As the government eased restrictions, the insurer is gradually opening its branches, though its headquarters in a Mumbai red zone remains shut. As of now, 236 out of the 421 branches are open. In offices that seat a large number of employees, the company has only half or one-third of employees at work.
“We are ensuring that there is no overlap between shifts. One shift is about five hours. So, if one team goes down because of a covid-19 positive case, then at least the other team can continue to function," said Vibha Padalkar, managing director and chief executive officer, HDFC Life.
It is also working on getting customers to use its digital platform. Except for hardware issues, nothing really requires employees to be at the office, Padalkar said.
The company is opening its branches with skeleton staff, despite the rise in covid-19 cases, as a confidence-building measure for its customers.
“People walking into our branches are usually the ones who speak in regional languages and may require handholding. Also, for premium payments, some people prefer paying in person to avoid online fraud," she said.
HDFC Life’s online services were put to test during the pandemic. While insurance agents were traditionally the biggest source of acquiring new customers for life insurance firms, most of the new business during the lockdown was driven by digital channels.
“Sales through our digital channel grew 13% in March and April, and did better than other channels. The agency channel held on (mostly flat) in April with people engaging over the phone. Besides 40% of our customers are HDFC Bank account holders and they buy using Net banking," she said.
Padalkar said demonetization in November 2016 kick-started the digital initiative but the ongoing lockdown will further push people to switch to digital. “I am sure customers will start buying insurance policies online, too, especially small-ticket term plans. In fact, 50% of our sale in April was term plans and digital had a big role to play," she said.
The company will soon launch a frontline digital tool, Wise, which will allow agents to acquire new clients digitally in the virtual presence of a HDFC Life representative.
Through Wise, the agents will be able to make a pitch and if the customer is interested, a company representative will join the call to ensure authenticity.
“Questions like surrender charges, changing the nominee or any other concern can be answered through Wise. With the screen-sharing option, even videos can be played to handhold the customer. If all goes well, telemedical tests, too, can be done on-call. It will also generate a transcript of the call and email it to the customer," said Padalkar.
Wise is an end-to-end tool developed by the insurer, which will help its business in a post-covid India. The tool is expected to go live within a month.
HDFC Life has around 7,500 agents who typically get new customers through in-person communication, but now they are being trained online through an internal app on how to use Wise.
Padalkar acknowledged that interacting with prospective customers on calls may not work as people are wary of the increasing number of cybercrimes.
The coronavirus pandemic, in a way, has pushed life insurers to simplify the process of claim settlement and maturity payouts. And, now with social distancing being the new normal, physical visits to branches will go down considerably.
According to Padalkar, the company was already working on provisioning for this under ‘life easy’, which allows claimants to upload all the documents online.
“It is a happy coincidence that we were working on this tool (Wise) and it was already in the test phase. So, we are focused on ramping this up big time," she said.
HDFC Life will leverage Wise to bring its business back on track.