ManipalCigna Health Insurance takes digital push to increase distribution channel in the rural market

​​The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI)  has carved out an  ‘Insurance for all’ goal for 2047 that will help bridge the insurance gap between rural and urban populations, and thus increase insurance penetration to a large scale across India. Standalone health insurer ManipalCigna Health Insurance which has been  using a physical distribution dependent model is thus slowly shifting to digital or online mode. Shashank Chaphekar, Chief Distribution Officer, ManipalCigna Health Insurance in an interview to Express Computer shares the recently adopted technological initiatives and how the company is increasing its distribution channel for the insurance penetration in the rural markets. Read full interview here​..

​​The pandemic had a profound effect on people, society, business, and the global economy. How health insurers capitalized on the change in customer behaviour and change of business models, from traditional face to face to phygital models?

There has been an increased awareness of health and health insurance plans providing comprehensive coverage. People have now understood the value of health and health insurance has become a nudge purchase from a grudge purchase to access quality healthcare and protect financial health in case of medical emergencies. Further, COVID-19 led to digital acceleration and adoption. Social distancing made customers adapt to online purchase and online service.The health insurers also capitalized on the change in customer behaviour and this led to change of business models, from traditional face to face to phygital models, which combines digital tools and strong customer relationships. While in the insurance industry, technology and digitisation always existed, but with technological advancements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (MI) and Block chain, it disrupted the customer on-boarding and servicing and made it a more personalized and smooth purchase and service experience.Technology has also helped the industry to reach some of the untapped markets in the country, and the health insurance sector has digitally transformed itself to allow customers to buy policies, pay premiums, and file claims through smartphones without the need to visit physical offices. With people realising the importance of health and financial well-being, and through the technology advancements the industry is likely to see a boost in insurance penetration in the long run.​​
How tech disruption is increasing the insurance penetration and opening multiple distribution channels?

The increase in digital adoption has transformed the distribution system, it was a necessary step, to enhance the distribution process. Agents and other distribution teams have also adopted digital methods of marketing, sales and service. Also, with a physical presence in office becoming optional, a hybrid distribution i.e. mix of in-person & remote has emerged, and this has brought in new segments entering the workforce that were earlier constrained by being physically present in the branch office. This change in distribution, coupled with an informed customer who wants to buy or upgrade insurance digitally has increased reach and forced insurers to sharpen their focus on distribution channels.The emergence of new technologies and the development of artificial intelligence are predicted to cause a dramatic transformation in the insurance sector over the next 10 years. Customers now have access to cutting-edge services and can buy insurance coverage through their smartphones ensuring every step of the onboarding process is easy, quick, and can be accessible from the comfort of one’s home. Making decisions about purchases through online and e-commerce platforms is another behaviour change that has been noticed among young people. At ManipalCigna Health Insurance we have upgraded their digital services to facilitate online ways to do virtual KYC, to choose, upgrade or change any policy through one’s smartphone, pay premiums by ECS services, and avail claims. Insurance which was a physical distribution depended model is thus slowly shifting to digital or online mode.​​How ManipalCigna Health Insurance is changing the way insurance is delivered as well as consumed?

As a result of technology adoption, the health insurance sector has completely transitioned to the digital world. With real-time claim processing, artificial intelligence is assisting insurers in improving claim management. Numerous tasks are being automated, enormous volumes of data are being managed, predictive analysis is being done, and customer service is being enhanced thanks to machine learning.Additionally, automatic claim verification, quicker data access, cheaper administrative expenses, privacy, security, and scalability are made possible by blockchain technology. As a result, everything—from business models and consumer experiences to operational procedures—has been entirely automated and digitalized. The process of selling insurance has been streamlined by most large insurance companies and insurtech platforms, and this has improved consumer engagement significantly.

​​Majority of the population in India in rural areas is untapped by insurance. Can you tell how ManipalCigna Health Insurance is changing the trends?

The pandemic served as an eye-opener for the healthcare systems. It served as a reflection for the insurance sector too. The health insurance penetration in India is only 0.4%, as compared to 0.7% in China and 4.1% in the US. Approximately 18% of individuals in urban areas and 14% in rural regions are covered by any type of health insurance program, India has one of the lowest health insurance penetration rates worldwide. India’s healthcare system today is largely underfunded and is dependent on out of pocket expenses. According to the National Sample Survey (NSS) (conducted from July 2017 to June 2018), 85.9 percent of rural Indians, do not have any health expenditure coverage.

