Searches for insurance products up by 30% in the last 6 months: Nipun Kaushal

PNB MetLife has been present in India since 2001. PNB MetLife brings together the financial strength of a leading global life insurance provider, MetLife, Inc., and the credibility and reliability of PNB, one of India’s oldest and leading nationalised banks. The vast distribution reach of PNB together with the global insurance expertise and a large product range of MetLife make PNB MetLife a strong and trusted insurance provider. Today, PNB MetLife is present in over 115 locations across the country and serves over 100 million customers in more than 8,700 locations through its strong bank partnerships with PNB, JKB and KBL. It provides a wide range of protection and retirement products through its strong and large agency network. As an organisation they have been delivering good results and have been profitable for the last five financial years.

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There is no doubt that the pandemic has disrupted every sphere of life and there is a shift in spending behaviours. People were very clear that they should spend only for essential products and services. Interestingly the need for health insurance also became important and went high on the ranking order when it came to safety and protecting one’s life.

In an interesting conversation with Adgully, Nipun Kaushal, Chief Marketing Officer, PNB MetLife, speaks at length about how the company has been navigating during the pandemic, their growth plans and strategy as the need for insurance cover has become important.

The pandemic has disrupted globally and there is some kind of fear in everyone's mind. Has the pandemic prompted people to protect themselves and go for insurance cover?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has disrupted every sphere of life and altered our attitudes and spending behaviours. The life insurance industry is not exempted from this change. A global survey by our promoter company MetLife between April and May 2020 highlights that 79% of the respondents with a first-degree relationship to COVID-19 are considering purchasing additional insurance, as compared to 38% of the respondents with no connection to COVID-19. As proximity to COVID-19 drives greater concern for protection needs, insurers have a clear role to play in supporting their customers to address these protection needs.

Many respondents are seeking out more insurance protection and savings-oriented behaviour is more of a current priority, signalling an expansion in the present demand for insurance.

In India also there is a positive shift in the way insurance is perceived. This is evident from the fact that searches for insurance products have gone up by 30% in the last 6 months. As the rules of social distancing become a part of the people’s daily lives, we also see an increase in the number of people who now reaching out virtually to enhance the understanding of their insurance needs and different products on offer.

(Source – Google AdWords) (Searches from 2.25 lakh to 2.90 lakh, last 6 months, avg monthly)

At PNB MetLife, we witnessed a 50% plus surge in our online business post the lockdown. Life insurers may need to re-engineer their processes and introduce digital engagement platforms to see how they can offer suitable solutions to the customers without having a face-to-face interaction.

Where is the growth coming for PNB MetLife in terms of markets? Are the Tier 2 and 3 markets looking at purchasing life insurance cover? Is there any marketing strategy that is being adopted to tap the potential of the smaller markets?

Our vast distribution network provides us with a well-balanced geographic mix across metro, urban, semi-urban and rural geographies. Over 40% of our business comes from metro areas. Urban and semi-urban areas together contribute around 33% of our business. We have strong proprietary channels (Agency and Direct) and we are adding new partnerships every year to increase our distribution strength to reach customers in all markets, including Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. With PNB as a promotor and partner, we have access to the distribution network of the second-largest bank in India. Our vast distribution presence across over 80% of districts in India, enables us to access a geographically and demographically broad Indian customer base, including a wide set of under-penetrated customer segments in the said market tiers. One of the reasons we were able to service our customers better during the lockdown is because of these partners who were up and running even during the initial unlock days.

PNB MetLife is driven principally by the ethos of customer-centricity and keeping up with that ethos, our strategy focuses on engaging with the insurable population from the grassroots level. This enables us to reach the base of our audience and start the process of value addition right from the roots. We are able to achieve this through two major channels, one is through BTL campaigns which are driven by our distributors and secondly, through our digital engagement initiatives. We use a segmented approach supported by data analytics, which further enables us to identify specific segments that help us in providing relevant products to each. Once the segments are identified, we reach out to our consumer base through BTL campaigns carried out by our distributors and partners, and for our existing customers, we utilise our process of customer lifecycle management.

