AInsurance, joy-ful work, Mom-friendly Bots – these may sound like odd combinations, but these are the very adjectives that are keeping this CIO awake and excited
Goutam Datta, Chief Information and Technology Officer, Bajaj Allianz Life, is now wielding his over 20 years of experience (in strategizing, spearheading large-scale technology operations) to navigate a different world altogether.
He shares some interesting shifts on how IT has become more relevant to business continuity and customer service both. We get to see if it would be AI or Corona that will change the insurance industry in a massive way. We also learn what is the actual meaning of lockdown for IT and for the WFH brigade. Excerpts from an interview:
DQ: First things first, has it been easy for IT to support remote work pressures after the lockdown?
Goutam Datta: Well, interestingly everyone – whether it is the legal department or the HR department or anyone else – has become IT-dependent and ready for remote work. Earlier, it used to happen at a short scale and for temporary needs.
Now, the situation is totally new. In fact, we kept up with the year-end March pressures by continuing to deliver work even in a lockdown. For these large teams, IT and remote work is ‘The New Normal’ now. Turns out, the WFH (Work From Home) model is quite productive too. We have done really well. We became operational within three days of the lockdown and started becoming more and more productive in the subsequent days. Almost every function has huddled up for it.
DQ: Was the transition easy? How did you enable it – for employees and customers?
Goutam Datta: We provided customised work-from-home kits for all the employees. The idea was to equip them to safely work from their homes. We also retrained our 70k+ Insurance Consultants to use virtual tools for connecting with customers and servicing them digitally.
DQ: Any lessons or struggles that this period is pointing out for you?
Goutam Datta: Of course, we have learnt a lot. Not many people believed in remote-work possibility earlier. Today we have made our offerings quite frictionless; and digitally-tested them for production too. Everything is happening in a WFH format. From only a few doing it earlier, to now everyone doing it as if it has been a norm for the last 100 years – that’s something huge for IT.
We are already thinking of scenarios of readiness for extended-lockdowns, if they happen. In-advance planning is now our focus. Along with that, we want to ensure that we remain ‘joyfully’ productive. While monitoring, engagement, fun and efficiency matter, we want to become more mature and have a balanced approach to this new way of working.
DQ: Bajaj Allianz just introduced Bots. What makes your offering different from many early-movers in this space?
Goutam Datta: Bajaj Allianz Life is excited about its digital touch points like WhatsApp, chatbot BOING, Life Assist mobile app & customer portal. They allow policyholders to access and manage their policies online to make renewal payments. They can also use any other assistance during the lockdown through these digital touch points.
One thing that I can proudly point out is the factor of frictionless engagement. Our bot has 20 different services built in and it is designed for WhatsApp in such a simple way that even my Mom can use it easily. Our bot is also different from others when it comes to its ability to understand questions and even ask questions if need be. It is an end-to-end bot. If something is asked or comes up persistently from a customer and the Bot does not comprehend it, a human immediately takes over. The human is already armed with the entire background and context. The conversation, hence, is quite frictionless.
DQ: But, is it easy to deliver simplicity without trading it off for security or speed?
Goutam Datta: I do not see these areas as mutually exclusive. Every part is equally paramount to us. Customers do not compare us with other players in finance industry but with other industries. The speed and convenience of delivery has to be Uberised. But we have to ensure security too. We are rolling out our services and deliveries without delay.
DQ: AI in insurance – a hygiene element or a revenue-driver? Is modeling or deep learning the spot where one player can carve an edge over other AI-products?
Goutam Datta: Insurance has picked up in this space, because now it has tremendous amounts of data. There is so much structured, semi-structured and unstructured data that we need AI for insights. Yet, the application is still at a nascent stage. An end-to-end product is going to take some time but a lot of sub-processes have started showing progress and near-human judgement.
Models with different logic will shape up with time and there are multiple areas of possibility. Revenue-oriented models will take time but the journey has begun.
DQ: What next is in the offing – for the technology team at the company?
Goutam Datta: We do have some platforms that we will stay invested in and continue to build on with add-on solutions. Like Insta Learn and other services that contribute to 93 per cent of the service business. We will build on the elegance of products like iSERVE that were present earlier too but we have now adapted them to the Covid-19 situation.
For instance, the video-call with support staff was enabled for branches only but is now available on app and portal. We are comparing the gap on what we have and what we should have and designing our technology initiatives for more relevance.
We are taking all steps to align our sales and business processes to ‘the new normal’. We are leveraging virtual platforms within our sales, servicing and business functions to ensure their commitment towards the customers’ life goals remain on track. We are also retraining employees (along with WFH training modules) to be prepared for the new way of business, post the crisis.
DQ: Will this pandemic have a big impact on the insurance industry?
Goutam Datta: I guess there would be an initial resetting to everything we do and how we do it. Post-Corona, an average citizen might start to look at savings and health in a very different way. The way people spend money, save money and protect themselves – all of that will see a big change, in my opinion. The New Normal will exude new customer behaviours. Insurance has got a clearly-defined opportunity here. Of course, product quality, speed and service would stay important but the emphasis on living protection and balanced instruments with health as the top factor would be heightened. This change will put us in a segment of significant opportunity.
- Pratima H