Simpler product innovation holds key to future of Insurance: Shiney Prasad, Sun Life Financial



In Conversation with Shiney Prasad, President, Digital Enterprise Asia



August 30, 2019

Simpler product innovation holds key to future of Insurance: Shiney Prasad, Sun Life Financial

In an interview with ETBFSI, Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre-India’s SVP, (Enterprise Services and Digital Business Initiatives) Shiney Prasad discussed how technology has enabled newer digital distribution channels to reach newer groups of customers. He also noted that with AI and ML taking centre stage, we should not be nervous or insecure about automation coming in and that both human interface and technology could co-exist. Edited excerpts: 
The latest data from LIC indicate the Indian insurance sector is still growing even though many sectors are facing a slowdown. Do you agree? 
Amidst the economic slowdown, people are moving towards financial savings and investment tools versus physical savings. People are shying away from investments such as real estate which has seen lot of red-tapism and slow growth and are investing in MFs, SIPs and Insurance policies with reputed insurance companies listed on the stock exchange. Indians by large, have a savings mindset and like to take calculated risks. Insurance companies have been quick in recognising this and have innovated their product offerings and are now offering insurance based investment tools wherein customers can get insured and earn on their investments over a period of time. The introduction of new policies coupled with plans with good interest rates, offering the investor an option of investing in smaller amounts (SIPs etc.) and keeping the overall risks low (comfort factor) have made the Insurance sector a lucrative option not just for the insurer but also the wealth manager/ investor. 
CARE Ratings said the sector is likely to grow at 14-15 per cent per annum. Your thoughts. 
For reasons mentioned above, the sector should continue to grow consistently. It may be impacted by the global recession, however, it is too early to say and even if it does, it will not be as severe as the Global markets. 
What kinds of Technologies have you implemented so far and what’s the impact? 
Today, digital transformation for us is not just about technology advancement and application but also about enabling business strategy. It’s about building new business models, enhancing operational and value chain efficiency, and creating best in class experiences, to building a digital culture and mindset – all comprehensively powered by the latest technologies, data-driven insights, skillsets, talent and change frameworks. 
Key technological shifts have been made in the area of Mobility where we have developed both native and hybrid capabilities that has powered more than 20 digital assets across the markets for Sunlife including the Sun Life Mobile Application launched in 2016. 
In the area of Robotics, we have established Global platform to create desktop automation. Our data visualisation and analytics capability is robust and we are working on dashboards and models for better client experience. Our cloud strategy has been put in motion and we have started to build data, engineering and application related capability for same. We have several fully functional Agile teams working in distributed environment that are digitising our current processes. 
With AI and tech being on the verge of eating a certain job, how do you motivate your employees? 
We firmly believe that with AI and ML coming in, both human interface and technology would co exist. We should not be nervous or insecure about automation coming in since people can focus on doing more complex jobs and doing them creatively, while AI and tech can also handle certain routine jobs for them. At Sunlife, we have great focus on upskilling and cross skilling talent and 50% of our budget in L&D is diverted towards Digital. We are ourselves working on RPA and Chatbots and our people are getting to work on such latest technologies. Today, more than 40% of our portfolio is towards Knowledge services and therefore, we ourselves are moving up the value chain and so are our people. 
The models of tomorrow we believe would be Digital first with human interface or physical first with Digital enablement, but both would definitely work together to add client value and experience. 
How has technology impacted the growth of insurance industry? 
All organisations today are dealing with tech savvy consumers and therefore using technology to not just create better digital experience but also gain competitive edge. Technology has enabled newer digital distribution channels to reach newer groups of customers who may not have access to conventional channels. We have done partnership with Lazada, one of South Asia’s leading e commerce platform which itself has a consumer base of 50mn and that means simplification of the product itself to be sold on such e-distribution platforms. Telecommunication companies like Malaysia’s U mobile have become an interesting component of Sunlife’s growth strategy. We are targeting to increase penetration in Asian markets that are under insured compared to developed markets through the means of technology. 
What opportunities do you think the new-age technologies will bring to the insurance industry? 
With millennial and Gen z population looking for seamless experience across any buying process, Insurance industry too is investing in digitizing processes to add value to client. New age technologies like data analytics will help in contextual marketing and building deep customer engagement. It would also mean more market penetration when products and solutions could be customised. Today, we are also leveraging social media like Facebook to engage with our customers. At different stages of client journey, we can provide ongoing support from initial awareness to sustainable retention through social media. 
How is the customer trend towards buying insurance? Do they prefer to buy online or offline? 
Both kind of customers exist in the marketplace and there are customer who like to take personal advice first and buy online and there are those who purchase and thereafter look for service. It also depends on the volume and value of the purchase, and the kind of product one is looking for, changes the expectations of the customers. What we have noticed is people choose channels very differently. In our case, some people want to call us, some want to speak to their advisor, some want to go through email or through social media channels. 
While all experiences need to be digital enabled, the need for human interface completely will not go away from Insurance business. 
Many Insure-Techs are coming out with customised insurance products for millennials and otherwise — trek insurance, riot insurance, athlete insurance, and so on. How is your firm taking on these disruptors? How are you engaging the millennial’s needs? 
In the context of Insurance, consumers are always looking for flexibility and simplicity when purchasing products. There is still scope of work left to do in terms of products itself and how can we make them simpler for consumers. Product innovation will therefore be the key in the future. We might develop models where you could buy Insurance on a pay per use basis or make purchasing a product as easy as booking a cab.


About Sun Life Asia Service Centre

Sun Life Asia Service Centre (ASC) in India provides Business Processing, IT, and Investment Research shared services to Sun Life's global businesses. The 24*7 centres also offer contact centre and enterprise infrastructure to Sun Life’s businesses. ASC India and ASC Philippines work in perfect harmony to support Clients through all stages of Client and software life cycle for Sun Life in Canada, the US, and Asia. Over the years, the ASC has achieved scale and operational maturity by integrating closely with Sun Life’s corporate functions. The centres support Individual Insurance & Wealth, Group Benefits, Group Retirement Services, Document Services and Client Solutions services for Sun Life.

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