Interview: Union Assurance will continue to grow through distribution channel expansions

Union Assurance was awarded Life Insurance Company of the Year at Business Leader Awards ceremony held in India recently affirming its leadership in the country’s fast-growing insurance industry.

Speaking to Lanka Business Online exclusively regarding the company's recent win Senath Jayatilake, chief distribution officer says UA’s vision is to transform the life insurance industry in Sri Lanka and offer its customers superior protection solutions.

"We will continue through product innovation, distribution channel expansions and digital adaption. Our disruptive and progressive strategies will help disrupt the life insurance industry and drive greater protection penetration in Sri Lanka."

Read the full text of the interview below...

Senath Jayatilake, Chief Distribution Officer - Union Assurance

1. Congratulations on your win. Tell us about your journey at Union Assurance…..

I began my career as an Executive with John Keells Logistics (Pvt Ltd (JKLL) in 2007. What ensued was a journey that saw me take over as the CEO of JKLL in 2016. Thereafter, in 2019, I moved to Union Assurance, a subsidiary of John Keells Holdings, with a desire to both learn and challenge myself in a completely new and fast-paced industry. I joined the organisation with no prior experience in the insurance industry, which helped me think and see things from a different perspective.

When I joined Union Assurance to take over my current position of Chief Distribution Officer, we were at the onset of embarking on a transformational journey as an organisation that eventually helped Union Assurance to achieve the fastest new business growth in the industry in 2020, a year that did not hold back its share of unprecedented challenges.

Whatever success I have achieved at Union Assurance thus far was heavily influenced by the strong and highly skilled team that supports me across all the business channels I oversee. I believe, as an organisation we were able to find that perfect balance of industry veterans and new blood to the industry working in perfect synchronisation to achieve absolute success.

2. What are some of the significant achievements in the past year?

Despite the challenges faced with the pandemic, Union Assurance was able to record a 17% growth in new business generation during 2020, significantly outperforming the industry which grew at 4%. We were able to several past performance records during the year despite the macro economic constraints. Another key achievement we are extremely proud of is that fact that as an organization we were able to produce 172 globally recognized MDRT, COT and TOT level agents during the year. The highest number produced by a life insurance company in Sri Lanka. Our Corporate and Loan protection channels also saw significant year on year growths rates outperforming industry peers. All these achievements were testaments of the skill, capacity and capability of our teams

3. How did UA cope during the Covid-19 period – what are the changes you made to the insurance business to adapt?

The key to UA’s quick adaption to the Covid-19 business climate was our proactive and inclusive decision-making process that enabled all key stakeholders to ideate and contribute towards a robust and flexible operating model to deal with a business environment that was constantly evolving

Our key focus within the agency distribution channel was to further empower and enable our agents to conduct business operations completely on digital platforms. Having operated for several years in a complete paperless and digital environment, this transition was both seamless and instantaneous.  This enabled our agency network to adapt to the new business environment almost instantaneously. We also focused a lot of attention on ensuring our agent base retains their income levels to deal with the economic woes experienced by many in the country at the time. As a result, UA was able to roll out the most robust and extensive income bridging and support scheme in the industry over a two-month period, enabling our sales force to retain their lifestyles during the pandemic. We also initiated several cutting edge digital and remote customer solutions to enable our customers to engage and obtain our services uninterruptedly. Expanding our digital payment platforms and providing free digital medical consultations were a few such initiatives.

The Corporate channel also expanded its customer engagement and servicing aspects on digital platforms enabling our corporate clientele to obtain and experience uninterrupted and superior service standards during a challenging time. As a result, prioritizing and adapting to the needs of our customers, the corporate channel launched a comprehensive surgical and hospitalization solution during 2020 thus providing a complete life and health suite under one umbrella to our corporate customers.

4. How is digital technology transforming Union Assurance? Can you give us examples of how digital tech is helping the company realise efficiencies and gains, and how customers are benefitting as a result?

Union Assurance has been a pioneer in digitizing the life insurance business in Sri Lanka. Our entire sales process has been on a complete digital platform for many years. This completely inhouse development sales platform enable our entire agent network across the island to undertake new business activities including generating quotations, submitting policies and support documentation in a paperless digital environment. This platform is also supported by a versatile MI dashboard enabling both agents and the network leadership to monitor detailed performance and activity related data in real time. Having such a versatile platform enabled us to seamlessly continue our new business activities during the Covid period

In addition to the front-end sales platform, the agent skills development and training programs were completely migrated to digital platforms enabling continuously train and equip our sales force with skills required to service customers in an evolving situation. The company also upgraded the digital infrastructure across the branch network enabling greater engagement and interaction between the branches and the leadership structures.

We also further enhanced our digital customer touch points enabling our customers to interact and obtain their service needs at the convenience and safety of their homes. Everything from the payment of insurance premiums to even channeling and consulting your doctor was enabled on digital platforms. This helped us service our customers uninterruptedly whilst ensuring their safety and protection.

5. You have been awarded as the “Young Business Leader of the year” What makes you stand out compared to other young executives?

A leader, no matter what the industry, market or background is, will only be as good as the team that supports him. Therefore, this accolade truly belongs to my team and is a recognition of the skill, capability, and attitude of the team.

6. How do you innovate your products/solutions that appeal to your target audience?

Customer centricity and care has always been the epicenter of our product innovation and development process. We continuously reinvent our products to be on top of the ever-changing needs of the Sri Lankan life insurance customer. Innovation, customization, and protection are key USP’s across our product portfolio. We have taken a step further and pioneered the digital revolution in the Sri Lankan life insurance market by launching a versatile digital platform that offers customers the opportunity to purchase simplified life insurance products with the click of a button. Protection has never been this convenient.

Sri Lanka’s life insurance penetration is far below similar markets in the region, and it is pivotal that life insurance players play a lead role in driving penetration rates through product innovation and awareness creation to protect the lifestyles and aspirations of a larger population base in this country.

7. How do you see the company and the industry in the future ahead?

UA’s vision to transform the life insurance industry in Sri Lanka and offer our customers superior protection solutions will continue through product innovation, distribution channel expansions and digital adaption. Our disruptive and progressive strategies will help disrupt the life insurance industry and drive greater protection penetration in Sri Lanka.

We also see that with latest developments surrounding the pandemic and greater awareness of Sri Lankans of the need to be protected has boosted interest in Life insurance and protection solutions. Creating greater awareness, simplification of solutions, enhancing customer experience and digitization will be some of the key factors that will help  the industry to stay relevant and drive market penetration

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