Italian financial services company Generali, increased stake in its Indian JV Future Generali India Life Insurance to around 70.5% in May 2022, becoming the first foreign entity to hold a majority stake in an Indian insurance company. With the shift in ownership came change in management, and Bruce de Broize took charge as the MD and CEO. As the insurer emerges from the challenges posed by capital constraints during the pandemic, and insolvency proceedings being initiated against Future Group, Broize has his priority set in terms of pushing topline growth.
“The first objective will be getting back to double digit growth. Before the pandemic, we were growing ahead of market and that’s where we need to get back to,” Broize told BusinessLine.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
It’s been a few months since you’ve come in. What is your assessment of the Future Generali India Life Insurance business and the growth strategy ahead?
Generali stepped up shareholding as it assessed India to be a high potential, strategic market given the fast growth rate. India still has relatively low penetration of insurance and the middle class segment is rapidly increasing. So, the opportunity is huge. Our company is 15 years old and we have significant pan India presence, and assets to leverage. We now have a well-capitalised balance sheet, so growth is top priority.
The technical transformation involves targetting growth segments that are profitable, both in metropolitan and tier 2 and 3 cities, and selectively in rural areas. On the non-technical side, the key asset is people. We are working to improve the retention and attraction of key talent, where there are some challenges as competition is heating up. The other part of transformation is to leverage Generali’s technology and data to meet local business requirements. We are ambitious and aggressive in our growth agenda but profitability is key.
By when do you expect these initiatives to start bearing fruit?
We have a very clearly defined short, medium and long-term transformation agenda. The short-term is the 100-day strategy, whereas the medium-term is 2022. Here, we have identified foundational areas that we need to drive the topline and growth objectives, improve new business margins and focus on expense rationalisation. There are also technology initiatives in the process of being developed.
2022 is about re-establishing the foundation for growth and improving margins. The second is improving efficiencies and third is to review unproductive assets such as products, business segments, distribution channels and even branches. The best way to drive efficiency and savings is to improve growth which requires productivity enhancement and driving activity levels, out of which we are able to carve savings and repurpose it for growth.
Have you identified any high growth segments you will focus on?
It’s going to be the 25-45 age segment and maybe a little beyond, because that is the largest segment in terms of population and earnings growth. Area of high growth in terms of customer needs is protection. Our portfolio has a lot of room to grow there as it is very heavily weighted towards savings and non-par products. We write a lot of non-par. So protection, annuity and health will be high growth segments for us.. But, that also depends on the regulatory environment for being able to sell indemnity in health. The regulator is going in that direction so that presents a whole new growth avenue.
But the capabilities for growth are not just products and underwriting, but also about distribution. We have a strong focus on strengthening our proprietary channel and distribution leadership. Currently, about 66% policy origination is from the proprietary channel. We are laying the foundation for systematic network management practices and also technical capabilities needed for distribution. What’s also important is getting a much stronger panel of bancassurance and other partners.
Will this involve expanding the direct channel?
Direct is an important channel where the focus is on driving reach—the ‘feet on street’ type of distribution has more challenges but is also very profitable. We’re also looking to drive a lot of resurgent growth in group sales. We had a very strong presence there before the pandemic, but we went through a period where there were capital constraints and we had to pull back, but now we’re reviving our group sales and we’ve had some success in Q1.
There are a few areas we are driving to scale our direct channel, one of which is leveraging insuretech platforms. We have a partnership with FG&G Distribution, which is part of the Future Group and has partnered with a lot of insuretech platforms. We will also look for alternative sources because our key lead is through Future Group and as that’s become more constrained, we’re looking to diversify. The customer experience component is critical, so we’re working to digitalise both the customer and distributor journey.
How much of a concern is the uncertainty regarding your partner Future Group?
Generali has majority shareholding and Future Group has minority stake. We have a new board in line with the shareholding that has a non-exec chairman and some independent directors are from Generali and one from Future. Future remains a shareholder and this positioning, as in the normal course of business, will be evaluated but we continue to work with them.
It doesn’t worry us in the sense that we have a clear position and plans going forward. 2022 is about leveraging the capabilities we’ve put in place, continue digitalisation and have a much better repository of data and analytics to strengthen our distribution and revive topline growth.