Mumbai: Mint, along with SAP, recently conducted a round table to discuss how new digital-driven models are disrupting the insurance sector. The participants included Debashree Varma, chief operating officer at SBI Life Insurance Co. Ltd; Upendra Namburi, chief innovation and marketing officer at Bharti Axa General Insurance Co. Ltd; Anubhab Goel, head of digital transformation at HDFC Standard Life Insurance Co. Ltd; Kamlesh Manuja, senior vice president and head of business operations at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance Co. Ltd; and Tarun Khanna, vice president and head-digital at Max Bupa Health Insurance Co. Ltd. The discussion was moderated by Leslie D’Monte, national technology editor of Mint. Edited excerpts:
Varma: SBI Life has already taken the initiative in blockchain. We are sharing a whole lot of more data than the other 16-19 insurance companies (barring the big ones). Right now we are looking at it in a very limited way in terms of claims assessment and assessment of underwriting. We have to consider our entire range of customers—from metro to the hinterland—whenever we talk about customization. In terms of AI (artificial insurance), a start has been made with chatbots and machine learning, but it’s more about looking at solutions for automation, usage of robotics, etc., because we see challenges there as we scale up. SBI Life has been a bit late mover in shifting to paperless operations. But even now, many customers come to the physical mode in spite of all the regulations. That’s a challenge.
Analytics: We do realize the importance of data. Every insurer sits on a whole lot of family history of customers and that’s how our proposals were designed, whether physical or digital. So putting analytics into the lead management system and using it for cross-selling is something that is a challenge for all of us.
Recruitment: We do recruit a huge number of retail agents and the channel is fairly digitized. The training is on mobile. Online exams and coding are there on a digital platform. Everything can be done on mobile apps now. For agents’ training, we have the e-siksha portal, so it is a blended learning process.
Manuja: The first and foremost point for any insurance company, if it wants to embark on a digital journey, should be top-down-buy end. It’s the management commitment which has to go in. Very often, if it is done at the middle-management level or bottom-up level, I think it will fizzle out and will actually result in more cost disadvantage rather than generating more efficiency.
Drive from the top: At Edelweiss, we are going through technology transformation. It is a mega project and the management commitment from the top is driving the priorities. At Edelweiss, the gain from digital disruption has been about giving insta-decisions. We are among the top insurers, where the moment you fill the Aadhaar details, you can actually have insta-decisions on the fly. That’s transformation.
Automation and robotics: There are many areas where we use robotics, including in process automation and generating policy kits on the fly without any human intervention. Insurance is a long-term contract and there is a huge amount of effort that is put in to collect premium. We have grown the ability to do some amount of electronic match for auto debit of collections from the customers. That has made the process much more convenient.
Analytics: We use analytics for risk-warning, profiling and identifying the patterns, which can not only predict the propensity to pay, but also the propensity to fraud. That’s far more critical when we talk about the profitability of the organization.
Blockchain: In terms of collaborating with insurance companies, which is nothing but blockchain, IBM and Accenture are the two front runners with whom the regulators are working. We are participating in that overall process.
Khanna: As a specific stand-alone health insurer, we understand that the market is very under-penetrated. So, we try to keep the customer at the centre. With that, the road map that we have been working on over the last one-and-a-half years is to how to make the products more engaging.
Engagement: We have actively invested in Insuretex, we have actively invested in taking products away from pure indemnity to engagement. We launched a digital ecosystem in February with a product called GoActive, wherein it not only covers your indemnity, but talks about covering your cashless OPD, your diagnostics and so on.
IoT (Internet of Things): We are getting a bit into a bit of IoT, we have partnered with GOQii for distribution of the GOQii ecosystem of a health coach. Being in the regulatory ambit, we have launched an application that helps you as a health coach in transforming. We are doing it because the consumer is looking for it. Whatever we are doing is because the consumer is changing, and the consumers are driving the change.
Analytics and blockchain: We have invested in analytics and data to find out who the customer is. From indemnity point of view, while we have not invested much in blockchain, we have been looking at analytics on what the consumer CLTV (customer lifetime value) model is, so that we can identify what the long-term value of the consumer is, and to detect more frauds.
AI and automation: From a health standpoint, a lot of issues that we face are about the portion of the bill which is not to be paid. That involves a lot of manual labour of five-seven days and there may be 109 items not to be paid in a bill. With the help of AI and automation we are able to filter the names (the items to be paid for) and eliminate them from the claim, and make the rest of the claims error-free. Identifying frauds in claims is another area we are looking at investing in.
Challenges: We are trying to consolidate all distribution channels into one to ensure that we have the relevant history of the consumer even if he migrates from being a bank customer to an agent-driven or direct consumer. We have seen that 50% of consumers are going to the website to pay online. We find challenges in collecting data that is spread there in multiple systems and looking at data beyond just consumer data.
Recruitment: From the on-boarding standpoint, we have done a lot of work for an agent to come around you and work on. Our entire business is 100% digital for our agents. From the training perspective, we have put in place a video desk about a year ago, so that agents are well-versed with every product we have to offer.
Goel: For HDFC Life, the entire journey started about four years ago in terms of its digital road map. We were in phase one, we went completely faceless, paperless and all our agents have digital platforms with no paper involved. So, that part is done. Last year, when we looked at the digital road map, I think there are three major tenets to it.
Analytics and AI: The first is we are making the customer’s journey frictionless, whether it is in terms of new customer acquisition, or in servicing the customer. Two, we are thinking like a data company. Three is about minimizing risks as we know insurance is a very long-term contract. There may be a team working on chatbots, there may be a team working on customer acquisition and so on and so forth. The challenge is to get these independent centres of excellence, the entire gamut of operations into one thread. We are building our tech teams further. We have already got 35 developers working for us with the “consumer-first" approach. Partner-level problems are solved as of now, but in terms of consumers, I think in the next 1,000 days we should be able to achieve our targets.
Namburi: I think the fundamental thing is not about digital or technology. My view is contrarian. I think the fundamental thing is the vocabulary. I was sitting with someone recently and I was pitching travel insurance, health insurance and so on. And he said: “Upen you don’t get it. My target group includes students, guys in their early 20s, they go trekking and their problem statement is not travel insurance. Their problem statement is they carry a laptop and it can break, they carry mobiles which may break, they may break their ankle for which they need an OPD cover."
Understand the vocabulary: They are looking for a backpacker insurance. I am pitching for travel insurance. So, it is critical to get the vocabulary right. What we should focus on is what exactly the consumer needs, what exactly is the vocabulary. That is half the bridge.
Challenges: We think in English, and then go and talk to the consumer in Hindi. We are a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country. So even before we talk about digital, we need to crack this linguistic part of it. Before we get into IoT, blockchain, AI and so on, we just need to get our thing sharper in terms of vocabulary. Let’s be true to the market—nine out of 10 people in their training fail to tell the Hindi word for insurance.
So, what we have essentially been doing is that from a consumer perspective we are doing the classical customer journey maps, and seeing what we can do. W
e are also trying to understand—what is a direct digital customer vis-à-vis an agent customer, vis-à-vis a broker-customer, vis-à-vis a bank customer and so on. Ultimately, we are forgetting that it is the one and the same customer. We have tried something called personalized video, wherein we essentially converted a policy into a personalized video format. We thought we are going to crack it for the millennials so that they can relish it when they are 70.