Mr. Pankaj Gupta has been associated with HDFC Life since November 2014. He is the Chief Marketing Officer and also heads the Credit Life business, Strategic Alliances, Digital Alliances, CRM, Corporate Communications, and CSR.
HDFC Life Insurance Company Limited (Formerly HDFC Standard Life Insurance Company Limited) (‘HDFC Life’ / ‘Company’) is a joint venture between HDFC Ltd., one of India’s leading housing finance institution and Standard Life Aberdeen, a global investment company.
Established in 2000, HDFC Life is a leading long-term life insurance solutions provider in India, offering a range of individual and group insurance solutions that meet various customer needs such as Protection, Pension, Savings, Investment, Annuity and Health. HDFC Life continues to benefit from its presence across the country with 421 branches and additional distribution touchpoints through several partnerships.The Company is also strengthened by a strong base of financial consultants.
MediaNews4U spoke to Pankaj Gupta, Sr. EVP (Sales) & Chief Marketing Officer, HDFC Life on how this sector is dealing with this Pandemic
The lockdown has created a different kind of crisis, how is the company coping?
As soon as the lockdown commenced, we took a conscious call to prioritize the safety of our employees, customers, and partners. We enabled a large portion of our team to work from home almost immediately after the lockdown started, so there was virtually no need to go to office for critical activities. We added more infrastructure on priority to enable work from home for additional team members. We were able to service most customer requests and partner requirements almost seamlessly in spite of the lockdown.
We deep-dived and made further changes to our operating model, taking customer convenience, data security, and operating environment into account, to ensure that customers could digitally perform activities across the value chain. We enabled and empowered our teams further by way of these changes. Our investments in digital assets, over the years, have paid off and we have been able to give our customers, agents and distributors a superlative experience even during the lockdown.
What is the idea behind creating Life Freedom Index property by HDFC Life? What according to you are the key findings from the survey?
We at HDFC Life created the property ‘Life Freedom Index (LFI)’ with the objective of gaining insights on the perception of Urban Indians about their current and future financial aspects. This perception is based on their own financial planning, the adherence to the plan, and the perception of its sufficiency to enable one to live life with dignity. One key area which the report highlights is the overall psychological feeling of financial freedom and security of individuals. As a life insurer, these insights on the habits and psychology across customer segments enable us to understand their changing needs and offer relevant products and services.
We did the latest Life Freedom Index (LFI) study in FY’20 and according to it, the LFI is at 66.6. There has been a visible improvement of 8.7 points in comparison to the previous exercise done in 2016. However, we believe this is a low number because the segment studied is urban consumers and the index for this segment should ideally be higher. This index is an indication of the fact that the financial freedom of urban consumers continues to be on the rise. It is largely due to growing awareness about available products, as well as adequate financial planning.
The study was broken into four segments comprising Proud Parents, Smart Women, Young Aspirants and Wisdom Investors. Proud Parents’ primary priority is their children (80%). Spouse at 44% and Parents at 38% are their other key priorities. Smart Women prioritize physical and mental fitness (50%) along with their child’s needs. Young Aspirants focus on short term goals such as improving lifestyle (49%), or starting their own business (36%). Wisdom Investors prioritize long-term goals such as child’s future (74%) and their own retirement (37%) and health (44%) planning.
At 69 points, the LFI for Metro cities showed an increase of 11.4 points over 2016, with the index for Tier I cities showing an increase of 5.6 points, to touch 64.6. Tier II cities were seen to have a lower LFI score of 61.4, primarily owing to lower Financial Awareness and Financial Liberty.
In smaller towns, the awareness as well as planning for critical life events is significantly lower. This consequently makes the residents more vulnerable which eventually impacts their psychological feeling of financial freedom. People in Tier 2 cities need to be further educated about the importance of a robust financial plan to meet their life milestones, which will enable them to be more financially secure.
As more and more people are watching TV for entertainment, are you reworking your strategy on your communications and Ad spends during this crisis?
The environment is evolving with changes in consumer behavior and consumption patterns. It is important to regularly identify the most effective media platforms and also develop insightful messaging to gain consumer mindshare.
Due to the lockdown there has been a significant growth in Television and Digital. There have been visible gains noticed in news, entertainment and gaming. On the digital front, there’s a lot happening beyond content. Thanks to the convenience offered by the digital platform, during the lockdown it has emerged as the preferred mode of transaction for most Indians.
