An exclusive Interview of Mr. Rajesh Kandwal, E D & Principal, Zonal Training Centre, LIC

Mr.Rajesh Kandwal, Executive Director & Principal, Zonal Training Centre, LIC. talks to our CEO Poonam Bharadwaj about the Insurance sector, how it has evolved and its needs and challenges.

Please tell us more about yourself – your early years, your schooling, your journey so far

Facing challenges early in life taught me the value of education and
money. My schooling was regular but college education was transformative and resulted into some significant changes in my personality.

When did you join LIC of India? Is the Insurance Industry different today from when you started your career? What are some of the paradigm shifts that you have seen during this time?

I joined LIC in 1981. Certainly, the insurance industry has experienced quite a few shifts during the last 3 decades. Not only the sector, but India in general has undergone transformation, particularly in the last 20 years since liberalization. In the Insurance sector, the industry has expanded both in terms of volume and also growth rate. The volume of first year life insurance premium increased from Rs 9707 Cr in 2000-01 to Rs 114233 Cr in 2011-12. The Life Insurance Penetration, which is the ratio of premium underwritten during the year to GDP moved from 1.77 in 2000 to 4.4 in 2010. Likewise, Life Insurance Density which is the ratio of premium underwritten in a year to total population moved from $ 7.6 to $ 55.7.  In 1980s, LIC went through a major organizational re-structuring which transformed LIC and brought about many years of consistent high growth until, say, around the start of the century. Beginning with the year 2000, when the sector was opened, LIC focused not only on growth but prepared itself for impending competition. Both LIC of India as well as private companies clocked high growth rates. This continued till about the last two or three years.  Various factors contributed to the slowdown. One factor was the general economic slowdown.  Secondly, the industry was moving very fast on the platform of ULIP products, and that took a little beating when the market started slowing down and ULIP lost its flavour with the customers along with changes brought in like lock-in period etc. At present, I would say growth is not at the desired level but the industry is going to expand and move forward.

Another change I could see was in customer services. The premium payment could be done anywhere, anytime through customer portals. Also policy details like loan eligibility, maturity value, revival amount, premium calendar, alerts etc could be accessed sitting at home. The services are now available with the click of a mouse. There is also more transparency in the operations.

Also, during these years, technology has brought about a significant change which has enabled us to service more than 25 crore customers. The number of policies being serviced by LIC of India is more than the population of any of the countries in the world except, China, USA and India itself. All this would not have been possible without technology.

What are the biggest challenges facing the insurance industry today and how do you think these challenges will be overcome?

Well, I would say, the biggest challenge is to return to a reasonable level of growth. Also, the industry is facing a host of other issues, like Regulatory requirements, Market volatility, managing the aspirations of existing and future customers in the form of giving right products, services and returns. Also, despite competitive pressure, to ensure that our Agents sell need based products with full disclosure, which is vital for continuing to enjoy the trust of our customers that is so necessary for any financial organization.

I would say that we are prepared to meet all these challenges. Further, these challenges can be overcome by adopting a proactive approach in various activities such as recruitment and training of all employees and field force. Each of our employees undergoes training each year to hone their skills and learn the right ways to approach issues.

In terms of people, how critical is talent management to the insurance industry in general and the LIC of India in particular?

Apart from critical areas, like investments, accounting, actuarial and technology, skill and experience levels of our employees and Agents are critical to our competitiveness. Therefore, up-gradation of skills and training needs fulfillment with talent friendly environment is important to us.

LIC has one of the oldest and most established employee training mechanisms in the country. Please tell us about the efforts that are undertaken to train and re-tool employees for better performance management.

You’re right; we have indeed an elaborate training mechanism. In fact we have divided our training centres as per the trainee segments. We have training centres for our field force at district level. These are mainly responsible for pre-recruitment training for prospective agents. Then we have dedicated training centers which are located in 22 states and look after the skill enhancements of the entire field force. The field force is segmented according to various parameters like business, their customer segment etc and training is undertaken at these training centres regularly. For employees also, we have many separate training centres for technical training, soft skills training etc. Then we have Apex Centres or Zonal Training Centres and a Management Development Centre. We also have tie-ups with premier institutes some of them being, MDI, ISB, IIM (Ahmedabad) etc. In fact we have collaborated with IIM (A) and have provided an in-house one year PGP for selected officers.

LIC is an iconic company – how strong is the management and leadership pipeline within your organization? What sort of ongoing efforts are put into keeping a healthy pipeline?

