown restricted movement, we at Aviva took all necessary steps to ensure a seamless digital experience for our customers. We have made sure that our employees have access to the technology they need to provide better service to consumers. We even supported the customers in becoming accustomed to digital methods, keeping in mind that not all are tech-savvy.
How have you seen the marketing strategy evolve for life insurers? What are the key aspects of your marketing strategy, especially with regard to vernacular reach and targeted communication?
We are highly committed to our brand purpose, “With you today for a better tomorrow”. We aim to deliver our plans and ensure excellent service to our customers. With time, we have been continuously innovating our marketing strategies. It involves relooking at a lot of processes to enable remote customer outreach, quick adoption of digital means and educating our customers to do the same, increasing the frequency and nature of communication with our existing customers. We focus on targeted communication. We ensure that the messaging reaches the customer; this helps to reduce wasteful efforts and builds stronger brand equity.
Given the current economic perspective and uncertainty, how do you assess the consumer sentiment and demand in 2022 in the life insurance segment?
In 2022, it is safe to say that people perceive life insurance as one of the best risk-mitigation tools, rather than just a financial saving instrument. The pandemic has reinforced customers’ trust in insurance as a safe financial product. People are now willing to spend less on disposable products after the first year of the pandemic, and they are mostly renewing their health and life insurance plans. According to a study, people are focused on creating savings by putting aside half of their income to obtain financial security. The study stated 57% of the Indian population considers financial immunity to be directly associated with financial security and stability. Customer preferences and behaviour have changed significantly over the last year-and-a-half. Individuals began to view insurance as a vital risk management tool rather than just another investment.
As an industry, are there conversations among leading market participants with regard to guidelines and strategies for the domain? What according to you are the big opportunities for Aviva and big challenges before it?
The regulator Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has been prudent in bringing changes that enable the growth of the industry and ensure deeper penetration of life insurance products. As a private life insurance company, we aim to continue to work closely with the regulatory body on the developments to bring a change. From an opportunity standpoint, technology continues to be a key enabler to drive growth. We aim to make insurance more accessible and serve the unserved sectors of the population under the ambit of insurance coverage. Hence, technology will aid in solving low insurance penetration difficulties. The biggest challenge for Aviva, for that matter the private life insurance industry, is the low penetration and lack of financial awareness amongst customers. With a literacy rate of 80%, unfortunately, only 27% of the population is financially literate.
Going forward, what will be the top focus areas for Aviva Life Insurance? What is the projected growth trajectory like and how are you gearing up for sustainability for the future?
Understanding the biggest challenge of Aviva, our top focus area is to inculcate financial literacy amongst the masses, make them understand the nuances of life insurance and its significance. In 2019, according to a National Centre for Financial Education survey, only 27% of Indians were financially literate. We aim to see a spike in the figures through our product innovations and marketing approach. On the sustainability front, we take our climatic commitment with utmost sincerity. In 2021, Aviva PLC had announced demanding climate goals. Apart from this, Aviva has partnered up with WWF, the world’s leading conservation organization to take any action on climate change collaboratively to create a better tomorrow for both people and the planet.
How do you describe your own style of leadership? Did you have to change as a leader to adapt to the new normal?
I am someone who religiously believes in ‘If not me, then who? If not now, then when?’. As a leader, I aim to create a positive impact in the lives of people by supporting them in their most difficult times. My father, who was in the Army, once said, “Son, you may not be a soldier, but this is a war. You must lead your team. And do it in such a way that it is right, and they come out of it better and emerge victorious.” That is my leadership mantra. I also appreciate the opportunity to nurture the next generation of leaders, who will define the future course of business and society.
With the outbreak of the pandemic, I made sure to be there and support all my employees. Coincidentally, that was the time I got promoted to CEO. I have always been a people’s person, so it was difficult for me to adapt to remote working. However, I made sure to keep the organization motivated and steady. From physically working in the office to remote working has been the biggest lesson for me as a leader. The new normal is no more ‘new’. It is now the reality, and it will continue to evolve.