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Aegon Life Insurance is eyeing 30-40% YoY growth: Mandeep Singh Gulati

Aegon Life Insurance Company Limited is bullish on digital. Having gone 100 per cent digital a few years back, the company recently launched its ‘Aegons of Business’ initiative along with BloombergQuint to fuel entrepreneurial dreams, which has received strong traction. Aegon Life has now rolled out its latest campaign “Aegon, toh tension gone” with actor Vicky Kaushal as the brand ambassador. The TVC is directed by Ram Subramaniam with Times Studio as the production house and Enormous as the creative AOR.
 
In conversation with Adgully, Mandeep Singh Gulati, DVP – Marketing, Aegon Life Insurance Company Limited, speaks about the company’s strategy on going completely digital, growth targets for 2019, communication strategy, marketing spends and more. Excerpts: 
 
You have gone 100% digital. What are the advantages and challenges of doing so?
Look at the way how Jio has reached every nook and corner of the country in the last two years. As a country, from 30-40 million Internet users, we have shot up to about 300 million Internet users now. Initially, people came on the Internet to consume entertainment and social media. Today, consumers are using digital platforms for transactions, pulling payment gateways, banks and insurance companies online There has to be a level of comfort for the consumer before they can  start buying a high involvement product such as insurance. People are already buying online and life insurance will also happen in due time. I understand that people may want to go with someone they know but what we have seen is that our kind of product, which is high returns but very low premiums, becomes not very beneficial for agents to sell. A product such as term insurance is targeted at people who are employed. It is not like we don’t have products for the self-employed class, but the problem in India is that not everyone is filing their returns properly and that alienates them from buying a product such as term insurance. As an insurer, we also have to be careful in selling such a product to them.
 
You recently launched ‘Aegon of Business’, what is the purpose of this?
‘Aegons of Business. Never Stop’ was an interview series on BloombergQuint led by Govindraj Ethiraj, a versatile and renowned Indian business journalist. It was our way of bringing to the fore inspiring stories to motivate new age customers. By encouraging them to secure their financial future, we aim to inculcate a ‘never stop’ attitude in them. What set this interview series apart, was that it focused not just on what “worked” for these entrepreneurs in their journey, but on what didn’t.
In a culture that either treats entrepreneurs as heroes or absolute failures, this show aimed to honour the spirit of entrepreneurship, which embraced both of these experiences as transient, and very much a part of the game with a “Never Stop” attitude towards growth. Spanning several categories including business, sports, fashion and entertainment, the show talked to India’s top young entrepreneurs to understand their unique philosophy, and the insights their journeys have led them to.
 
How has your communication changed?
Our communication has always been different from the rest within the category. Our messaging is key in the sense that we talk about life now, the importance of insurance while you are still alive. We try and avoid incorporating aspects of tragedy or the befits of insurance post an insurer’s death. Our tone in advertising has always been humorous and light hearted. All of this comes basis research we have done or associated brands have done. Google keeps doing such studies and they have come back to us with these observations – people are looking at emotional communication as they are not happy about talking about death. It’s anyway hard to talk about death and buying insurance is harder. It’s better to stay away from that kind of communication and talk about the life that you will live. 
 
What are the additional communication efforts you have made as an insurance brand apart from signing on a new brand ambassador?
We launched our brand campaign “Aegon, toh tension gone” early this year. As a second leg to the communication, Times Studio came to us with a very good concept and storyline. Signing a brand ambassador is to break through the clutter. It is like a jingle in an ad campaign. When it comes to conversion, if you look at the proposition we are offering like our term insurance plan, everyone knows that they need to buy but keep delaying it. Our term plan will cover you till 100 years of age and suddenly this becomes a unique proposition, not that other players are not offering something like this but no one has focused on this like we have. Apart from the TVC, we have launched a 360 degree campaign around this communication to reach our audience.
Vicky Kaushal represented a very flamboyant character in ‘Manmarziyan’. Now his new movie ‘Uri’, which is based on the surgical strikes, is expected to bring him to a different league altogether – the combination of someone being so young and being portrayed as a responsible character helps the millennials associate with him easily. This is very much in line with the philosophy we have always adopted as a brand. Be it Irrfan khan or Atul Khatri, the aim was to reach the right audience with the right message.
 
How do you differentiate your brand with so many players in the market?
Aegon Life has been one of the pioneers in the market in the term insurance space. We stand out very clearly from other insurance players when it comes to term insurance. The other thing about Aegon Life is that we are a direct to consumer digital insurer. In 2016, we stopped our agency channel, which contributed to 50-60 per cent of the life insurance business and we went out with a spiel to customers saying that they decide what is good for them. We believe customers are the best judges of what is good for them. We have our own direct channels and sales teams who still go out and sell plans. We can control that a lot better. The product is so strong that there is merit in your friends and agents in recommending you the product. 
 
Tell us about your partnership with Bennett Coleman and Company?
This partnership has been in place  since the very beginning. It is a strategic partnership, where they are a shareholder. This is not the first time that Bennett Coleman has gotten involved in a deal with a financial services space, however, this was their first with an insurance agency and here we are! 
 
What kind of marketing spends you are envisaging?
It will be huge, as JFM (January/ February/ March) is a huge quarter for the insurance sector. The 4th quarter spends will equal spends that we did in the last year (Marketing spends in 2017 Vs 2018 – 60 per cent). There is a 60 per cent hike in sales during this period. The focus is more ATL,activities including digital. This year, the stance that we have taken is on highlighting brand trust and credibility, and those parameters are built when you are largely in offline mediums like print and television. We are spending a lot of money on these mediums vis-a-vis what we were doing last year. The extra money goes here, even as digital spends still grow at around 15-20 per cent. 
 
What are your spends on social media?
This depends on the content – if we have video content, then we approach Facebook as the medium to invest. If here is no video content, then it would be the likes of MoneyControl and stick to the category and go to The Economic Times and other business portals. What we have observed is that Facebook and YouTube take the largest pie – 50 per cent of our spends are on these two platforms. 
 
How have demonization, GST and the digital push and other policies impacted insurance players?
If you look at the IRDA data, a lot of money came into the insurance sector. We saw people investing more in insurance as they thought insurance would be safe as a sector and in terms of returns as well. It’s been good, especially the whole digital push as well as the wallet push due to which people have been transacting online more and more. When transacting online becomes a habit, then insurance as an industry will also benefit out of it. 
 
How has 2018 been for the insurance sector?
This trend of focusing on term insurance has been recent in the insurance industry. The campaigns launched by ICICI or HDFC were around term insurance. So, the focus is again on online selling; while it is still 1 per cent of the overall insurance market, we see a lot of insurers making investments on their digital infrastructure, digital teams and technology at large. I would call this year the beginning of digital insurance in the life insurance industry. 
 
What are your growth targets and focus for the year 2019?
According to a recent report published by IRDA in September this year, Aegon Life ranks #1 in average New Business Sum Assured in individual regular premium category. This ranking includes all the players, even LIC. We have been growing at 30-40 per cent YoY and that is the target that we have for this year as well. 
Between the period September 2017 and September 2018, sum assured growth stood at 37 per cent. The online business of Aegon Life saw a YoY growth of 58 per cent growth in NOPs and 76 per cent growth in premiums.
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