“The insurance industry has always been IT shy”

by Sharon Lobo    Nov 27, 2012

Dr. P. Nandagopal IndiaFirstCurrently, the insurance sector in India is plagued with numerous issues such as high attrition, cut-throat competition, adhering to strict regulations and so on. Additionally, the current economic scenario makes it tough for insurance companies to survive unless they burn more capital or use innovative ideas, and one such insurance company –IndiaFirst, took the latter path. In an exclusive interview to CXOtoday, Dr. P. Nandagopal, MD & CEO, IndiaFirst Life Insurance talks about his firm belief in IT and how technology can address the challenges faced by the insurance industry today. Edited excerpts.

Earlier, when I was having a conversation with your CIO, he mentioned that the MagicBoard solution your brainchild. How did this idea occur to you?
As you are aware, we were a late entrant in the Indian insurance market. So, we needed to things differently than others to improve our market performance. And do so, we could have burned capital or used intelligent innovation and so we chose the latter. Also, our team has been in the industry for many years now, thereby we understood the customer’s needs and the current gaps in the service delivery. So we concluded that we needed an end-to-end solution, which completes every aspect of the business operation.

Every organization is expected to adhere to rules laid down by their respective industry regulators. This of course doesn’t make your life easy, when you are in an industry with cut-throat competition. In such a scenario, do you see technology helping you to tide over regulatory hurdles and also stay competitive?
I am a firm believer of IT. I believe IT will help in all the three important departments of customer delight, distribution & delivery, and cost control. All the stakeholders in these three departments along with the customer will benefit from IT. Historically, the life insurance industry hasn’t covered itself in glory when it came to leveraging IT or using it innovatively, unlike other players in the financial sectors such as banks. The insurance industry for various reasons has always been IT shy. However, I think IT is a very powerful driver and we are fortunate enough to leverage it beyond its back-end solution capabilities.

What challenges are unique to an MD of a life insurance company when compared to other companies in the BFSI segment? How do you overcome these challenges?
It’s not only with the MD, but every employee in the life insurance space encounters unique challenges. I look at myself as an IndiaFirst employee first, and the challenge I face is delivering optimum results with limited time and resources. To overcome these challenges, we work as a team and we brainstorm, debate, and even fight to agree to a single solution. Once, we zero down on a solution, we go about implementing aggressively. What works to my advantage is that, I get involved at the operational level. And this hands-on approach works to a large extent as you understand things at the grass root level and are able to add value there, which is not possible if you take a superficial view of the corporate boardroom. Even our MagicBoard solution was not conceptualized in the boardroom but was developed on the basis on the feedback we received from the grass root level people.

An innovative idea can come from any part of the organizational hierarchy. As a believer of intelligent innovation how do you ensure that every employee feels free to contribute with innovative ideas?
We do things a little differently. We ask our employees to state their concerns freely and fearlessly both through formal as well as informal forums. When you collate all the concerns, only then can you have a clear vision of the entire issue, which in turn helps you in finding an innovative solution to address the issue. This way it helps us to find a solution to entire issue than just addressing it part by part.

Currently, the insurance industry is plagued with a high attrition rate. What measure do you take to ensure you retain good talent?
To be very honest, I want my employees to leave me and join other organizations, however only for the right reasons. I will be very happy if an ex-employee of IndiaFirst someday heads any other well-known organizations. I myself haven’t worked with a single company throughout my life and I don’t expect my employees to be any different. We expect our employees to do well here and move on and this is a positive attrition. When It comes to negative attrition, where an employee leaves for non-performance, bad professional relationships, weak training process, then this is a concern for us and we need to address it.

How will the next couple of years be for IndiaFirst?
We will become financially stronger with most of our initiatives paying dividends. We will also be known as a customer friendly and innovative company.