Tablets Help IndiaFirst Life’s Sales Agents Sell Faster

As the 23rd entrant in the Indian insurance industry, IndiaFirst Life had a world of ground to cover. But it didn’t believe in catching up; it wanted to get ahead. How? By empowering over 1,000 sales agents with tablets that sell insurance in 30 minutes.

Imagine you’re visiting your aging relatives in some remote part of the country and need to provide them with insurance cover—something you’ve been putting off just to avoid the hassle of getting one. What if the very next morning—while you’re sitting with your feet up on a couch, sipping coffee, and reading your favorite book— a gentleman walks up to you, swishes out a fancy tablet, takes down your details, and hands you a print-out of a life insurance policy—in just 30 minutes?

If wow is the word that came to your mind, then that’s exactly how IndiaFirst Life Insurance aspires to make its customers feel. A joint venture between Bank of Baroda, Andhra Bank, and theUK’s Legal and General, the com­pany is all set to change the way insurance is sold inIndia.

But a few months back, its sales agents weren’t anywhere close to achieving that. The company’s sales agents— called Business Development Managers (BDMs)—had to lug around and fumble through sheaves of collateral, application forms, and other customer documents. It was a process that was manual, cumbersome, and time-con­suming. And it was time IndiaFirst couldn’t afford to lose.

Squeezed under the pressures of low volumes, grow­ing competition and price sensitivity of customers, indus­try reports say that a player inIndia’s insurance sector can only hope to break-even in 13-15 years. This, clubbed with the increase in the number of lapsed policies, an overall decline in sales—and the fact that, according to industry reports, the profit margins on life insurance policies sold in India are the lowest in Asia—can make it look like one of the toughest industries to operate in. That, it is. 

We thought, why not use tablets, build an app for it, and make the entire sales process paperless. In the hands of the employee, the tablet will become a mobile office.”

The Scheme of Things

But while there are many who’d look at a challenge and run in the oppo­site direction, IndiaFirst was willing to look at it as an opportunity.

With a share capital of Rs 84 crore, IndiaFirst fol­lows the bancassurance model and has about 1,000 BDMs to cover the over 5,000 branches of Bank of Baroda and Andhra Bank. The company has clocked a growth of 39 percent at the end of March 2012 and man­aged to cap its operating expenses at 19 percent of new business premium. “As a new entrant, we have been able to grow at a rate faster than the industry average. But it will be difficult to keep doing so on a larger base. So we are focusing on improving our processes, our product suite, and enhancing customer delight,” says Dr. P. Nan­dagopal, MD and CEO, IndiaFirst Life Insurance.

This becomes especially important in an industry where one doesn’t deliver a product but a promise in return for the money invested by customers. “To enhance customer delight, it is an imperative to deliver on that promise in a fashion that is credible, instant, and efficient,” adds Nandagopal.

But considering the push-sales dependent nature of the industry, such a vision is easier said than achieved. BDMs would have to indulge prospective customers with multiple visits and subsequent deliberations before they could hope for a sale. And even then, owing to manual processes, there was a lack of standardiza­tion in the sales process and hence a lot of scope for mis-selling.

This lack of standardization was visible in the way BDMs approached customers and their needs. “There was no way of knowing if all of the nearly 1,000 employ­ees across the country were following a standardized process for selling our prod­ucts. Or whether they were performing need-analysis for customers, recommend­ing the right product, generating a benefit illustration for that product, and getting the application form filled correctly before collecting the premium,” says Mohit Rochlani, Business Head-Bancassurance and Retention, IndiaFirst Life Insurance.

Due to the bancassurance model that it operates in, IndiaFirst doesn’t have dedicated offices or branches and couldn’t hope to standardize sales processes by gathering people at one location for training. “Despite our online learning management system and monthly tests, the understanding of product plans among sales personnel is not uniform,” says Vinayak Khadye, Head-Project Management and IT Excellence, Indi­aFirst Life Insurance.

Moreover, the bank branches that the BDMs operated out of wouldn’t have provisioned for a BDM to use the branch as his workplace. This would cripple BDMs who, despite being equipped with a laptop, needed to access scanners and the Internet to upload documents. Also, they didn’t have an integrated application on their laptops to pull out product audio-visuals that need to be shown to the customer when pitching a product.

All this added to the growing heap of problems.

Ask, Apply, Get?

The company’s issues multiplied when it found that its manual processes interfered with a BDM’s ability to execute the Ask, Apply, Get (AAG) strategy. An over the counter policy issuance model, AAG is designed by IndiaFirst on the criteria of pre-underwritten prod­ucts based on age range of the customer, sum assured, need for medical check-ups etcetera. A closer look at IndiaFirst’s portfolio will reveal that a majority of its policies fall under this process and had the potential of getting closed on the spot. “Our portfolio is 90 per­cent non-medical and these could get covered through AAG. But due to our paper-based process, BDMs couldn’t help customers with necessary information for them to make a purchase decision,” says Rochlani.

 It would also take longer to spot mistakes in cus­tomer applications. For example, a discrepancy with respect to personal details or policy elements like pre­mium amount or sum assured would only be identified after it reached the Mumbai corporate office for manual underwriting. This would take at least two to three days to reach Mumbai—from major cities—and up to five to six days from the remote parts of the country. “In case of the incumbents—or established players—this is handled by one of the thousands of branches closest to the sales person,” Rochlani adds.

But this wasn’t possible for IndiaFirst’s BDMs placed in rural areas. They won’t have access to the same information as their peers in metros and would have to wait till they get response from the central com­mand to address customer queries.

Opening more branches across the country would have helped the company, but that would, for one, render its bancassurance model irrelevant. The bancassurance model has allowed IndiaFirst to save on infrastructure costs and invest in new-age products and solutions that would give them the opportunity to grow faster than the industry. The model also accounts for eas­ier access to customers, provides far warmer leads than any other channel, and gives a quicker time-to-market as it is inherently more agile.

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