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Organisations should use micro-segmentation to limit cyber threats: Suhail Ghai, CDIO, Max Life

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Businesses across the globe have gone through a digital makeover as the adoption of technology increased manifold at a rapid pace. Therefore, to share a glimpse of India’s evolving BFSI sector through digitalisation, Suhail Ghai, Chief Digital & Information Officer, Max Life Insurance shares his vantage points in an exclusive interview with Express Computer. Moreover, Ghai sheds light on Max Life’s digital transformation journey, innovative initiatives, and future prospects.

We’ve stepped into the Industry 4.0 era and digitalisation today is no longer a choice but a necessity to stay in the race with global businesses. How has Max Life adopted digitalisation? What transformations have you witnessed in recent times? 

As India undergoes the fourth industrial revolution, businesses are leveraging cutting-edge technologies exponentially. An increased appetite for digital-led innovation and enterprises capitalising on software-enabled processes empower the country’s growth toward a complete digital revolution.

Driven by these technological advancements and the growing appetite for digital-led innovation, Max Life Insurance has established itself as a ‘Digital Differentiator’ by displaying remarkable agility and flexibility in meeting its customers’ needs and expectations through digital means. We have embraced digitalisation focusing on building expertise around all areas of emerging tech like Data Engineering, Cloud Computing, Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning technology, including predictive models and cognitive intelligence. Max Life has created several industry-first solutions using state-of-the-art digital and AI/ML technologies, most of which are developed by our in-house digital engineering and AI Works team.

At Max Life, we are focused on developing rapid prototyping capabilities, partnering with new-age startups, creating data-based products, and building real-time model monitoring capabilities to mitigate the risk of failure. Moreover, we aim to broaden our digital solutions across business verticals, such as actuarial, compliance, finance, risk, and HR.

In the present-day world, data is at the center stage. How are you harnessing the power of data to boost your business? 

We are leveraging data in various ways to boost business growth and stay ahead of the competition. We focus on expanding internal data to enrich business models and apply modern AI techniques. Additionally, the company is leveraging data from financial bureaus and unstructured datasets such as emails, website interactions, and chats.

With data influx from over 50 different business transaction systems along with third party data sources, Max Life has successfully built a ‘data-lake’ to create a centralised, accessible, and democratised data bank which includes text, audio (call center conversations), static image (documents and photo), and videos (customer verification videos). Multiple curated data layers and pre-built data systems that store cleaned and directly consumable data for AI/ML solutions and on-the-go business in-sighting tools have been built.

Additionally, we have set up an on-cloud infrastructure for integrated data pipelines through the DataOps platform, Lambda or EC2, GPUs for highly computer-intensive solutions, integrated CI/CD pipelines focused on improving software delivery, GIT Lab for auto-pushing of solution codes, and Power BI application for data visualisation.

What are some of the innovative industry-first initiatives at Max Life? 

Max Life Insurance has taken several industry-first initiatives to enhance customer experience and improve business outcomes. One such initiative is the launch of MediCheck, an innovative real-time health analytics solution that identifies fraudulent practices at diagnostic centers used for undertaking customer medicals. It has helped Max Life delist around 300 diagnostic centers and re-determine risk on policies worth INR 1300 crore in the last six months. We have also launched the VOX Speech AI program that leverages intelligent speech analytics to extract valuable customer insights from voice call data.

Another initiative is the Auto Underwriting (UW) Suite which reduces policy issuance turnaround time (TAT), enabling instant issuance of policies without any manual intervention. Similarly, the Digital UW Twin further improves UW productivity at least two times, enabling digital UW capacity and reducing policy issuance TATs.

Max Life has also launched Pension Fund Management (PFM) with treasury, online portal, and finance systems on the cloud. Additionally, a common dialer and customer 360 views have led to a 40 percent improvement in productivity. Furthermore, the voice-to-text analytics model uses linguistic speech algorithms to leverage voice call data to draw insights into script compliance, enhancing customer servicing, and retention efforts.

Max Life has also created a state-of-the-art onboarding platform that has transformed the online buying experience of our customers. It has the industry-leading conversion funnel, one of the best search engine optimizations, and the best page load times.

Our innovative industry-first initiatives aim to improve customer experience and business process efficiency. These initiatives have helped the company reduce policy issuance TAT, identify fraudulent practices, extract valuable customer insights, and improve productivity, leading to a better customer experience and business outcomes.

Some new-age business practices include leveraging AI-based tools for data-led decision-making, automating mundane tasks, un-skilling, reskilling, and upskilling the workforce to contribute more strategically, using chatbots for grievance redressal, and more. What’s your take on this evolution? How are these translated in the BFSI sector? 

India’s BFSI sector embraces new-age business practices like AI-based tools, automation, and upskilling the workforce. AI and machine learning (ML) models have enabled data-led decision-making, making operations more efficient, reducing risks, and improving customer experience.

