HDFC ERGO, a joint venture between HDFC and Munich-based ERGO International, is trying to strengthen its position as one of the top general insurance providers in India. It competes with private players such as Bajaj Allianz, Reliance General Insurance, ICICI Lombard General Insurance and public insurers such as Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), The New India Assurance company and United General Insurance.
Interestingly, the general insurance market is fragmented and public insurers such as LIC hold the larger 45% share of the market, which is still underpenetrated.
In a conversation with TechCircle, Mehmood Mansoori, group head of operations, IT, online business and marketing, HDFC ERGO General Insurance, explains how the firm is using technology to penetrate the insurance market in order to expand its business. Edited excerpts:
Can you give us a brief on the status of India’s insurance sector?
Although the larger chunk of the insurance sector is held by public companies, it has been growing at a compound annual growth rate of 17%. The segment is witnessing many changes such as revisions in the premium structure.
We are seeing a lot of growth in the retail segment. In our last quarter, we also saw robust growth in the health insurance segment. But having said that, I still believe that the insurance market remains underpenetrated in India—it is less than 1%. This means that there is a huge opportunity out there. People or customers just have to be made aware of the benefits and we are doing everything in our capacity to do just that.
How are you enhancing the digital journey for your customers?
While we are digitising our literature, which openly explains the terms and conditions of policies, claim computations and other details, we have laid down a digital infrastructure (including emails, chatbots, etc.) that can solve almost 65% of a customer’s needs.
We plan to take the same capability up to 85% by the end of next year. We very recently launched our artificial intelligence-based chatbot named DIA on Amazon Alexa and it is also available on Google Assistant. Nearly 120 services are available on the bot. Customers can now avail of a 24*7 query service using voice commands. Apart from providing customers with information related to their HDFC ERGO policies, DIA can also email customers the copy of their policy on their registered email address.
What are you doing to educate your customers? How are you using technology to add new ones and expand your business?
We have undertaken a lot of initiatives, both online and offline. A key offline programme is a quiz that involves more than 54,000 students in India. This is our way of educating customers when they are young.
We have also taken up several digital initiatives that help us serve our customers better, help our employees in day-to-day work so that they can provide efficient service, bring down claim times and look at data for business expansion.
To tap the underpenetrated insurance market in India, we use a lot of technology such as data and analytics. While we collect data with the consent of our customers in various ways such as from conversations, point of interactions or emails, we use machine learning to renew, up-sell and cross-sell policies. This helps us save costs as it avoids our employees from having to carpet bomb existing or potential customers. The analytics engine is so powerful that it helps us understand which medium is the best way to communicate with a particular customer or if it’s possible to upsell a policy. We also use fraud analytics by looking at historical data and information from the credit bureau.
What kind of technology are you using in your analytics engines?
All of our technologies are open-sourced and have been either developed internally or co-developed. We have a 12-member analytics team and a 17-member innovation team working out of our lab here in Mumbai. Their job is to look at problems, design proof-of-concepts (PoCs) and then roll out a solution. In fact, we also end up working with a lot of startups both domestic and international. We also have an incubation programme where we are currently hosting more than six startups.
Since insurance involves a lot of paperwork, are you innovating on the email side as well?
Yes. We use something called email bots that are powered by IBM Watson’s natural language processing (NLP). Many people write to us and it would be very cumbersome for someone to go through each email and respond to them. Our deployed email bots can read the context of the message and initiate simple actions before referring it to human intervention. The bots can carry out some tasks such as sending out your policy papers, canceling or renewing a policy.
In fact, we have automated many processes via our interactive voice response system. Customers don’t actually have to talk to an executive but can just select the right option to get the job done. This is made possible by completing the application programming interface (API) integrations at the backend.
Customers in this space complain about the claims processing time. How are you innovating on that front?
As I said before, we are trying to be as transparent as possible, and yes, we have been working at various projects to bring down claim times. For example, we launched our ‘Jaldi’ car insurance claim last month, in which a customer whose vehicle has been damaged can go to one of our network repair workshops. HDFC ERGO has installed cameras in these network workshops which will enable them to assess the damages to the car. The cameras will be centrally controlled and pictures will be live streamed for inspection by HDFC ERGO’s central team, who will instantly approve claims. This eliminates the process of appointing a surveyor to conduct the physical inspection of the vehicle. Moreover, it also saves the policyholders’ valuable time and quickly settles claims arising from any minor damages done to the body of the vehicle.
We have also brought down our health claim time from an average of three to four hours to just 12 minutes in the last few months.
How are you using technology to empower your employees?
We have created differentiated categories of bots for our employees. There are a few chatbots that help our call centre executives by advising them during calls. We also have a few operational bots that help in both policy and claim processing. The bots ensure that accuracy and productivity levels are maintained. These bots have had a serious impact on our human resources. We have managed to hire people in departments such as sales while still keeping our operations team small over the years.
Interestingly, we are also setting up voice analytics for our customer care centres and it is expected to be deployed by the next quarter. Voice analytics will help us create strategies and understand inbound calls. The algorithm will analyse and understand if and when any kind of intervention is required during a call.