Vishy Viswanand is Deputy Managing Director of Max Life Insurance, India’s largest non-bank promoted private insurer with an Assets Under Management of over Rs. 40,000 crores, annual revenue of over Rs. 12,000 crores and profits after tax of Rs. 600+ crores.
As a Founder Team Member of Max Life, Vishy has managed a variety of portfolios, both in core distribution and distribution enablement. He is credited with acquiring and launching India’s #1 non-captive bancassurance partnership with Axis bank in 2010. Post that, he led the Products division and championed customer retention initiative to steer the company through two large transformations. During this period, the company witnessed significant improvement in market share and also became a leader in customer retention across the sector.
He has 26 years of experience in financial services in India, of which 16 years have been with Max Life Insurance and the previous 9 years with ANZ Grindlays Bank. He talks to us about starting Max Life, how people are the most important asset of an organization and his diverse interests.
Vishy was part of ANZ Grindlays Bank for a long time. At the time of the bank’s merger with Standard Chartered Bank, Vishy became aware of two things – one, the loss of identity that the bank he had worked for would face, and the attrition of people all around him. While his colleagues looked for jobs in the banking sector, Vishy felt that he would rather stay on in the stronger merged bank if he wanted to not shift sectors.
Around the same time, he was also troubled by the stock market scams that had devastated people, including his own clients. He became cognizant of the level of trust they had placed on him and how not one of them blamed him for their investments going to waste. He felt accountable and the lack of purpose bothered him. This motivated him to venture into a segment with an ‘assurance’. As soon as the IRDA was formed, he jumped at the opportunity and co-founded Max Life Insurance.
On people and retention
Vishy considers the people of his organization the biggest strength. When the IRDA granted licenses to 3 companies – ICICI, HDFC and Max Life, the latter was the only non-branded company. They had to overcome the problem of people not knowing what they did by hiring and training the right kind of people.
He also thinks that getting a top-class management team is perhaps the most important aspect of a successful business.
“Everything else is secondary – your product, your differentiation. The number one thing is to get a good set of leaders. They determine the culture and who else will be attracted into the organization.”
“Today, if you ask me, the company is punching above its weight. And that’s only because of people.”
The top 35 employees at Max Life, who are called the Senior Leadership Team, have an average term of ten years. This high rate of retention really helps in their sector where the term of products sold itself is a minimum of 10 years.
“When you sell such products and make long-term commitments, you also want people who will stay to see them through. You can’t have people who kick the can down the road and leave it upto the next set of management to clear their mess.”
Max Life has a strong focus on employee satisfaction and even during layoffs, their numero uno motto was to care. They gave the largest redundancy packages in the industry to ensure that their people remain loyal to them and do not dilute the brand’s image.
Life insurance in India
In terms of premiums, India happens to be number 8 in the world. But it ranks first in terms of number of policies. There are nearly 33-34 crore policy holders.
“However, the opportunity and the problem lies in the fact that the protection gap is about 92%.”
Protection gap is the gap between how much insurance a person actually needs versus how much he opts for. While this is a problem that needs to be overcome, it also presents a fantastic opportunity to insurance players. The trend over the last 5 years – single digit growth in number of policies, moderate double digit growth in premiums paid but north of 20% in sum assured – is a heartening reminder that things will remain smooth for this industry in the coming years.
“Next ten years, there is a home run for this sector.”
Change in life insurance
“It’s changing very very rapidly. This change should have happened a decade ago but it depends on the overall economy.”
Vishy credits technology for bringing in increasing awareness. People maybe nudged by agents and banks, but they go back and research.
“People no longer ask their chartered accountants. They rely on Google.”
The second change he talks about is millennials are paying more for pure protection. People below the age of 40 are extremely keen to buy insurance and display unexpected levels of loyalty when they get what they were looking for. They are also more interested in knowing the guaranteed amount which is the sum assured.