During medical emergencies, people end up paying from their household savings or take loans by mortgaging their land to undergo treatments thus falling into a debt trap. For these reasons, and many more, it’s now time for a new wave of transformative change that makes healthcare more affordable, predictable and simple for all Indians. This is not a far-fetched dream. In recent times, both the national and state-level government bodies are already making targeted efforts to improve the healthcare scenario and make quality healthcare affordable and accessible for crores of people in the country. “Insurance for all” goal that the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has recently carved out for 2047 will help bridge the insurance gap between rural and urban populations, and thus increase insurance penetration to a large scale across India.

How AI, ML and cloud-native analytics play a vital part in welcoming success in the disruption through technology

With today’s technological breakthroughs like AI, ML, and data analytics we are seeing more innovation in product and service delivery in accordance with the behavior and preferences of the consumers to meet their needs. The health insurance industry has adopted technological adoption to transform itself to the digital world. Artificial intelligence is supporting insurers in enhancing claim management through real-time claim processing. Machine learning is being used to automate numerous operations, manage large amounts of data, perform predictive analysis, and improve customer service.

Blockchain technology enables instant claim verification, speedier data access, lower administrative costs, privacy, security, and scalability. This also reduces the margin for errors and frauds due to the removal of human intervention. As a result, manual and monotonous processes have been completely automated and digitalized, from business models to consumer experiences to operational processes.

​​How online insurance policy buying platforms on phones reduce the dependency on physical distribution channels?

Post-pandemic, people now understand that regardless of a person’s age or current physical state, a medical emergency can occur at any time. Young people are now more aware of the importance of purchasing health insurance due to this. This digital-savvy youth can be found on their smartphones. Hence every insurer are today digitally present through apps and websites. Along with the physical models, insurers have built digital channels to allow customers to issue health insurance policies from apps.

Data suggests India will have 1 billion smartphone users by 2026. In the year 2021, India had 1.2 billion mobile subscribers of which 750 million are active smartphone users. Also, the rise in internet adoption along with the technological upgradation through 5G will lead to fast internet services across India. Adopting digital models is making it simpler for customers of all income levels to access insurance products.

By streamlining the insurance sales process, technological upgradation has greatly increased consumer engagement. The physical distribution channels can’t be completely omitted as they act as face-to-face contact and better transparency through agents. Building digital insurance platforms can act as a substitute for the physical model and help companies reach places where they lack physical offices thus increasing the insurance penetration.

It has been seen that many insurance companies are leveraging artificial intelligence and data analytics to create accurate individual risk profiles as well as for faster claim management. Can you tell us how your company is using these new age technology tools like AI, ML, chatbots and RPA?

The risk assessment in the insurance industry is significant to understand the risks associated with every insurance policy. Large insurers are utilizing ML and AI in the underwriting process. Insurers can make highly accurate predictions of any customer’s risk profile through predictive analytical models. Partial AI models are used in the underwriting process to effectively analyze big data files, automate the underwriting process, and allow decisions to accept applicants in minutes. Automation in the underwriting process leads to better customer satisfaction in interactions with the insurers and to enables faster decisions when accepting a policy with no scope of human error.

Big data analytical tools can be used to collect, analyze and predict data about policyholders. This comprises a person’s personal information, credit history, and medical and automobile history. This data is further analyzed to provide policyholders’ risk scores. Based on these risk scores, underwriting cases are accepted, rejected or adjusted for premiums accordingly. Technologies such as cloud, edge computing, machine learning, metaverse, web3, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G will eventually be the future​​ of traditional operations.

Faster claim management is an important factor for any customer when opting for a health insurance company. For easy and quick claim settlement, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is taking over manual tasks by using ‘bots’ to drive efficiency, speed up processes and create better customer experiences. RPA bots can help in data extraction and validation of claim settlement requests thus reducing manual data tracking and collection. Insurance companies have to deal with fraud cases. AI can assist in the identification of patterns and anomalies in claim requests and can reduce the TAT for compliance for claims monitoring.

Insurance companies generate a vast amount of data that can be analyzed through machine learning algorithms. Machine learning tools analyze customer data to find valuable insights and patterns. This data can be used for various process optimizations in compliance. Chatbots can provide round-the-clock support to the queries of customers thus reducing human dependency. Currently, their function is limited to general or limited customer queries. The advancements in Natural Language Processing can help chats boxes to understand and interpret diverse queries.

BFSIChief Distribution & Technology OfficerinsuranceinterviewManipalCigna Health InsuranceShashank Chaphekar
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