Article: How Aviva India aims to close the coverage gap


How Aviva India aims to close the coverage gap

Aviva India CEO Asit Rath shares his vision for expanding insurance access using innovation and partnership.
How Aviva India aims to close the coverage gap

For Aviva India CEO and Managing Director Asit Rath, leading an insurance firm brings immense fulfillment but also daunting challenges. "The most rewarding aspect is the opportunity to positively impact people's lives," says Rath, citing goals from marriage savings to retirement that insurance enables. "Fulfilling these dreams for individuals is incredibly fulfilling."

Yet this satisfaction is tempered by the industry's limited reach. "Traditionally insurance has catered to a specific segment of society, and the challenge now is extending coverage more broadly," Rath explains. With insurance penetration in India still remarkably low, vast segments remain underserved.

Rath sees addressing this gap as the industry's crucial mission. "Currently, the entire sector is refocusing on providing insurance for all." However, closing the coverage gap will take much more than competition within the insurance industry. "This requires collaboration not just within insurance but also with the government, technology firms, intermediaries, and insurtech startups," says Rath.

The power of partnership

Rath notes universal interest across insurance players in expanding access but admits it's an unsolved challenge. "It's a prevalent sentiment, but not yet fully addressed."

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Still, Rath finds progress heartening. "Good practices are emerging, with ongoing pilots, testing, and exploring alternative data for underwriting." He believes innovation through collaboration is the key to democratising insurance. "Finding solutions jointly with diverse entities is critical to reach those currently uncovered."

However formidable obstacles remain, especially in distribution and risk assessment. "Calibrating pricing and products for individuals is vital for expansion. This requires unconventional approaches beyond financial factors, like assessing medical status," explains Rath.

He identifies the lack of standardised medical records as a particular hindrance. "The lack of uniformity in records poses a challenge in gauging health data." Rath sees initiatives like India's national digital health mission as steps forward, but cautions progress will take time.

"Developing universal health records and cooperation from the government on data are vital for the industry's progress," says Rath. In the interim, players are exploring alternative health assessment methods, including potential partnerships. "Data-driven decision-making is crucial for productivity at scale, ensuring efficient policy issuance and claims," adds Rath.

The power of technology

Rath believes technology and AI are essential to achieving the required efficiency and scale. "AI aids in data-based decisions, task automation, and customer interactions through bots," he explains.

Rath sees AI's greatest value in handling repetitive tasks. "This allows human resources to focus on meaningful transactions like building relationships, aiding with claims, and consultative planning."

While acknowledging the need to balance innovation with human interaction, Rath firmly believes AI and automation will transform insurance. "Mundane tasks will be automated, benefiting both employees and customers," he says.

Aviva India itself will soon pilot visual AI for underwriting assessments. "We're excited to experiment using visual AI for health predictions compared to conventional medical tests," says Rath. While not disclosing specifics, Rath says the focus is reducing reliance on in-person health exams.

Rath is optimistic about the pilot's business impact. "If successful, it can bring tremendous positive change, allowing more efficient and effective services."

The power of people

But Rath knows realising the goal of insurance for all ultimately depends on people as much as products and technology. "Gender diversity is a key focus," he says, citing efforts to support women during critical life stages and reduce dropouts.

"Diversity isn't just about gender. It's also hiring people from diverse backgrounds to bring fresh perspectives," adds Rath. He aims to create an inclusive culture where individuals from all backgrounds feel empowered.

Rath also stresses the need to adapt to evolving workplace dynamics. "The shift to remote work requires rethinking traditional employee-centric models. Productivity and performance matter more than physical presence," he says.

Rath names expanding distribution, retaining talent, and attracting problem-solvers as his top 2024 priorities. "Bringing in innovative individuals and sustaining innovation are essential for growth," he says.

But Rath emphasises innovation must align with customer needs. "Our approach centres on addressing the specific problems of uninsured Indians lacking records or financial literacy."

He explains how Aviva India now designs products focused on end-user appeal rather than just distributor preferences. "This customer-centric ethos is evident in our new product range. I personally purchase and test each product to ensure it meets our commitment to satisfaction," says Rath.

The human touch

While bullish on technology's potential, Rath stresses that human interaction remains indispensable - especially for purchases requiring trust. "The combination of AI and human touch is vital for areas like claims and consultative planning," he says.

Rath believes this interplay of automation and human skills is insurance's future. "AI will handle mundane tasks, allowing our workforce to focus on meaningful transactions like building relationships and providing expertise."

By automating repetitive processes, Rath sees AI empowering staff to have a greater impact. "We aim to instill positive habits in customers, considering insurance's long-term nature. Our goal is creating a digital health ecosystem that delivers real lifelong value."

But Rath notes realising these ambitions depends on addressing the root challenge of limited access. "The real potential lies in reaching underserved segments, addressing their needs efficiently at scale."

With India becoming the world's 5th largest insurance market by 2026, Rath believes tapping into the uncovered population is crucial for growth. "The proportion of Indians holding any insurance is remarkably low," he says.

Despite fierce competition, Rath stresses that insurance leaders share a common purpose - expanding this limited coverage. "Good practices are emerging, with ongoing pilots and exploration of alternative data sources for underwriting," he says while admitting much work lies ahead.

"The focus must be finding solutions collaboratively with diverse entities - government, technology firms, intermediaries, and insurtech startups."

Rath believes this partnership approach is key to democratising insurance through innovation tailored to India's diverse needs. "Fulfilling dreams for many more people is incredibly fulfilling. That's the end goal we're all progressing towards, hand in hand."

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Topics: Technology, #LeadingEdge, #CEOseries

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