Insurance mart PolicyBazaar, is one of the earliest InsurTech players in the Indian insurance industry, championing digital products. Asia Insurance Review caught up with the startup’s technology and product chief, Mr Ashish Gupta, to explore disruption trends in the local market.
By Jimmy John
Q. Policybazaar has been around for a few years now. Could you tell us briefly about your online experience in the Indian market?
The journey has been phenomenal for us as we brought a largely offline industry online and have significantly changed the way India buys insurance today. When we started, no one believed that selling insurance policies, such as term and health, was possible without feet on the street.
In fact, when we started the company in 2008, most consumers were buying what the distributors were selling and there wasn’t much awareness around the real benefits of insurance. Insurance was sold as an investment product and tax benefits were glorified to make a sale. Over the years, we have placed a focus on good consumer-centric products, which are now slowly becoming the backbone of the industry.
We see a marked change in the attitude of the customers today – they understand products much better now and are making decisions on their own. While it’s still a long way to go for complete unassisted purchase, I think our efforts have paved a start in that direction. In promoting consumer empowerment through digital, we managed to capture nearly 95% of the insurance web aggregator market. We also account for nearly 20% of India’s life cover, and over 7% of India’s retail health business. Roughly half of all internet-based insurance purchase in the country are happening through our platform. These are massive numbers especially for a country of more than a billion people, which is increasingly being driven by data.
Q. Considering the Indian cultural mindset is to approach insurance agents or advisors when buying insurance, how did you convince people to buy online?
Word of mouth has played a big role in making people come to us. Our marketing campaigns have consistently highlighted the benefits of buying online and this has also led to increased awareness among the consumers. We have always believed in providing complete information to our customers. Our staff are also trained to share product details transparently and recommending relevant products to consumers based on their needs. This practice over time has helped us build a strong trust among our customers. The same goes for insurers with whom we have collaborated on products to cater to consumer needs; this has helped us earn their respect and good faith over the years, and has also made us stand out among our competitors.
Q. What are some of the major challenges faced in online insurance marketing in India?
Insurance has been always considered to be a touch-feel market, where people want to see a face to trust. Building credibility takes time, and word of mouth plays a very important role in this. When people go online to buy insurance, they expect to see all products. Whereas offline, they are usually convinced after seeing a couple of products. India is a still a cash economy, and people are sceptical about making digital payments as they fear information leaks and breaches. However, with demonetisation and current digital drive of the government, this is changing as people become more aware of online payments and its benefits. Insurance policies have also traditionally been seen as investments rather than protection, thought this mindset is gradually shifting. So while we have made good inroads, but we feel it’s still a beginning.
Q. How do you see InsurTech impacting the local insurance industry in?
I believe we will see better consumer-oriented products and more product customisation based on analytics. Right now, we have fairly generic products, but with the increase in use of newer technologies, there will be seamless data transfer between various entities like aggregators, insurers, and the regulator. We can expect faster and easier validations; for example, waiver of proofs, automation of KYC, OCR etc. The rise of InsurTech will also help in consolidation of services such as tri-party calls, combined CRMs and other practices.
Q. How has India’s market responded to the changes brought on by advances such as Big Data, analytics and IoT?
In India, Internet of Things is in the early stages of development, but there is a lot of experimentation ongoing around customising health and motor products. So far, insurance product customisation has been fairly generic and limited only to certain segments. But the development process has begun and hopefully there should be some breakthroughs in the next couple of years.
Q. What is the role of chatbots in the industry and how effective and efficient has this been in terms of sales and growth in your company?
For any organisation, the reality is that handling the sheer volumes of queries on any given day/time is very challenging for human assistants. This is despite a super-efficient customer support team. Further, you cannot always correctly predict volumes of queries in a business; at times, the numbers will surprise you however prepared you may be With chatbots, you get a professional, optimised and standardised experience for all customers and are able to generate better efficiencies. Add to that, it eliminates human errors and reducing pressure on training staff.
We recently introduced chat bots to experiment with this technology and observed some really interesting trends. We noticed a 30% reduction in calls with zero sales loss, and the satisfaction index improved by 40%.
Q. What other tech trends do you foresee will further disrupt the insurance industry?
The insurance industry remains heavily dependent on manual processes that struggle with scalability and consistency. I think the most disruption is going to be created by initiatives that bring in automation. Initiatives such as Chatbots and OCR/ICR fall into this category. The other trend that’s likely to come up is information sharing and analytics across organisations. For example, using the Aadhar infrastructure to automate KYC process or analyse customer life cycle behaviour (as opposed to the current trend of analytics on a specific policy), or cross utilisation of medical reports among insurance companies. A