Exide Life CTO Ayan De on How CIOs in the Insurance Sector are Leading the Change

Exide Life CTO Ayan De on How CIOs in the Insurance Sector are Leading the Change

The CIO’s office is now undoubtedly the first port of call for all decision-makers in the company, because the present and the future of business is driven by technology.

Ayan De is a technology transformation specialist with 24 years of experience in the insurance sector. Over the years, he has successfully managed several IT projects aimed at Insurance process transformation for some of the major insurance players across South Asia. De is now the CTO of Exide Life.

CIO Dialogues team caught up with De to discuss how the insurance industry is responding to some of the radical changes in customer demands and behaviour, and how digital has emerged as the lifeline of the industry.

 

Edited excerpts:

Do you think CIOs are playing a bigger role today in defining their company's strategy for customer engagement in the new normal?

Absolutely, yes. CIOs have already seized a seat in the boardroom and play a role in driving an organization’s strategic priorities. In fact, in the new digital normal, IT is responsible for business decisions. A CIO’s office is now undoubtedly the first port of call for all decision-makers in the company, because the present and the future of business is driven by technology.

Forward-looking companies are going one step ahead and creating a business case for technologies that are just emerging. That is where the CIOs are playing a very critical role in sort of defining what is over the horizon.

What agile practices are CIOs following to deliver personalized customer experiences?

I think there is not much choice left with the CIOs because the customers are now spoilt for choice. Because of the pandemic, most insurance companies have adopted the digital selling line. And with the second wave now hitting our shores, the customer has become extra conscious about his own health exposure. And he would prefer to continue on the same way of purchasing and approach by various service providers as he was catered to during the high months of the pandemic last year. Insurance companies have been riding this wave and have come up with truly novel and often curated solutions.

Insurance products , as a category, are quite complex. And over the years, the complexity of the product lines have also grown exponentially. Today, most of the insurance companies have gone for handheld, mobile-based selling platforms, which have some amount of artificial intelligence built in them. This mobile AI helps nudge the agent to pitch the right product when the basic inputs are fed into the system. Besides, video chat to co-browsing to online eKYC and upfront validation of standard documents are now being done as parallel activities at the point of sale itself. Some bit of underwriting is also being done out of these selling apps today across the industry.

The co-browsing facilities allow agents to effectively capture the data in collaboration with the customer. And many of the insurance companies have adopted this because this is going to be the practice for years to come. The interfaces may change, but the concept of remote sale & service, that has now evolved, is going to stay.

 

How critical are parameters like latency and security while providing a compelling customer experience in the insurance industry?

We are residing in the age of the Amazons, the Netflixes, and the Ubers. So, this is the age of instant gratification. And the moment the IT Head is not taking care of the latency issue, he is definitely going to lose his customer. With most customers getting engaged online, expectation is that any two of his apps should respond in a similar way, and expects the same performance across apps. This is forcing the IT captains to become more and more agile, more and more nimble. We continuously keep on looking at the payload that we are actually delivering when the user is looking at his app. And it is making us, in the insurance industry, smarter because we have to continuously invent newer ways of doing things with smaller capacities.

When we talk of latency, we don't have data farms as a Google or a Netflix has; we don't have that kind of resources at our disposal. So, we must constantly innovate and find out newer ways to meet these expectation challenges. When we come to security, just like any other financial industry, insurance too needs to be doubly careful about the massive amounts of data it processes and stores. We are using the customer's data. It is not only the customer but it is the overall thought process as an IT utility system - How safe is my data? Every individual wants his data to be guarded. This is the voice of today's customer. And that is the reason IT captains must be very careful about the data that they are holding.

When it comes to the insurance sector, this has been underlined time and again by the industry regulator. There are new regulatory requirements that have come up recently where the security testing of any company’s applications have been made doubly stringent. The various tenets of GDPR read along with the IT Ammendment Act 2008 is standaridizing the entire data protection piece. This propagation is across industries and Insurance is also aligning to the wave now.

How are data-driven operating models enabling new customer journeys in the insurance sector?

When you approach the customer, you have to be fully aware of what you are pitching to him. That is when you are doing a sale. But even after the sale has been completed,  today’s customers expect well tailored servicing platforms. When we talk about the insurance sector, we need to understand that life insurance is a long-standing service contract. There would be many instances where the customer will need some servicing of his policy over the years. Today, almost all of these servicing features have gone online. Many forward-looking insurance companies are using a mix of the transaction and demographic data - to pitch in value-added information to the customer who's logging in. So, possibly after you have booked yourself into an insurance contract, let's say after five or six years, it may pop up on your communication handles (email, Whatsapp, SMS) nudging you on the need of a new policy for your children, for long term savings, for your pension investment, etc. These interaction platforms are becoming smarter by the day powered by domain rich analytical engines humming in the background.

 

Considering Life insurance has largely been a space that requires a lot of personal interactions —how is the industry re-looking at some of these last-mile processes in the current scenario? 

Life Insurance is not a tangible product. It’s an experience and it’s a promise where customers get to see the returns after a decade or more. Selling insurance products even in normal circumstances has been a challenging task. The pandemic has added more complexities to the whole process. But,at the same time, it has also shown an individual the importance of considering an insurance policy as part of his overall financial planning. That said, buying patterns have changed significantly in the last few months with customers now preferring digital purchase, digital payment, and a digital experience while engaging with insurance agents.

As a response, most insurance companies are enhancing last-mile connectivity and service models with their business partners and agents, by enabling them with contactless solutions and innovative mobile apps. The agent’s entire office is packed on his mobile phone today. While getting the documents processed, the agent can loop in his managers via a video call. The call center can get activated instantly if an online purchase journey gets aborted in the middle. The sales managers can login now and assist completion of the online form filling over co-browsing platforms. In a nutshell, the industry has re-imagined its entire customer engagement model over the last few years which has just been accelerated by the pandemic.