LIC is an organization comprising mostly of generalists who have been moulded into the landscape of the organization by way of various trainings and other interventions. We have a strong performance management system by which performance levels are assessed. We also capture the learning requirements of all employees at any given point in time. In this process, officers are trained, mentored, nurtured and are given exposure to different assignments so that they develop as better managers and leaders. Based on their performance, learning and ability etc, they are further developed. This is a continuous process which helps the organization in maintaining a healthy leadership pipeline. Through this method, equal opportunity is given to all and at the same time we are able to identify good leaders.

How important is the assimilation of international best practices and industry cross pollination in your own organization and what steps do you take to assimilate and absorb these within your system?

At the individual level, senior officers are exposed to seminar/workshop/conferences at the international level where best practices are shared. We also invite specialists and consultants to speak to us about best practices and also strategic issues. This exchange of thoughts keeps us abreast of the best practices and its absorption into our system.

How important is the issue of diversity to your organization and what do you do to ensure that LIC remains a dynamic and diverse employer?

Indeed, we are as diverse an organization as we are diverse as a country. We are present in every nook and corner of the country. Our agents are mostly locals from their respective office area but we have an All-India transfer policy for our employees and they work in all parts of the country. We have many subsidiaries and our employees get to work in them as well. Our systems and procedures are standardized throughout the country. Diversity has become a part of the organizational culture. I don’t think we have to make any special efforts to do remain diverse. It comes to us naturally.

What do you do in terms of ensuring that despite your large national footprint and diversity, you create a strong alignment of your people with the company’s values and goals?

As I mentioned, we have a robust HR system of leadership pipeline which gives opportunity to all for developing themselves and in the process, the organization. Here I would also like to mention that we have an excellent system of recruitment wherein we select people who we think can best integrate with the organizational culture. This is followed by a rigorous induction training running into a few months wherein they are exposed to the company’s values and goals are shared with them. This integration is followed up at the work site through specific short term goals which they are supposed to achieve. We also have training centres where all employees come regularly to get updated with the latest developments.

How do you view the emergence of technology in the insurance sector as a core stable in the growth of your business and managing in your loyal customer base?

Emergence of technology no doubt has been a critical enabler in servicing customers satisfactorily and also managing large volume. It has enabled us to provide accuracy and also anytime, anywhere services. It has also enabled Marketing to identify the gaps and ways to fill it to keep up the pace of growth. We have provided customer portals so as to access all information on the policy with a click. It also helps customers to manage their portfolio and get timely alerts.

What is your personal style of management and leadership?

The cause for any leadership style is to get things done and in a sustainable manner. I basically believe in team work, passion and commitment to a goal

In your opinion, have soft skills emerged as one of the strongest areas of concern for industry, especially in your industry in particular where customer interface and building loyalty is so critical?

Oh Yes, Soft skills is definitely an important area in our industry. By nature, Life Insurance is one of those things, the need of which is not felt consciously by most people; therefore, it is mostly sold and not bought. Here the behavior or soft skills of the sales people become significant. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Life Insurance is a long term product, wherein the customer comes in touch with our different people for various purposes across the long timeline. We would consistently like to give him a reasonably satisfactory experience. In service industry such as Insurance, variability in service is the biggest enemy. Thus we have to invest a large sum of money and time for training our agents and employees for giving this consistent experience.

What would you like educational institutes to do differently in their curriculum so that first time employees that enter organizations have a better chance of succeeding at work and becoming early stage contributors to the organizations?

For this, I think the solution is vocational education. Unless there is specific content on an industry, people cannot be expected to hcontribute at a very early stage. Vocational education is also necessary since the jobs become more and more specialized day by day.

What advice would you have for HR experts who are involved in the area of building competitive and competent workforces for organizations

The ultimate objective of all HR activities is to get employees work at optimal levels of performance. This would also imply that employees do the right things which are coherent with the organization’s long term goals. The company can build and sustain competitive advantage if all this is done. All this is possible by a robust Performance Management System and training infrastructure which is capable of providing focused training, based on the gaps identified.

In ending, there are so many young people across the country who strive to be a part of a large, diverse and successful iconic organization like the LIC, what would your advice to them be?

Working with organizations like LIC which are large, diverse and successful is very advantageous. Such organizations are very good learning opportunities and they also offer good careers in themselves. Reaching leadership positions in such organizations is not a small feat.

© 2012 Avant Learning Private Limited. All rights reserved.