Rahul Agarwal, Chief Distribution Officer, Exide Life Insurance

We have always been a digital-first company but the ongoing pandemic pushed us to further enhance our digital ecosystem.

Dec 07, 2020 08:12 IST India Infoline News Service

Rahul joined Exide Life Insurance in March 2001 as the Regional Head based in Delhi and was responsible for setting up and running the Sales Organization in North and East parts of the country. In 2004, he moved to the Head Office as part of the Operations Team, which he led in his previous assignment. Rahul took over as the Chief Distribution Officer of Exide Life Insurance in 2009. As the CDO, Rahul oversees the entire distribution network of the company. Rahul has an experience of over 15 years in Insurance and Banking. He is an Electronics Engineer and has a Masters in Business Administration (MBA).
In an interaction with Shweta Papriwal, Editor, indiainfoline.com Mr. Rahul Agarwal, Chief Distribution Officer at Exide Life Insurance said, "Though the first quarter was slow for us in terms of new business, we saw significant recovery by the end of the second quarter".  
How has the pandemic impacted Exide Life’s overall business?
Like most other sectors, life insurers also had to quickly adapt to the lockdown and activate a robust business continuity plan. The uncertainty and fear which came with the pandemic resulted in a significant drop in new business growth in March as well as the first quarter of the financial year and the overall growth for the industry plummeted by 20%. As an industry that was largely dependent on face-to-face interactions with customers, the work-from-home setting was a completely unforeseen shift. 
At an organization level, H1 was all about adapting ourselves to the new normal. This meant an overnight shift to remote working and higher dependence on digital tools, all this while ensuring business continuity. What worked for us is the fact that as a company, we dedicated the last 3-4 years to transforming our digital ecosystem and this is what helped us get through the Covid-19 crisis in a fairly efficient way. Our main focus was on enhancing our digital ecosystem further to ensure seamless servicing of existing customers -- claims as well as renewals and acquisition.  
Though the first quarter was slow for us in terms of new business, we saw significant recovery by the end of the second quarter. 
What is the approach of Exide Life towards online/virtual selling in this current scenario? 
We have always been a digital-first company but the ongoing pandemic pushed us to further enhance our digital ecosystem. We have a robust offering of products and since the onset of the pandemic we have seen a lot of interaction across all our distribution channels. For our online channel in particular, we have ensured seamless customer experience - where the customer is assisted over a call by our customer service executive. 
There has been a huge transition in traditional sales as well.  Through e-Sales which is our digital platform, our agents are now empowered to sell without having any face-to-face meetings with the potential customers. We have digitized the entire process on new customer on boarding--from meeting a potential customer over a video or phone call, right up to the time the policy bond goes in for printing. At an organizational level, 90% of our new proposals are logged in through our digital platform (e-sales). 
What are the trends that have been witnessed by Exide Life which are shaping the sector?
With Covid-19 having such a far-reaching impact, there are a few key trends shaping the insurance sector. Of everything, the increased awareness among customers on the importance of having a robust protection plan stands out. 

While insurers have always emphasized on the importance of being well protected, the fear and uncertainty spurred by Covid-19 catapulted the awareness levels further. The pandemic not only increased awareness for term and health insurance products but also helped convert this awareness into demand. Most life insurers have seen a significant spike in their share of protection/term insurance business and we believe the trend is set to continue. Further, with markets in the green for the last few months and with interest rates falling, the industry is currently seeing an uptick in demand for Ulips. 
The second key trend witnessed is the evolution of digital mode of doing business. While the industry had been digitizing itself in the last few years, the pandemic accelerated digital adoption to a much faster rate. Insurers are building robust digital tools to ensure seamless operations in the new normal and are looking at investing heavily in digital innovation.  
At Exide Life, the entire sales force is connected with our customers digitally and are available 24X7. Our self-service portal is an extensive platform to enable policy-servicing request on-the-go. Similarly, our online payment portal has played a crucial role in premium collection. We are also working towards ensuring a quicker turnaround time when it comes to claims settlement. 
How awareness and long term financial engagement goes hand in hand when it comes to life insurance?
One of the biggest reasons for the low insurance penetration in India is the low levels of awareness on the products available and their direct benefits. Despite various awareness campaigns by insurers and the industry bodies, traditional investment avenues such as gold and property are still very popular in the country.

Customers shy away from understanding life insurance products and often see traditional protection plans as a sunken cost. However, it’s important to look at life insurance, especially term plans, as an essential investment because no other product offers the same level of financial security. The small-ticket premiums you pay go a long way in the event of the death of the policyholder as the dependents receive a lump sum. The premiums you pay ensures the financial security of your dependents and is worth the peace of mind that comes with it. You don’t have to worry about the financial burden that you would be leaving behind. Therefore, it is crucial that customers are made aware of these plans to guide them towards robust financial planning. 

Apart from the direct benefits of a product, it is important for customers to understand the long-term nature of the product. The premiums due must be paid regularly and on time for the policyholder to enjoy its benefits. Living a financially secure life requires strong and disciplined financial planning for a significant period of time in order to build adequate corpus and be completely protected. 
How have the distribution channels evolved ever since the pandemic set in and what steps did the company take? 
Over the last 19 years, we have built a strong distribution channel spanning across Tied Agency, Bank assurance, CABR and Direct Channel. 
Tied agency, which is the largest of our distribution channels along with our second proprietary channel -- Direct channel-- have been the backbone of our sales organization. We activated our digital infrastructure timely and across all important modes of the sales processes for both these channels, including the launch of an online training module on how to conduct business while working remotely. Furthermore, through these channels we were also able to successfully reach out to our existing customers for all service assistance, including the purchase of additional policies. We expect to see our agency and direct channels to outgrow their current growth pace in the next few quarters.
Our partner channels, CABR and Banca slowed down drastically due to the lockdown. However, with partner branches opening up, we are seeing an uptick in business in-flow from these channels. 
How has Exide Life implemented digital advancements in order to train agents and distributors effectively?  
To ensure our agents and employees are well-equipped to handle business in the ‘new normal’, we conducted training programs virtually and helped them understand how best to navigate the digital ecosystem. 
While we have been using our digital platform (My eSales) for logging in proposals for a couple of years now, we needed to train our advisors in holding video and telephonic meetings with potential clients. The training also covered how to get the traditional and non-digital customers to be comfortable with a completely virtual interaction.
Apart from the on-going training, we also have a helpline for our agents and sales teams where all their questions are taken up and guidance is offered as and when required.  We further enhanced our digital onboarding platform (My eSales) to make it more seamless for our advisors. As we speak, we are continuing to improve our digital ecosystem to ensure our agents and partners get the best-in-class tools when it comes to new business acquisition and renewals. With these advancements and an exhaustive digital onboarding platform, we are confident that our agents and distributors are able to function efficiently. 

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