Secondly, with the rapid digitisation, the era of ROPO (Read Online Purchase Offline) has gained massive strength. To engage with our customers in the virtual realm, we utilise digital campaigns to market specific products with the use of geo-targeting.

An example of our strategy in motion is the localised integrated marketing campaign (IMC) approach that we implemented in Punjab and Haryana. The localised nature of our model enabled us to specifically focus on these pockets and engage with every segment separately, providing a customised experience through different channels of communications and at every touchpoint.

These strategies not only help us reach to the lengths and breadths of the country, but also offer relevant and need-based offerings.

New normal is going to witness a change in behaviour in the future. Do you feel the new behaviour of the consumer will have some effect over the Insurance industry?

As discussed earlier, the pandemic disrupted our way of life, giving way to a new virtual world order. Consumer behaviour has undergone a huge transformation and hence, businesses, including insurance, must evolve to effectively serve the customer base. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst in the rapid digitisation of the insurance industry.

As we look ahead at a new virtual normal, implementing a phygital model to satisfy the evolving consumer needs makes perfect sense. As this pandemic has led the industry to innovate and bring about significant changes, I do see digital channels expanding further as new technologies become available and enable insurers to offer customers a superior experience, competitive pricing and value for money, driving loyalty and satisfaction.

But even as customers are turning to digital and mobile channels, they continue to value human advice, often in person, making physical channels an essential service that adds value at certain points within the customer journey. As we adapt to the norms of social distancing, I see considerable space for innovation on this channel to combine the elements of personal touch with the rules and norms of social distancing.

How has digital helped you stay engaged with your business partners and your sales agents during the lockdown? How are you keeping them motivated and sharing knowledge and running your sales training program?

As a company, we have always been technology-driven and hence, we had the infrastructure and systems in place to deal with the COVID-19 situation when it broke out. We also came up with some unique digital initiatives to stay connected with our 11,000 employees and stakeholders.

  1. We have implemented various measures to boost the morale of our employees and assuage their fears. Besides video conference calls to team leaders, our CEO, Ashish K Srivastava, also sends voice messages to each employee through WhatsApp and other digital tools to keep up their morale.
  2. We are also encouraging all our employees who are working from home to use this time to learn and upskill themselves from the confines of their homes. For example, we recently hosted LinkedIn training modules on Virtual collaboration and team management and maintaining work-life balance at our MyLearning App.
  3. Through the company’s $10 million Workforce of the Future Development Fund, which was established in 2018, we have been introducing new learning programs focused on enhancing digital skills, innovation and collaboration globally.

In terms of training, we conducted ~1,700 virtual training programs to over 24,000 employees via our mobile learning platform. We also undertook several initiatives to keep employees engaged with their Health & Wellbeing during the lockdown – including dedicated workshops with PV Sindhu on ‘Fitness during the lockdown’ and ‘Enhancing culinary skills’. There were also sessions conducted to exchange ideas across functions.

You have one of the world-famous badminton champions, PV Sindhu, endorsing your various products. What was the idea behind to use a sports celebrity and connect her with the brand? How have you leveraged her as the brand ambassador and has the brand benefited?

We were looking for a brand ambassador who our target audience would relate to, who resonates with our core values and helps in building brand affinity as to how PNB MetLife nurtures relationships with consumers throughout their lives. When it comes to brand endorsement, PV Sindhu has proven her mettle on and off the court with her dedication, discipline and earned trust of millions.

As part of her role as PMLI’s brand ambassador, Sindhu is closely associated with brand, promotion of our products and annual properties such as PNB MetLife Junior Badminton Championship. She is also associated with our CSR initiative, Damini, which focuses on girl child education and women empowerment.

PV Sindhu’s journey from a girl to an Olympic Champion epitomises perseverance, discipline and determination, something that is synonymous with PNB MetLife’s brand value. She is proof that everyone needs a partner in their progress – that’s why a true brand ambassador for a brand like PNB MetLife, who is the right life insurance partner to every Indian.

Good customer care brings in brand loyalty. So, how have you addressed the customer pain points and grievances, especially when the helpline services were not fully functional due to pandemic?

