Growth in general insurance will depend on how pandemic pans out: SBI General

Amrita Nair-Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on May 22, 2020

Enquiries on liability and cyber risks on the rise, says Deputy CEO Kandpal

The top priority at SBI General Insurance (SBIG) post the Covid-19 outbreak has been to address customer concern, operational resilience and employee safety, according to a senior executive.

“At SBI General, we had already embarked on our digital journey a few years back and hence the shift to the new way of working has been adopted with ease,” said PC Kandpal, Deputy CEO, SBIG.

“We also ensured the transition was smooth by forming an emergency management team to monitor the entire activity daily and enable quick decision making where required. In a similar manner, we are also adopting a seamless transition to the post-Covid situation where lockdowns are lifted and offices are opened in zones as specified by the authorities from time to time,” Kandpal told BusinessLine.

The risk strategy adopted by SBIG has enabled a smooth business continuity plan for such contingencies, he said, and ensured all operations could be conducted smoothly even from a remote environment. “The overall BAU (business as usual) was not interrupted. We ensured constant communication with our customers, assuring them about our functionality and availability,” he added.

Strong work culture

SBIG is working hard to keep its socially-distanced workplace culture strong, Kandpal said.

The benefits of a strong work culture help in defining a company’s identity across all its stakeholders, internally and externally, he emphasised. “Understanding organisational culture is vital for the success and overall health of the company,” he said. “People priority, customer centricity and strong channel partner relationship are at the heart of everything we do.”

“Our people are our strength and their ability to rise to any occasion is our USP. Similarly, whatever we do, customer focus is at the centre of it. Our channel partners are our strength,” he said.

SBIG has ensured constant communication with all its stakeholders. “To customers, our communication messaging has been to assure them that we are there for them and despite social distancing, they can always reach out to us,” he added.

Noting that the general insurance company has a relatively good mix across corporate, retail and the SME segment, the official said the idea is to be present in segments that are viable on a long-term basis.

“We have to take into account that the general insurance industry is largely dependent on economic growth. The first month of the financial year did start a little slow, given the current situation, but it also increased awareness on the need for insurance. Also, many non face-to-face distribution channels and tools have come in play since the pandemic,” he said.

Arogya Sanjeevani launch

The entire insurance industry appears to have coined a solution in this hour of need, said Kandpal. “Recently, Arogya Sanjeevani (AS), a standard health insurance offered by all insurers, has been launched. This seems to be a proliferating health plan for India. As for the overall general insurance growth, it largely depends on how the pandemic pans out, and one needs to reassess the situation,” he noted.

Given its wide distribution network, SBIG is well positioned to market AS, especially in tier 2 and 3 locations and rural areas, he added.

“Covid-19 has certainly increased the awareness about the requirement for health insurance amongst the general public,” he said, adding that the manifold efforts made by the insurance regulator in introducing a standardised health insurance product, AS, would help push awareness.

Speaking about insurance categories that have witnessed a slump, Kandpal said: “The travel and motor sector have certainly seen a slump. Once the lockdown is lifted, we might see more private vehicles on the roads and this might boost the segment. Having said that, all of this will take time and also depend on factors like the rate of spread of the pandemic, what would be the economic stimulus steps taken by the government, what regulatory changes are expected, etc.”

With regards to other lines of enquiry received by the insurer, he said: “We find more interest and enquiries in liability and cyber risks.”

SBIG has maintained steady growth in FY20, at 45 per cent, compared to an industry growth of around 12 per cent. Growth has been evident across all lines of businesses.

Pandemic moves

Extensions have also been granted to the insurer's many offerings.

“As directed by the regulator, we have expedited all Covid-19 hospitalisation claims. Apart from that, the renewal dates for motor and health insurance falling during the lockdown period have been relaxed and extended, as per regulator guidance. We have ramped up our digital infrastructure for all contact-less service for customers, channel partners and employees,” said Kandpal.

Asked to comment on the visible threats on the horizon, the official said: “It is very important to consider how the customer perception and purchase behaviour change post Covid-19. Liquidity and market factors would have an impact on investments and investment income. The road to economic recovery also would not be the same for all industries.”

However, he added, “From the insurance industry perspective, we are optimistic, and would like to remain positive and focus on the opportunities.”

Published on May 22, 2020

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