Agility will have to become a way of life to manage future risks: Abhishek Gupta

World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Followed by which a whooping 197 million people across the country tuned in to watch Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address announcing a complete lockdown in the country to tackle the situation. In just sometime the marketplace has turned upside down. Businesses are struggling to adjust to a new reality of quarantines, lockdown, and closed borders.

This pivot in fortunes has caught most companies flat-footed. The checklists adopted by different companies provide an actionable framework that brands use to benchmark their responses to the disruption caused by the spread of the Coronavirus.

In conversation with Adgully, Abhishek Gupta, CMO, Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, talks about how they as a brand are navigating through the ongoing crisis, as well as the survival roadmap for the insurance industry in the country.

What are the long-term implications of COVID-19 for the insurance industry?
COVID-19 is expected to bring about a structural change in the insurance industry, akin to the effect demonetisation had, on digital payments. This pandemic has put the digital transformation of our industry into an overdrive. We are seeing significant changes in the way insurers train their sales force, interact with customers and focus on improving customer experience.

The pandemic has led to increased customer awareness, on the need for protection products. Given the current norms on social distancing, customers are now forced to seek digital assistance to meet their needs and are inadvertently contributing to a change in traditional buying behaviour. Consequently, the insurance advisory will also have to move to digital, wherein advisors will build customer interest, conduct need analysis and onboard customers, completely online.

In the long term, this will result in a bigger change, moving to making this category more of a ‘pull’ segment instead of a ‘push’ one. This change is already underway with our online channels seeing 45% jump in March from February and 100% of our customer onboarding, is happening digitally, since the announced lockdown.

Would Force Majeure clause apply in case of claims for COVID-19 victims?
The Force Majeure clause will not be applicable on claims arising from COVID-19. In fact, the Life Insurance Council has recently clarified that this clause will not affect policyholders and life insurers will honour such claims.

We are taking necessary efforts to communicate with customers, informing them of the same, so that there is no panic owing to lack of clarity or misinformation.

What strategy has Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance put in place to navigate through the ongoing crisis?
As you are aware, insurance is classified as an essential service as per Government directives and we had the requisite permissions to keep offices open across India. But, along with business continuity, protecting the dreams and aspirations of our key stakeholders – employees, customers and distributors – was equally critical. Hence, we were amongst the first insurers to implement 100% work from home. Our technology function worked round the clock to enable this transition for over 4,000 employees, in a short time span.

The nation-wide lockdown was announced in March, which is also a business-critical month for life insurance players. We wanted to discourage our employees from putting themselves in risky situations and decided on moving to remote working, instead of keeping our branches open.

As a brand, it was incumbent upon us to manage the wellbeing of our employees as they adapt to this new normal of working. So, we set up an information helpline which connects our employees to a doctor, thus creating a credible source of information and bust misconceptions, while helping employees cope with their anxieties (this was later made available to our customers as well). We conduct virtual meditation sessions every day and musical/ talent show sessions every week, to preserve sense of community in the absence of personal interaction.

For customers, we are focusing our efforts to providing authentic information and crucial updates on current developments, curbing misconception and misinformation. With our branches closed, we have stayed in constant touch with our customers, especially on the ways in which they can interact with us digitally to have their concerns addressed.

We have created requisite digital training and enablement tools to facilitate the transition of our offline advisory to online. We have built a solution, called ‘Dial for Success’, within a week, to help our offline sales force digitally interact with our customers. It is replete with a complete guide on how to help manage customer concerns during this unforeseen event and assist in activities like online transactions.

Digital transformation has been a key focus area for us in recent years and that strategy has truly helped us navigate challenges brought on by this pandemic, effectively.

Are you doing any sustenance advertising to keep your brand top of mind? If yes, what is your media mix?
While we are supplementing efforts to support business in customer service and training, our flagship initiative – ‘Log-In Zindagi’ – has helped us meaningfully engage with all our stakeholders. Log-In Zindagi provides light-hearted and informative interactions on how best to cope with this pandemic. These webinars are conducted on Facebook and we have been receiving a heartening response so far.

What new normal do you see emerging in the post-COVID-19 world – (i) for the overall economy; and (ii) for the insurance sector?
I believe that from now on, we will view our lives as ‘Before and After COVID-19’. While I expect some short-term risks to economy, the full impact of this situation cannot be predicted as it is still evolving. Currently, the primary focus is on mitigating health risks and preserving financial stability. Economic performance has taken a backseat, and rightfully so.

In the post-COVID-19 world, industries will start becoming more cognizant of new-age platforms and will look at building robust contingency plans for such intermittent shocks. Agility will have to become a way of life if we hope to effectively manage future risks. Fintech, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Blockchain technologies will gain prominence and their scope will increase – from facilitating new-age companies to transforming legacy ones.

As mentioned before, COVID-19 will certainly redefine the insurance landscape and digitisation will play an important role in the process. Digital penetration will move at a faster pace. Digitised advisories will now need to be more comprehensive and holistic, improving customer awareness and thereby, prompting customers to buy products relevant to their needs and goals.


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