Experience is everything, which is why PNB MetLife prioritises customer experience above all else. We are committed to listening to our customers to deeply understand their needs and their pain points when it comes to insurance.

We believed that a robust risk management and control mechanism should go beyond IT infrastructure, and also keep into focus the wellbeing of all its stakeholders. With MetLife as our promotor, PNB MetLife was able to implement crucial processes and technologies that enabled us to facilitate our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) before the nationwide lockdown ensued. Taking our core ethos of customer centricity forward, we envisaged the areas in which customers would require the most assistance.

  • Under the communication plan, we drove usage of our digital channels for any servicing request, with focus on downloading khUshi, our customer service app. In July 2020, we celebrated download of 2 lakh+ downloads, with top requests being premium paid certificate, e-PD, updation of email and bank account
  • Customers can also raise requests via the company’s AI-based app khUshi, which efficiently helps to address customers’ queries efficiently and quickly. The app is available for download via Android and iOS platforms
  • Claims processes: Claim settlement is the moment of truth in the insurance industry and most of our efforts was to ensure that we streamlined our process to make it fast and simple.
  • PNB MetLife has a dedicated claims helpline and email address, where customers can send their documents via email and claims will process the same basis these documents
  • Post email, the customers will need to courier their original document to us after the lockdown. Owing to the present crisis, we are not waiting for the receipt of the original document to process the claim – instead, we are processing the claim basis documents over email
  • All claims are being paid by direct bank transfer

What has been your overall media strategy? Digital has accelerated and is a key medium for customer engagement, how have you deployed digital to stay engaged with your stakeholders and your audiences?

At PNB MetLife, customer-centricity is not only our guiding philosophy, but our working principle. Hence, all our strategies are modelled around the well-being of our customers and enrichment of their experience with us. With MetLife as our promoter, we have access to a gamut of digital innovation and an ecosystem of inventive processes, which enable us to deliver on our promises to our customers.

Constant digitisation in the field of customer experience and sharing of best global practices from our promoter has helped us build bespoke experience at each virtual engagement point, conveying a human touch in virtual interactions.

  • The data analytics running in this framework enables us to create a bespoke experience for each customer who is engaging with our website. Based on which stage of the purchase process the customer is on, they will see personalised messages which will guide them to completion. PNB MetLife is the first company in Life Insurance to successfully use website personalization on the sales journey and score a click-to-login ratio among the best in BFSI space.
  • During the online buying journey, in case the customer drops off without completing the process, we utilise the data to ascertain at which stage of the consumer sales funnel we deploy remarketing through mails and on Google, tailored to that stage and bring back the consumer. We provide further assistance to the customer in their journey of purchasing an appropriate life insurance policy that will fulfil their insurance and protection needs.
  • And finally, in agreement with our localised integrated marketing approach, we have also increased our engagement reach to include the Hindi speaking web-traffic into our foray, by introducing the website in vernacular languages; this has resulted in pages ranking higher than those of our competitors.

There is always an opportunity during a crisis. Any plans underway to launch any new products which will excite the market and the customers?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been unique in a way that it afforded us the opportunity to understand our evolving customer base and provide them with a better service experience which is digitally enhanced. The changes in our social fabric brought on by the permanent addition of social distancing, fast-tracked the industry’s digitisation process and brought us new avenues to stay connected with our consumers virtually.

The relentless want of our distribution partners, agents and employees to serve the customers with more value, especially in the time of their need, irrespective of the daunting conditions, have enabled us to form lasting relations with our customers.

Additionally, to bring our customers a holistic bouquet of products, following the ‘Circle of Life’ approach, we envisage a compact set of products that fulfils the advanced needs and demands of the consumer. We launched three products – PNB MetLife Guaranteed Future Plan, Mera Mediclaim Plan and PNB MetLife Smart Platinum Plus.

As the masses settle to the new normal, wherein protection of health as well as wealth creation have assumed a level of importance like never before, PNB MetLife aims to serve its customers at every new juncture of their lives through its dynamic and ever-evolving approach towards customer satisfaction.


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