Insurance and financial services sector relatively unhindered by present challenges | Daily News

Insurance and financial services sector relatively unhindered by present challenges

Pix by Sudath  Nishantha
Pix by Sudath Nishantha

Gany Subramaniam - brings more than 16 years’ experience from the insurance industry, having held previous senior positions with AIG in Singapore and Malaysia.

When compared with many other industries, the insurance and financial services sector is relatively unhindered by the present challenges. Thus, in terms of general insurance, we still anticipate growth this year as asset values, assessed in rupees, rise, in response to inflation, said Allianz Insurance Lanka Limited, Chief Executive Officer at Gany Subramaniam.

As long as the industry can work together responsibly to levy fair rates, in terms of premiums, the sector will likely enjoy sustainable growth. We expect life and health insurance too to enjoy growth as a result of increased awareness about the benefits of these products, particularly in an environment where healthcare costs are rising. Thus, we look forward with optimism to continuing to help our customers at all stages of life to protect what is most precious to them and give them the courage to move forward.

Today the ‘Daily News Business TEA WITH CEO’ features Group Chief Executive Officer at Allianz Insurance Lanka Limited, Gany Subramaniam, as he discussed the Company’s journey, Sri Lanka’s insurance industry in general and what the future holds for the sector.

Q: What factors have contributed to the overall performance of your organization?

The fact that we are part of the Allianz Group, one of the largest insurance and financial service providers in the world, sets us apart from other insurance companies in Sri Lanka, particularly in terms of the synergies we enjoy thanks to our global network. Furthermore, we place sustainability at the forefront of our business operations and have defined certain KPIs with regard to the financial fundamentals of our business. As a sustainable business this means considering a variety of social and environmental factors, and not focusing solely on profit.

Thus, sustainable profitability is a key focus for us and we have delivered on that during the past few years, even if our focus on sustainability has resulted in us having to marginally sacrifice some market share in the near term. However, we are confident that, as society becomes increasingly aware of how important sustainability is, this lost market share will be swiftly regained.

Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, globally, Allianz SE is among the leaders in the insurance industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2021, over 155,000 employees achieved total revenues of 149 billion euros and an operating profit of 13.4 billion euros for the group as a whole.

For us at Allianz Lanka, the recent past has been filled with challenges, from the pandemic onward to the present crises. However, through prudent risk management, backed by our wealth of technical expertise, we are successfully navigating these obstacles and look forward to continue in helping people protect what is most precious to them in the years and decades to come.

Q: How is the insurance industry coping with digital transformation?

Sri Lanka is still a highly intermediated market; hence the majority of our sales occur through our sales people, whether that is through agents or permanent staff, or even through the staff of an insurance broker. This status quo is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, simply as a result of how our market is set up.

Therefore, our focus is very much on how we can provide digital enablement to our sales people. Thus, equipping them to function better and in a more connected way through digital technology, by providing, for example, more convenient customer on boarding facilities, remote access to resources, and other such facilities, is the present curve of digitalization within the insurance industry.

Concurrently, we are looking at digital enablement for our customers wherever possible too, such as through digital and electronic payments, policies delivered by email or SMS, and other initiatives. In fact, we took a leap ahead by introducing remote assessments for vehicle accidents and new policy applications, where possible. Thus, wherever possible, the customer journey is being digitized.

However, unlike in say banking, for example, in insurance, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned at least, a 100% end-to-end digital customer journey is still relatively distant on the horizon. But the industry is taking huge strides towards digitalization and digital enablement in terms of the backend,marketing, service delivery and customer support, through social media and messaging platforms, like Facebook and WhatsApp, along with proprietary applications and solutions.

Q: Despite technological advancements, people still prefer a human touch when making a lifetime decision such as insurance. How does Allianz Insurance ensure a balance in this regard to achieve a flawless customer experience?

As I explained, what we are trying to achieve is a hybrid system where customers have a direct relationship with a real person, but all the supporting services such as payment, information, clarifications, communications and other day-to-day operations are being digitized. In this way, when it comes to decision-making, there is always real human contact, supported by technology. Once the decision has been made with the assistance of a real human, the day-to-day transactional aspects of insurance have been made as seamless and as convenient as possible through digital transformation.

Q: Are you planning to invest in further expansion of your branch network?

We have been investing in our branch network in the recent past, growing to over 80 branches island wide. Presently, we are assessing the performance of the network and intend to invest further in regions where we see the most potential for robust growth. We are also working on ensuring a consistent customer experience and journey, regardless of where you access our services from. Thus, while we do have network expansion plans for the future, it is unlikely that we will witness any immediate additions to the network; however, we are looking at strengthening our existing network by upgrading and investing in existing facilities.

Q: What are the main challenges you face and what can be done to overcome them?

Subsequent to the major acquisition we made in 2018, perhaps the most significant challenge has been the amalgamation of cultures, which is natural in such circumstances. A simple rebranding is not enough to get everyone on the same page. Comprehensive integration and assimilation are necessary to truly help each member of our team feel that they belong here. We have now overcome this and are moving forward together as a single cohesive team.

Of course, the pandemic and its resultant crises are ongoing challenges for us, together with Sri Lanka’s own internal challenges. However, with the right people and the right mindset, we continue to take on new challenges as they emerge. We firmly believe that, while we may not have control over factors external to our organization, we have full control over how we approach these obstacles and tackle them.

One thing we do look forward to is increased cooperation with Allianz Global and access to more advanced tools, assets and techniques to further penetrate the local market, all of which are presently in the pipeline. Once this occurs, the market can expect us to launch some game changing products and services tailored for Sri Lanka.

Q: What is your message to customers at this time?

Guided by a highly competent and experienced management team, and backed by the strength of a global financial services provider, we are proactive and ready to tackle any challenge. Thus, we are genuinely prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure uninterrupted services to our customers, so they have nothing to worry about.

Responding to challenges as they emerge is our proven strategy. For example, with the onset of the power crisis, we ensured that 75% of our branches had generators in order to continue to function. During the various restrictions of the pandemic, we ensured that our call centre was functioning 24/7 and that our sales people were equipped to renew motor policies through even their phones if necessary. All this was for the benefit of our customers. We also maintain strong reciprocal relations with our garage and hospital partners to ensure that Allianz policy holders receive the best treatment and services.

Understanding our commitment to our customers, during 2020 and 2021, with covid restrictions at their peak, we received, handled and processed approximately 500,000 claims. Thus, our message to customers is that we understand what needs to be done to protect the most precious things in life. So, tell us what is precious to you and we will do the rest, giving you the courage to take risks and live life to the fullest.

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