Though a number of insurers moved quickly towards increasing their traditional offerings compared to unit-linked insurance products after a change in regulations in September 2010, Canara HSBC OBC Life Insurance believes that the process should be governed by customer interest rather than agency commissions. John Holden, chief executive officer of the company, explains to Vishwanath Nair why they plan to only tap their partner bank branches for expanding business, growth plans and expansion into rural India. Excerpts:
The life insurance sector has finally seen some positive growth in the last few months. What has your performance been like? What is the outlook for the rest of the year?
As for all insurance companies, the last 9-12 months have seen great changes, and a lot of them on the product front. That is all completed now. We are probably among the first companies to be ready with a revised product offering on October 1. Looking forward to the next 3-4 months, we have high hopes and there are some additional products coming into the market, which will add to our portfolio. We remain optimistic about a good finish to the year. What will guide growth though is not product, but capacity. Same time last year, we had about 1,800 licenced staff at the branches of our partner banks; right now, we have over 3,500 and it will soon be 4,500. So, what will drive growth is the number of people we have in each bank branch.
What part of your business depends on the bank channel? What about the other modes of distribution?
Our business is quite simple. We are a bank insurer. Our banks have 5 crore customers and we have about 4.5 lakh policies. So, we have no interest in going outside our banks. I am not going to even think about it till we get past, like, 20 lakh policies. I’ve got no idea how much time it will take to reach that level of business. Even if we reach 20 lakh customers, we would not have scratched the surface of the kind of customer strength available from our banks. So, this will continue to be our strategy for the foreseeable future.
With a growing agency force, what are the concerns? How do you plan to counter these issues?
If I was the regulator, I’d be advocating an improvement in the standards of training and competence among the people who sell insurance. If you