Mobile, messaging, and social media continue to play their unique role. Due to the lockdown, individuals are spending much more time on their smartphones. So, a multi-media, multi-screen approach should ideally feature in one’s media strategy.
How are you seeing the Insurance market now during this crisis?
Customer behavior has changed in the wake of this pandemic. What’s coming out clearly is the instinct to preserve cash for exigencies. At the same time there is a visible rise in the awareness about life insurance as an essential investment, especially from the perspective of pure protection. Post this global crisis, we can expect a change in the way individuals look at the product category. Life insurance will be looked at more from a ‘risk cover’ perspective. This in turn will propel overall life insurance penetration in the country.
We could see the emergence of an additional segment of customers who need and prefer relatively lower ticket sized products. This will offer an opportunity to life insurers to innovate and introduce bite-sized / sachet products which can further help unlock the potential of our under-penetrated market.
In general how are you seeing the economic situation in the country, do you see insurance not a top priority for people and what will be your priorities post lockdown?
It might take some more time for the economy to settle down and a new normal to emerge. We need to have faith that our nation and the world will overcome this pandemic.In the past, the world has bounced back strongly from such crisis situations, and human ingenuity will take us forward even this time.
As the situation evolves, some consumption patterns will change and the mix will see a shift. Similar shifts will happen in the mix of consumer lending as well.
Life insurance is a long-term product and the structural need for the mortality, morbidity and longevity solutions provided by life insurance remains intact. The need for coverage will remain high across these three areas. Given India remains largely an underinsured and under-penetrated market, I believe the demand for life insurance will be back soon. We will also monitor the changes in savings patterns to understand the proportion that goes into financial savings, and align our product and distribution strategy accordingly.
In this period of lockdown, job losses are around. How are you connecting with people and is Insurance premium their priority?
The world is experiencing a period of rapid evolution. The longer this crisis extends, the more significant and deeper rooted would be its impact.
Hence, it is extremely important to reassess our offerings and communication basis emerging customer needs and changing priorities. One needs to be in touch with customers as well as sales teams, with ears to the ground and with additional inputs from subject matter experts.
Research reports show the current consumer behavior is that of understanding the financial impact and trying to manage it better. Currently, there are some of us who are working from home and we believe once can utilize this time to connect with customers enabling them to understand financial offers better thereby making informed decisions on investments that will fulfill their long term financial needs and secure their future.
At HDFC Life, we have taken multiple initiatives. Our objective is that of enabling consumers to be prepared to bounce back from this situation. We have been conducting expert Life Sessions around topics like health, family, and finance. This has enabled our customers and sales teams to use the digital platform for effective interactions and transactions. This is our endeavor to make their life easier during these times.
This could be an inflection point especially for the protection business as customers would feel a greater need for protection products to safeguard themselves. In the past, during such pandemics, a similar trend has been observed in the region. Hence we expect overall penetration levels to improve, post this event.
Are you seeing a spurt in insurance buying in this period?
It is normal for individuals to analyze their financial portfolio during difficult times. There is a fine-tuning of financial goals so as to align them to the long-term goals with emphasis on protection, liquidity and savings. Consumers could be risk-averse at this moment thereby postponing large financial decisions for later.
However, the demand for health and life insurance should witness a pull in the market, as has been witnessed in similar situations in the past and as per the trends observed globally even in the current pandemic. We expect the protection segment to emerge stronger at the end of this pandemic.
How are you connecting with your team members and motivating them in this period of WFH?
I have an enthusiastic bunch of team members and our interactions have in many ways increased during this WFH period. We have ensured we maintain a work routine and connect as per a pre-defined schedule, multiple times a week.
We have also taken multiple steps to use this opportunity to skill ourselves up during this period through knowledge sessions with experts or by signing up for various online courses.
Our engagement team ensures that we all get to unwind and have some fun on Friday evenings – virtually. They organize fun quizzes, team games, etc. Recently,they organized a brilliant Bollywood themed Tambola that we thoroughly enjoyed. Technology has helped us immensely in staying connected while we stay safe in our homes and continue doing our best in serving our customers.
We have continued to reiterate the message of employee and customer safety and the need for effectively servicing customer needs on which so many depend, through this process.