There is immense potential in India's gig ecosystem: Santanu Banerjee

There is immense potential in India's gig ecosystem: Santanu Banerjee

Santanu Banerjee, CHRO, Bajaj Allianz Life, speaks with Human Capital about how COVID-19 has been a huge turning point for the insurance industry, which skills will play an even more important role in the post-pandemic era, and how HR leaders can help their organisations emerge better positioned for the future.

The pandemic caused both temporary and permanent shifts in business models and how and where work is done. Which changes in the insurance industry do you believe will be short-term? On the other hand, which transformations are likely to extend into the post-pandemic era?


The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been not only far-reaching but also sustained and significant. In one way or another, nearly every industry in the economy has been affected by this event. The life insurance industry is no exception.


Over the short term, the pandemic has led to several changes in the way we communicate with our customers and agents. The onset of COVID-19 prompted us to go completely virtual in terms of communication and listening, learning interventions, rewards and recognition platforms, and performance and project reviews/ monitoring.


However, I believe that this complete shift to virtual communication is temporary. The situation may revert to being more conducive to physical interactions, and we might witness a hybrid of both virtual and physical work environment.


I anticipate that the digitisation of ecosystems and work-from-home operational models will likely extend into the post-pandemic era. Hiring gig talent is another major trend that I believe will continue over the long term.


With the shelf life of skills steadily shrinking and new skills being rapidly introduced as a result of the pandemic, the talent pool is struggling to adapt and stay relevant. What skills will be most in-demand in the insurance industry? How are you tackling the upskilling and reskilling challenge?


COVID-19, like any other life challenge, is not without opportunities. And individuals should not let this time to go waste; rather, they should upskill and reskill to add to their professional competencies and capabilities. Critical skills such as the ability to reimagine and innovate are now more than ever in focus and will be amongst the top skills in the next few years.


Being one of the country’s leading insurance service providers, we have taken up reskilling initiatives for our employees – and at a quick pace. We focused on preparing our people for the new normal and revamping our existing processes to fit into the new digital ecosystem. The introduction of an agile learning architecture has been one of the key initiatives we’ve taken to help our employees successfully adapt to changing customer behaviours and needs. We’ve also leveraged our learning architecture to train and familiarise employees with our new virtual processes and help them develop new core skills and competencies.


How is the workforce composition of your industry changing? Do you see non-full-time talent as a strategic part of your talent pool?


As a direct result of the pandemic, insurance consultants – who are the core players in our industry – are seeing massive changes in the way they have to operate. Previously, industry agents relied heavily on traditional face-to-face meetings, but with lockdowns and social distancing norms ruling out traditional forms of communication, our insurance consultants have had to shift to completely digital methods of communicating with customers. Successfully making this switch in such a short period required extensive retraining and reskilling. To make this transition as seamless and smooth as possible, we introduced training choreography for our insurance consultants.


Speaking of non-full-time talent, we at Bajaj Allianz Life recognise the immense potential of India’s gig ecosystem. We have constantly been exploring this pool of talent, which includes returning mothers. Since last year, we have filled several positions in our organisation by tapping into the gig economy.


How are you at Bajaj Allianz reimagining the employee experience to address the wants and needs of employees?


At Bajaj Allianz, employee wellbeing has always been a huge priority. And in tough times, it is even more crucial that we, as an organisation, be more sensitive towards their wants and needs. To enhance the employee experience, we realised that it is important to be inclusive and extend support to our employees’ families as well. We have therefore introduced several initiatives for their wellbeing, such as the following: 


Tie-ups with healthcare service providers for free vaccinations for employees and their families and reimbursement of vaccination costs.


In the case of deceased employees, education assistance of up to Rs. 2 lakhs per annum for two children up to the graduation level and continued health insurance benefits to their families for up to 5 years.


Additional financial support of up to Rs. 1 crore to the families of deceased employees by COVID-19, over and above the existing group term life insurance plan.


Increase in the minimum term life cover benefits from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 20 lakhs.


Additional COVID health insurance cover of up to Rs. 1 lakh over and above the existing Mediclaim policy cover.


Payout of up to Rs. 20,000 through the Mediclaim policy cover for covering expenses during the home quarantine period.


An exclusive COVID helpline to provide necessary emergency support to employees and their families.


Appropriate tie-ups with service partners such as Doctor 24x7 and RoundGlass to provide complete medical consultation and address mental and emotional issues of employees and their families for free.


Do you see a permanent increase in remote work in the insurance industry? How easy or difficult is it for companies in your sector to work remotely or in a hybrid-remote setup?


The insurance industry has adapted well to the remote working and hybrid-remote setups. This has been made possible by the use of agile rostering systems and robust work-from-home platforms. Bajaj Allianz has been successfully utilising this setup to continue business operations and address customers’ needs and requirements.


We do see ourselves continuing with a hybrid-remote working setup in the near future, where the rostering of employees would be closely monitored based on situations at the ground level and according to local guidelines.


What’s one lesson from the crisis you’d like to share with HR leaders in the insurance space?


A key lesson from the pandemic is to make communication transparent and two-way. At a time when the entire nation is reeling from a crisis, employees are bound to get demotivated due to a general feeling of uncertainty. Therefore, as HR leaders and organisations, it is up to us to step up and build the brand by opening up the lines of communication between employer and employees. Assuring employees can go a long way in helping them deal with feelings of uncertainty, fear and stress.


We crafted a series of two-way communications with our CEO, myself and the rest of our leadership team. This allowed us to hear from our employees on a regular basis about the challenges that the pandemic has brought upon them. Additionally, we were also able to keep them updated on all the latest changes impacting them, the business as a whole, and advisories on support available for them and their families. This transparent two-way communication helped us provide much-needed reassurance to our employees.


Ankita Sharma is working as Senior Editor with Human Capital. With 6+ years of experience, she has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire.


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