Max Life has implemented a continuous learning and assessment framework to upskill its AI Works team. For example, in the TestGorilla technology platform, we have created customised AI skill assessments basis individual team members’ technical expertise and needs to measure the skill levels and then plan for upskilling. We have also bought Coursera learning platform licenses to enable the team members to undergo continuous upskilling through various courses. Additionally, we have developed a structured technical skill development program with the AWS cloud team to enable learning on cloud-based deployment tools such as – cloud databases, CI/CD data pipelines, Lambda, and EC2. Furthermore, we organise industry interaction sessions with analytics industry experts including successful startup founders and leaders from digital and technology companies enabling outside perspectives and ideas for the team.

Apart from core technical skills, we also provide management training like product management and design thinking for middle management levels, which helps build a product mindset while developing and implementing complex and fully integrated AI/ML solutions at scale. These initiatives have led to increased productivity and a more engaged workforce. Overall, the evolution towards new-age business practices has helped us stay relevant and thrive in a rapidly changing business environment.

As banks and insurance companies go digital, their data gets vulnerable to cyber threats. What strategies have you adopted to tackle this issue? How are you ensuring your network and systems are secured?

We take a very holistic approach to data security. At Max Life, we have a robust data security policy that covers all aspects of IT applications and infrastructure, both on-prem and on-cloud. We have multiple firewall levels to ensure that customer and business data is safe. We have also implemented best practices of access through Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) thin client to ensure robust security. The entire PII information repository is controlled on a need-to-know basis and all systems are kept thorough via annual VAPT testing.

Kindly enlighten us on some of the best practices that banks, insurance companies, or fintechs can adopt to stay ahead in terms of cybersecurity?

Today, cybersecurity has become very important for the BFSI industry as data carries PII Information that can be misused. Some of the best practices followed in banks, insurance companies, and fintech organisations include micro-segmentation to limit the threat to the infrastructure. Some other tools are penetration testing, threat hunting tools, immutable back-ups, and real-time DR. Additionally, information security teams across BFSI organisations are continuously scanning the dark web for compromised credentials, fake sites, etc., to safeguard business and customer data, and ensuring the utmost data security.

What are your key digital commitments for the coming years? 

At Max Life, we are dedicated to constantly enhancing our digital muscle so that it can better address the evolving and growing demands of our customers. Our key strategy is created on the following five key pillars and four key enablers.

  • E–commerceThe Max Life E-commerce business boasts of the industry’s best digital journeys. With sub-3-second page load times and SEO engineering, we have achieved over 100 percent increase in organic traffic. We will continue to build on the same and create new products and new platforms for customers to interact with Max Life via avenues like customer apps, WhatsApp chat, and voice.
  • OnboardingWe are creating a state-of-the-art cloud native onboarding and underwriting stack which is helping us integrate risk models upfront and perform frictionless KYC via inbuilt video verification. We are also building a new marketplace integration, thus accelerating our issuance velocity. We will also leverage automation and machine learning to reduce manual intervention and increase clear cases
  • Customer service – We will continue to offer a multi-channel touchpoint experience to customers powered by an omnichannel customer strategy based on data lake and customer 360 initiatives. This will enable us to move the digital adoption to over 90 percent and increase straight-through passes to around 65-70 percent.
  • Sales execution – In sales execution, we are leveraging the power of digital, machine learning, and data to implement new-age sales governance and lead management tools, which will help us improve on-field sales execution.
  • Building enterprise apps, enabling digital employeesWe will continue to enhance the employee experience powered by digital. The intent is to create a new-age employee app to enhance employee productivity. We will also reduce manual work through self-service reports/dashboards, and enterprise workflows.

In terms of horizontals or key enablers:

Shift to flexible and scalable cloud infrastructure. Around 56 percent of our current infrastructure is on-cloud and we intend to increase this to around 90 percent over the next three years.

We have integrated AI and data across our value chain. The current penetration stands at 70 percent, and our goal is to reach 90 percent under the aegis of artificial intelligence and machine learning business processes. We will also integrate cutting-edge self-service analytics data products for in-sighting and business data visualisation.

Building a world-class digital and data analytics team is a key enabler for Max Life. To execute new use cases like on-the-go interaction with bots and chatbots, as well as GPT-related use cases, we are looking at expanding the current AI Works team’s capacity and capabilities. We are also looking to collaborate with top academic institutions through internship and capstone project opportunities as we seek to bring fresh tech talent into the ecosphere and prioritise upskilling of existing employees. This will allow us to create a seamless business value chain and drive growth. We will also be increasing our presence through AI workshops across these institutions. By streamlining processes, promoting quicker onboarding and issuance, enabling self-service, and lowering complaints and TATs across processes, we hope to increase the productivity and earnings of our agents and field force.

Creating a culture of innovation with an outside-in view, where ecosystem partnerships are a key enabler for the digitisation of Max Life. This will ensure that we are able to accelerate digital transformations and embed them systematically for sustenance.

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