Despite a rapid pace of digital acceleration in India, consumers of financial services in India are yet to fully embrace digital platforms for their day to day financial transactions. This is especially true in non-metro markets and rural geographies. To be fair, it is still early days as the inflection point for this transformation came only during the demonetisation phase. Since then, the financial services have augmented their digital transformation well supported by the Digital India and JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile) movement promoted by the government of India to drive financial inclusion. With this current lockdown phase, we are bound to see another inflection point in the adoption of digital platforms across the board which will augur well for the consumers, businesses, and economy overall.
The current situation
In the on-going lockdown phase, financial services companies such as banks and Insurance companies have been deemed essential for the public to have access to. This has been done by the government so that everyday life is not disrupted leading to societal chaos. However, while such organisations may open offices with limited staff, they are unable to offer a full range of services and social distancing is further inhibiting customers’ walk-ins. Banking and Personal finance institutions like Insurance companies already have these platforms in place however, the existing situation is driving organisations to augment their digital capabilities and extend new services their customers can consume. They are also preparing to handle an increased volume while strengthening their cybersecurity systems.
What this means for the public
For customers, this means adapting to a different reality, to set aside their inhibitions and embrace technology to fulfill their financial requirements. Though it may force a habit change amongst many but ultimately will augur well for all constituents.
While a certain segment of customers and consumers in metros and large urban towns have fast adopted online transactions for banking and insurance etc, many sections of the society such as senior citizens and those who are not so comfortable with technology and smaller towns have not been so quick to respond despite an improved data and bandwidth infrastructure. One of the reasons is the comfort of meeting in a physical space and having a face to face discussions for their financial-related activities. Trust is key in dealing with financial institutions and therefore, preference to visit the financial institution’s local office or having their representative come to visit them at their premises is a way of life for some.
However, as ironical as it may sound, the forced lockdown period is a good opportunity for everyone to learn basics such as making online fund transfers via the payment gateways, pay renewals, check balances and retrieve statements, etc from the comfort of home. Now, it is quite evident that we are in for a long haul of social distancing even post lockdown, therefore, the need of the hour is to come out of our comfort zones and embrace digital technology to conduct transactions and engage with the service providers at large. This is the need of the hour as we will be required to stay safe, restrict our movements and social interactions to help avoid a resurgence of the pandemic post lockdown.
Embracing digital platforms
It is incumbent on the financial services organisation to recognise the inhibitions that are limiting the adoption of these platforms and simplify the process, make the experience highly intuitive and navigation extremely easy for these customers. There needs to be a focused effort to create awareness and educate this segment and this where the power of vernacular, voice, and bots should be fully exploited. Most customers in remote areas and senior citizens are accustomed to the local language and would find speaking into the devices easier than typing their requests.
It is important to explain and promote how DIY (Do-It-Yourself) works but equally important is to explain why and how these transactions are as safe as it would be in a physical set up. We have noticed some financial companies training their call centre staff to support customers and give them the necessary help. This includes giving a step by step account of the digital transacting techniques while adhering to their service requests and responding to their queries. Many financial institutions have extended ‘WhatsApp’ services to their customers and have chatbots on their websites and messengers to offer instant service to customers.
For customers accessing these services are extremely simple and it starts with downloading the mobile App or registers on the company’s portal. Some of the services do not even need customers to register and create ID or passwords. These frequently accessed services can be available by simply visiting the website. Customers can reach out to the company’s customer care number and ask for help. It is also important for customers to note that in these times, there is an increased threat of targeted fraud, therefore, they must not share their personal information like ID, Password, OTP with unknown and unverified people on the phone. It is better to reach out to the company on a registered number or website and seek clarity wherever required.
BFSI sector’s digital preparedness
Given the development of data, digital, mobile, and cloud computing, many BFSI companies have already moved their services online. Different companies may be on different points in their maturity curve as far as digital transformation is concerned. Let’s look at the insurance industry as an example as this is one sector that depends heavily on personal contact from start to end. Many insurance companies have ensured that the COVID-19 lockdown does not result in a bitter customer experience.
To achieve optimised work efficiency, these companies have shifted to cloud infrastructure and upgraded their consumer-facing platforms and data models to offer services at speed to their customers. Even the hassle of paying premiums through cash or cheque is now eliminated as the same can be done through a mobile app, online payment gateways, or through mobile wallets. Changes are also being done to augment customer acquisition in a non-physical environment. At Future Generali India Life, for example, we have seamlessly moved front end selling to digital platforms already.
Agents and sales personnel can connect and conduct the entire sales process digitally through video conferencing and online journey without the need to meet in person or having to share documents physically. However, like customers, the sellers of these services also need to be trained to adjust to this new way of selling. Operationally, this would require existing processes to be re-engineered or completely re-imagined to suit the new reality, which is here to stay!
Rakesh Wadhwa is Chief Marketing and Customer Officer at Future Generali India Life Insurance Company Ltd. Views expressed are the author’s personal.