Up until March this year, buying and selling of insurance were usually driven by the physical presence of an agent. Today this agent has gone digital due to the pandemic. So to understand this new change in the insurance business – now critical for acquiring new customers – FPJ’s Jescilia Karayamparambil and RN Bhaskar connected with Aviva Life Insurance’s Chief People, Operations & Customer Services Officer, Amit Malik. In India, Aviva Life Insurance has around 1,800 employees, over 16,000 agents and many partners which include bancassurance, Bank of Maharashtra among others.
Malik in this interview explains how COVID-19 has started a new trend in insurance businesses.
How has COVID-19 changed the way the insurance sector functions?
COVID-19 has hit all of us — including Aviva India and insurance in general — in a variety of ways. This pandemic turned all business continuity plans on the head. All plans were relegated to be obsolete. On the customer front, no insurance company was prepared for the world stopping and people having to stay at homes. On the business front, the insurance companies had to run businesses from home whether it was servicing customers or sourcing new customers or settling claims.
To establish communication again, VPN-based digital login for our employees was set-up and WhatsApp communication at our customer end was initiated. All this was enabled in a short time.
While we had to train our employees on how to engage from home, we had to educate our customers on ways to use digital tools like AI-powered chat, cloud telephony and others, provided by the company. There was a point where we had to educate our customers on how to start a live chat or video conversation, without making these customers feel that they are lost or uncared for by the company. Adding to this, is the low financial literacy level among Indians compared to other markets.
In India, face-to-face interaction with customers is very important and nothing can replace that. Thus, our representatives became part of the customer's digital network. That way, they could persuade and close the sale. We ramped up our digital infrastructure for the same.
We made sure that our customers got the best while managing the work-life balance of our employees. Working from home and working at home were having a severe impact on their work-life balance, but we helped balance it out. So that people got the opportunity to work from home and manage home responsibility, with less stress.
With work from home taking centre stage, how did you ensure privacy standards are met? How much did you invest in IT for the same?
We come from an insurance segment that is well regulated. The customer data and privacy are paramount for us. When we had to work from home, our IT team followed all protocols which included investing in various solutions. We had to invest in new laptops as we had to give it to our employees (to maintain some protocol). We also had to manage ways in which this equipment was delivered at an employee’s home during the lockdown period. We had to request our security partners to deliver them in a safe and secure manner as courier and postal services were hit (in the initial days of the lockdown).
We have invested heavily in the IT solutions to make it a safe environment to work in.
Does that mean the company had to reallocate budgeted-expenditure for IT in these three months?
This crisis required us to be fungible and prioritise. We as a management team came forward and chalked out our top priorities for the next three months. In that case, IT was up there and it was not about the budget but what we can afford to do and how we can do it.
Due to COVID-19, there has been a drop in attrition level in the industry. Is it true for your company? Is there insecurity in the industry regarding future job prospects?
We have seen a drop in attrition. But there are two parts to it. The insurance industry has heeded the call of the Prime Minister and the government that urged us not to take jobs away from people. We have deferred our performance-based decision until the lockdown is lifted. So, that we do not adversely act against the government’s call. It is also important to give an employee the opportunity to perform in the right scenario. We have to see that the employees can deliver their best.
The sentiment of the industry is holding on and saving on costs. So, people have tried not to venture out looking for a job due to uncertainty. You may get a job offer, but the question is whether that company will honour the job offer.
Insurance is one sector that will bounce back sooner (than many expect it to). If you look at April and July, they have started hiring frontline sales officers, and key management roles have also been filled. So are roles in risk management and customer services. Again, such hiring is based on priority.
In the insurance sector, is there an uptick?
There is an uptick. I do not have an industry percentage but it is steady. Most of the colleagues in the industry have said that they are starting to hire. People are hiring around 60-65 per cent talent compared to the pre-COVID-19 times. It will go up in three months’ time and reach pre-COVID-19 levels.
Many BFSI opted for a filtering model where they pick pass outs from finishing schools. So, you do not have to train them. Where does your company stand in this?
We have a mix of graduates and experienced people. We have three elements in our recruitment strategy. First is ‘build’ — where we move people within the organisation, ‘buy’ — we get people who are experienced and graduates (we typically believe in recruiting the graduates and training them). The third is ‘invest’ (in people).
We are ready to invest in people. We want to take a fresher but we want to train them and mould them in the ways that suit us. We do not go to a finishing school and buy a ready-made product.
Does India have the people it requires when it comes to specialised skills?
There are certain areas like risk where we can use people from other geographical locations who will be able to assess risks better. Having said that, I would like to add there are enough experienced professionals in India, but if someone has more geographical experience then we look at such hiring.