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Technology has been a major enabler in serving major customer segments in rural and Tier III/IV areas: Casparus J H Kromhout, MD & CEO, Shriram Life Insurance Company

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With close to 44% of their clients being from rural areas and a network of 423 offices, Shriram Life Insurance has assets under management (AUM) of Rs 8,573 crore as of December 2022. The company has successfully leveraged multiple digital channels to offer life insurance services to customers, including the agent-facing Astra app, which onboarded 80% of new retail customers in the first nine months of FY23.

Casparus J H Kromhout, MD & CEO of Shriram Life Insurance Company discusses how Shriram Life Insurance is utilizing digital channels to offer innovative life insurance solutions, reaching out to customers in rural areas, and improving their overall customer experience.

Some edited excerpts from an interview:

Can you tell us more about Shriram Life Insurance’s use of technology and digital channels to offer life insurance services to customers?
Shriram Life works with the purpose of providing life insurance to a segment of customers from the rural and Tier III/IV cities. Though the company has lucrative offerings across all income groups the key focus has been on distributing life cover to the customer group with an annual income of 2-5 lakhs – families that are most vulnerable to financial distress on the loss of a breadwinner. We have also observed that most of these customers do not have easy access to the mainstream commercial institutions due to lower income or physical remoteness. In addition, these customers have unique needs to match their income levels, income seasonality, etc.

Shriram Life has been focused on developing innovative and unique solutions that meet these specific needs in terms of distribution, reach and product solutions with the use of technology and digital channels. The company uses technology across the customer lifecycle of its customers from on-barding new customers to claims settlement. The Astra mobile application for customer on-boarding helps in quick and easy on boarding of new customer. Customers can avail services through various digital platforms like customer service mobile application ShriMithra, ShriA chat bot, Whatsapp service channel, etc.

More importantly the use of technology for death claim settlement has helped the company improve on making payments to customer’s families when most needed. Shriram Life now settles 90% of its non-investigated claims within 12 hours even for the remotest of regions.

The Astra app onboarded 80% of new retail customers in the first 9 months of FY23. Can you share more details about the app and its features? Please also let us know the impact of the app?
Astra is a mobile application used by our field sales executives which provides a holistic sales tool for our salespeople. Along with customer on-boarding it is packed with powerful features like lead management, quick product training videos, premium calculators and policy status tracking. Recently, SLIC was one of the first insurers to go live with facial recognition for eKYC Aadhaar based authentication – a feature that is integrated on Astra for easy access for our sales people.

The application has reduced the on-boarding time of customers to 7 minutes. Minimising the need for document submissions eKYC authentication fastens the process further. This has been handy especially in the rural markets.

The application also provides features for the salesperson to learn through various spot videos and connect with experts for any further clarifications while addressing customer queries, which instills confidence in our sales teams and leads to better informed sales. The uptake of the application has improved to 82% of the business from the FOS focused channels for the financial year.

Shriram Life Insurance has received approval from IRDAI for eKYC through all modes. How has this approval helped the company in streamlining its onboarding process?

In India, eKYC has revolutionized the way customer identification is done for various financial services. The process is completely digital, and it eliminates the need for physical documents, saving time and money for both customers and service providers.

SLIC was one of the first insurers to go live with the eKYC authentication including the facial recognition feature. The eKYC process is helping to bridge the gap by providing a fast and easy way for customers to open insurance policies without having to visit a physical branch or provide copies of documentation.

In addition to saving time, eKYC also offers greater accuracy in customer identification, reducing the risk of fraud and identity theft and reduced the time taken to fill documents with minimum errors.

Overall the feature has led to a smoother experience for both the customer and the salesperson.

Shriram Life Insurance’s chatbot ShriA and WhatsApp platform have seen over 2.3 lakh users and 3.44 lakh customers as of FY Q3’22. Can you explain how these platforms are being used to enhance customer experience?

Shriram Life has a dedicated customer first initiative that works to identify the needs of the customers and bridge service gaps. Considering our segment, we understand and continue to put high value on the need to develop good customer connect; where human interactions are still crucial. SLIC has a dedicated technology driven WeCare program that connects with new customers to help with any policy related queries and re-iterate the purpose of insurance.

However, with the increased digital penetration in the rural, Tier III & IV segments and overall higher transactions through Whatsapp, other mobile based and web based service channels – some customers have become more comfortable with our digital service solutions like ChatBoT, Whatsapp service channel and a mobile based application – ShriMithra. These empower the customers to avail a service as per their convenience and comfort. Further, SLIC provides one of the highest number of services available on its digital platforms with vision to provide a “mini-branch” on customer’s smartphone; enabling efficient service delivery to the remotest regions where accessibility to the nearest branch might be difficult and improving customer experience through quicker resolutions and more precise information. This helps the company stay true to our purpose of ensuring continued life coverage and service for its customers.

How does Shriram Life Insurance plan to further leverage technology and digital channels to expand its reach and offerings in the future?
Shriram Life has been innovative with processes and technology driven solutions that best suit the needs of its customer base. This has been a major enabler in reaching and serving the major customer segment in the rural and Tier III/IV areas. Leveraging technology further to facilitate growth and deeper penetration would be a key on going practice.

An example of how we have used technology to solve specific challenges faced by our customers is the Smart Suraksha Card that helps customers retrieve their policy bond using a QR code on a smart card along with links for renewal payments and other services. This solves for the difficulty some customers face for storing policy bond and has a quick access to payment and services by a card that can be carried in the pocket. Similarly, Astra mobile application makes the new customer onboarding process simpler and more convenient for our customer base especially with Aadhaar eKYC authentication. Another unique solution is a tech driven deep rural advice model, where technology is used to provide unbiased financial advice to rural customers to improve awareness on their financial health and needs.

Shriram Life would continue to be focused on more such solutions that can make an impact for the ease of business and service for its customers; which also exploring more technology facilitated distribution models to expand reach.

Can you share some insights into Shriram Life Insurance’s growth and performance in recent years, and the company’s plans for the future? How do you see the role of technology in this growth
With its focus more on the rural and mass market segment, the company’s main focus has been different from the industry and it has one of the lowest ticket sizes in the industry. The company has had consistent in reaching new customers reflected by a healthy growth in Individual number of policies sold over the years and has been amongst the top 10 in the private industry for the same. The pandemic had a severe impact on the earning ability of our key customer segment during the impacted years; however, a recovery in the segment along with efforts to reach out to newer customers have helped Shriram Life grow at 24% the key focus area for its market – individual non-single premium segment.

Shriram Life plans to penetrate deeper into the rural market and grow at a higher pace by reaching more customers and geographies.

We have seen in our customer segment that customer’s still prefer to have human interaction before finalising on purchase decisions for life insurance. To grow in the given segment, it would be important to reach more customers across geography, especially considering the huge rural segment available. Technology would play a huge role in enabling our sales people to reach and service more families in this segment and become a crucial differentiator. The company would continue to work on more need based and tech driven solutions to match the unique needs of its customer segment.

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