Call it notoriety or familiarity, the insurance sector has always been associated with agents/advisors who have over the years emphasized the need to be insured. Though the sector remains largely under penetrated, awareness around the space has spruced up the number of policies sold. As per IRDA, upto December 2012 the number of polices were down by 0.1% at Rs 2.69 crore and premium grew by 3.96% to Rs 40,686.05 crore. While LIC continues to be the largest seller of insurance in the country, since 2001 many private players have also entered the scene. LIC can be credited for showing the way by introducing and establishing agents as the sales channel for insurance business – not just for Indian insurance, but for brands worldwide.
Among the various private brands in India, is Tata AIG (non-life) and Tata AIA (life) insurance. The total strength of the combined agent force of these two entities would be in the region of approximately 45,000, with Tata AIA comprising the majority. The 45,000 workforce that works for them are either full-time or part time entrepreneurs. Incase of Tata AIG, 43% of its business comes from the agents channel, bank assurance contributes 25-26%, brokerages make 20% and 10% comes from direct selling. Sibesh Sen, national agency head, Tata AIG says: “agents have been the lifeline of our business. They are people who represent our brand in the market and we support them in every way possible.” Sachin Joglekar, senior VP & Chief Agency Officer at Tata AIA also has a similar belief. “Our advisors are entrusted with the responsibility of giving the best to the customers, they are responsible for their financial well-being,” he says.
The Tata insurance network -- both life and non-life -- is well spread across the country. Northern states of Delhi, Punjab and Southern states of TamilNadu and Kerala mostly drive the numbers, besides metros like Mumbai and Delhi. Both vertical heads admit to greater adoption of policies and numbers in the said geographies, and count them among the biggest growing markets for their business.
To keep agents motivated, and encourage them to do well, there is a great deal of emphasis on training them – sometimes even multiple levels of training. Tata AIG has people they call Agency Developers(ADs) who work with agents on a continual basis to motivate and help them grow. Tata AIA have people from within the corporate office who are entrusted the responsibility of assisting agents in every possible way. In a recently concluded recruitment drive, large number of agents they recruited were women: “in the July-Sept quarter, of the total agents recruited 51% were women. We feel women have the natural ability to grow business and convince people well,” says Sachin.
Even incase of Tata AIG, a good percentage of agents are women and Sibesh thinks women can beat men in sales. Sibesh introduced us to a star agent at Tata AIG, Mala Sareen who has a very interesting story to say (read below). However both of them admit there is still reluctance in the consumer’s mind when they hear the term 'agent' and much needs to be done to change the perception. All said and done, insurance is the only industry that enables such large scale empowerment of people willing to take their destiny into their own hands.
The entrepreneur story
Born and brought up in Lucknow, Mala Sareen had the best education and even married the perfect guy. The birth of two lovely boys made her life perfect and happy in every way. But her fairy tale life took a complete turn when her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and ultimately lost the battle to the disease in 2009. “That is when my journey as an entrepreneur began. I had barely recovered from grief and trauma, when I had to take on the role of a breadwinner from a homemaker. As my husband had been associated with Tata AIG it seemed the most logical thing to do, so I became an insurance advisor for Tata AIG,” says Mala. Despite no knowledge of the field, Mala worked hard and topped the IRDA exam with a score of 94%. “This took everyone by surprise, and I was ecstatic when Mr Ratan Tata signed my score card and met me personally,” gushes Mala.
She quickly learnt the nuances of the insurance industry and was advising clients on liability, casualty and personal line insurance products. Despite being a solo entrepreneur, she was soon competing with large insurance broking houses and brought in business that was comparable. It was only befit that Tata AIG promoted her as an insurance advisor in the Platinum Circle – the highest level that an agent can grow through achievements. Today Mala’s corporate clients range from IT & ITeS companies, banks, asset management firms, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, telecom and practically every major industry vertical, she says.
“The business helped me give a stable and secure life and quality education to my children. My younger son was only 13 years old when I lost my husband. But I could work and help him study Game Design from the University Of Southern California. My older son completed his MBA and is today working with TCS. This makes me a proud mother and also gives me a sense of satisfaction that I could make a difference to better their lives. They are my pillars of strength,” says Mala.
Mala says that very early on in life she learnt, and strongly believes that along with wealth and prosperity, one has to grow as a human being too. She strongly believes that it is ‘our thoughts that create our reality’ and consciously imbibes good values and an attitude of gratitude. She is a certified Angel Card Reader(Doreen Virtue), practices Art Of Living and Reiki to unwind. She says all this would not have been possible if it were not for Tata AIG. “My achievement would be incomplete without all the clients who have put their faith and trust in me, and understand that it is not about the net worth of the advisor or company, but rather about strong relationship building ability,” she says.
Looking back at her journey as an entrepreneur, Mala says it is difficult to say what she would have done if not Tata AIG. “If one has an unwavering passion, determination, confidence, strong work ethics and desire to excel nothing can stop one from reaching where one wishes to be. I can only look back in awe at what I have managed to achieve and how I walked the tight rope and kept my balance against all odds and challenges, personal and professional, but worked with dignity and pride. If along the way I have managed to inspire and motivate people, I consider myself fortunate and privileged,” she says.
However all the highs and achievements have come alongwith moments of loneliness, but Mala knows life must go on and does continues to dream and believe, because she feels : “magic and miracles happen in her life everyday" :)