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Data is a journey, need to put building blocks in place: PNB MetLife’s Samrat Das

Data is a journey, need to put building blocks in place: PNB MetLife’s Samrat Das
Samrat Das

PNB MetLife India Insurance Co. Ltd (PNB MetLife), which is among the country’s top ten life insurers by market share, recently launched an artificial intelligence-powered customer service app to offer policyholders a seamless, customised experience. The app is part of ongoing initiatives by the Mumbai-based insurer to integrate emerging technologies with its operations.

Earlier this week, PNB MetLife received regulatory approval to go public. The insurer is backed by Delhi-based Punjab National Bank Ltd, US-based insurer MetLife Inc, Jammu & Kashmir Bank Ltd, M Pallonji and Co. Pvt. Ltd and other private investors.

In an email interview with TechCircle, PNB MetLife’s chief information officer Samrat Das spoke about the private insurer’s new app, khUshi, and its other initiatives in harnessing emerging technologies to serve customers better. 

Edited excerpts:

Tell us more about khUshi. How exactly will it help policyholders?

With khUshi, PNB MetLife has taken a step forward in its efforts to provide superior customer experience through the adoption of newer technologies that are proactive, predictive and pre-emptive.  

The app is built in collaboration with MetLife’s innovation centre — Lumen Lab in Singapore — and PNB MetLife in India. It is designed to be a one-stop shop for insurance-related information like policy features, premium details, fund value & portfolio details, apart from downloading receipts and statements, updating contact & KYC (Know Your Customer) details and setting important reminders. 

khUshi has the ability to understand customer intent and provide tailored responses to users. It can interact with customers both via text and speech. When requested, the app can also locate the nearest PNB MetLife branch, arrange a call back from call centre representatives, fix an appointment with an adviser and much more.

Take us through your overall digital transformation strategy.

As a life insurance company, digital is something which is very inherent to us in trying to do business the way we do. We have three pillars of digital strategy which we call the three Ds. The first D is about digitisation, second is about being disruptive and the third is data. 

By virtue of being an insurance company, we are a highly paper-centric and document-centric business, whether it is acquisition of a new business or when we source new policies or service policies during the tenure. Digitalisation becomes essential here. 

The core of the insurance business is highly regulated so we can't get disruptive around the core proposition. We do a lot of disruption in the way we do business. 

The journey around disruption started two years ago with the launch of a virtual reality app, conVRse, which is the first of its kind in this space.

Our last D revolves around the proposition of data and how do we normalise, protect, and manage data blended with intelligence to conduct more fruitful business. 

Do you see Big Data analytics playing a significant role in the insurance business?

The insurance business has more data than any other financial services segment. For example, if I underwrite your risks, I know almost everything about you which the bank doesn't know, your stock broker may not know, and your mutual fund may not know. This is an inherited advantage. 

It's very simple — the more data points you have, the more accurate is your prediction. Big Data helps me make my predictions more accurate. 

But having said that, before you get into predictions which are more accurate, it is important to recognise that data is a journey and you need to put the building blocks into place. We are on this journey and not left behind. This is a conscious choice that we have made rather than getting into Big Data without putting the building blocks into place.

To what extent is it possible to digitise policy issuance?

As of September this year, 73% of our new business sources were completely digitised. It is done through a digital platform which we call eBranch. A large portion of this is done through STP (straight through processing). This depends on the ticket size of the policy, the age of the policyholder, among other factors. The digitised way of sourcing makes the proposition simpler.

Is PNB MetLife working on blockchain technology or a related protocol?

Yes, there are a couple of things that are happening on the blockchain front. There is an industry representation working closely with the insurance regulator on a few business processes, which is a win-win situation for all the insurance companies. 

We see a lot of opportunity in blockchain and are currently on a private blockchain with banks. I won't be able to divulge more information about the use case for now.

What kind of chatbot-based technology is being used to better customer experience?

We use an AI framework called Akeira and the rest is still being built.

When do you expect to see returns from your investments in emerging technologies?

The ratio of capex to opex is 1:1 which is a representation of our investments in emerging technologies. This is our fourth generation of emerging technology as we speak.

What’s next? What R&D are you investing in for the future?

We are using a lot of energy to get into AI. We are specifically moving from structured data to unstructured data.

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