“We need to create an ecosystem that allows winning ideas to emerge consistently,” says V. Viswanand on Max Life Innovation Labs 2.0 programme

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Over the last decade, there has been significant acceleration in technology-driven change across a number of sectors. Last year especially, businesses were forced to disrupt traditional models through digital means. In the last few years, insurance companies have innovated to bring in greater customer focus and responsiveness to customer needs and expectations. An ecosystem approach to innovation is the need of the hour, and the fintech ecosystem provides an ideal platform for insurance providers to accelerate innovation across the value chain. Max Life Insurance, through its accelerator programme, Max Life Innovation Labs, enables technology startups to build smart fintech and insurtech solutions for specific business challenges.

YourStory spoke to V. Viswanand, Deputy Managing Director, Max Life Insurance, an industry veteran with a dynamic presence in the financial services space for over 22 years. A ‘Founder Team Member’, he has been associated with Max Life for nearly two decades and has played an instrumental role in not only propelling Max Life to emerge as an industry leader, but also win several global and national accolades in quality and technology.

Viswanand shares his views on unlocking India's potential through digital adoption and the thought process behind launching the Max Life Innovation Labs 2.0 programme.

YourStory: Where do you think India stands today in terms of digital technology solutions to solve challenges in the sector?

V. Viswanand: According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, over the last year, the pandemic has caused the global economy to contract by 4.4 percent. At the same time, the pace of digitisation has accelerated many times over, impacting every industry across the world. As countries face repeated lockdowns, school closures, and industrial shutdowns, digital capabilities — whether for remote schooling, e-commerce, or working from home — have become essential. The article also says that amongst the economies that have shown the most digital progress in 2020, India alongside China, Vietnam, and Indonesia are the breakout economies to look out for. These breakout economies are described as countries with limited digital infrastructure but are rapidly digitising. By many measures, India is well on its way to becoming a digitally advanced country.

Statistics say Indian consumers have strongly embraced digital technologies over the past few years. A recent report by McKinsey identifies India as one of the top two countries globally on many key dimensions of digital adoption. These include digital identity enrollment programmes, app downloads, wireless phone and internet subscriptions, social media engagement, and more. This underlines the massive opportunity in digital technology solutions that are available to help bring large-scale solutions to challenges in front of the country today.

YS: What are your views on what’s working well in this area and what’s coming in the future?

VV: First, while we have considerably improved mobile internet access, affordability, and quality to foster more widespread adoption, we now need to focus on driving the adoption of digital consumer tools built to solve problems. Take for example the Aarogya Setu app which has helped connect essential health services with the people of India in the combined fight against COVID-19.

Secondly, the public-private partnership actions have driven digital growth in India that has enabled digital action at a granular scale. For example, marquee programmes like Invest India, Make in India and Startup India have provided the much-needed boost to public-private partnerships required to accelerate growth from within the country.

Thirdly, we have worked extensively in generating investments in digital enterprises, funding digital R&D, training digital talent, and further continuing our journey in fostering innovation between universities, businesses, and startups.

Today, rapid technological innovations and digitisation have made many customer journeys frictionless. One such stellar example is UPI and the wide range of applications it has helped nurture across the ecosystem. Specific to the insurance industry, most leading life insurance companies are now acquiring, onboarding, and servicing customers digitally via a suite of digital-only mediums aimed to create a paperless customer experience. The complete digitisation of existing workflows, to my mind, has been the catalyst that has leapfrogged us into multiple directions and forced us to think of newer possibilities to enable frictionless customer journeys.

YS: What was the thought behind the Max Life Innovation Labs 2.0 programme and the seven selected areas of focus?

VV: Max Life Innovation Labs was fostered with the vision to work with startups that can bring disruptive innovation in the insurance space, and boost growth potential, as they capitalise on emerging technologies to invent and reinvent products, services, and business models. As leaders, we need to accept that we don’t have all the winning ideas and solutions, and the focus needs to be on creating an ecosystem that allows winning ideas to emerge consistently.

Even with the best in-house talent and innovation process, companies cannot create the best ideas by themselves. That is why a complete innovation ecosystem requires collaboration with external innovators. The Insurtech space is growing and more and more industry leaders are looking to forge partnerships with the startup ecosystem to build industry-first solutions.

We have learned immensely from the first edition of Max Life Innovation Labs, following which we have renewed the programme with a focus of foraying into the technologies of the future. This year, we have crowdsourced use cases from within the organisation and selected seven areas of focus.

  • Smart Customer Profile Report - Ability to generate insights from medical, financial documents, external sources, and provide goal-based decisions to enhance financial credibility and health and wellness.
  • Digital Twin - Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality solutions in the areas of sales, customer engagement, and marketing.
  • Data Acquisition - Intelligent data acquisition on customers/prospects from online and offline sources.
  • Health and Wellness - Provide health and wellness propositions to the customers that improve their health outcomes through targeted programmes.
  • Non-invasive Medical Tests - Non-invasive technology solutions to capture medical profiles.
  • Insurance in a Box - Build a white-label platform that can allow insurers to sell on-demand insurance on partner ecosystem/underserved segments.
  • Blockchain Networks for Insurance - Solutions that help create network relationships across the insurance value chain to simplify claims, on-boarding, policy issuance, renewals, etc.

YS: What was the thought behind hosting the programme on Startup India Hub?

VV: We believe the Startup India platform has the scale and outreach that we could leverage to run our corporate accelerator programme. We launched the first edition of Max Life Innovation Labs on Startup India's platform, on which we received more than 150 applications.

Thanks to each of our partners including Invest India, Startup India, AWS, Leo Capital, and YourNest, for making an effort to come together to facilitate the process of innovation.

YS: What does the Max Life Innovation Labs 2.0 programme offer that no other similar financial programme does?

VV: Max Life is an industry innovator, and we have many firsts to our credit when it comes to offering differentiated solutions for our customers. The Max Life Innovation Labs programme is designed in a manner that will catapult the maturity and the stage of the shortlisted startups, by getting access to our data, insights, marketing, and most importantly, mentoring from our industry experts.

Read more about the Max Life Innovation Labs programme here.

YS: What type of startups are eligible to participate?

VV: Typically, we are looking for startups who have a Minimum Viable Product ready for Proof of Concept.

YS: What is the criterion for selecting the startups?

VV: We evaluate them on 6 parameters on a 5-point scale.

  • Alignment with the use case
  • Business impact
  • Product maturity
  • Technical maturity
  • Team experience
  • Industry deployment

All applications are thoroughly reviewed by Max Life’s core team on the above parameters. We further schedule demonstration calls with the shortlisted startups. Business owners are aligned upfront on discussions with the startups from the final list which is presented to the Max Life Leadership on the pitch day.

YS: What's the status of the applications you've received so far? Has the deadline been extended?

VV: We are in the process of receiving applications and have to date received 132 applications. We have extended our application window until January 16, 2021. To be a part of this engaging programme,

Interested startups can apply here.


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