About time insurers unlocked women power

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May 5, 2015 12:05 AM

Insurance is the finest tool for securing financial security during, and even after, one’s lifetime.

Insurance is the finest tool for securing financial security during, and even after, one’s lifetime. Through insurance, the policyholder protects himself and his dependents against unforeseen episodes or hazards that may cause serious interruption to flow of income which, in turn, may lead to severe financial, mental and physical hardship. The concept needs to be understood clearly and awareness needs to be created by the industry so that sooner or later India becomes an insured society. This would mean availability of financial protection to each person suffering a loss due to morbidity, mortality, accident or any natural disaster.

This can be realised only if half the population, comprising women, also actively participates in providing for themselves adequate life, health, property and casualty insurance. According to an official survey conducted in 2011 among the urban and rural insured, the representation of women was a meagre 23 and 18%, respectively, though women represent 48.46% of the population .Similarly, only around 16% customers of general insurance are women. Among policyholders of health insurance, about 30% are female. This indicates a huge market waiting to be tapped. With rising education and earning power of women, insurance becomes an imperative proposition. But the initiative has to be taken by all the beneficiaries in their own sphere.

Today, women are fast moving to the centre stage of family, workplace and also society, following better access to higher education and employment opportunities. Children are to a large extent dependant on mother’s income and on her valuable time. Urban working women save for children’s higher education and also pay home loan EMIs. Their ability to earn and support family expenses is critical to the family’s happiness quotient; hence, the husband and children have a huge insurable interest in her .She therefore deserves to be adequately insured. For the same reason, accident and health insurance are a natural requirement of a fast growing segment of working women in India.

In rural areas, the ratio of working women is higher than that in urban population. About 50% of village workforce comprises women. Though their income is very poor, some risk-mitigation measures have to be introduced. In case of death of such a woman, the family loses a breadwinner, the farmer loses a co-worker and children lose the mother, the teacher, the protector and the handholder, all rolled in one. Hence, they need to be insured so that even in adverse circumstances, the wheel of life keeps moving ahead.

Five to six companies have introduced life insurance products designed to meet various life stage requirements of females in India. The maturity or survival benefit payouts are timed according to the women-specific health or social expenses. But just designing a women-specific product does not enlarge the market for insurers. Women are to be informed on how to buy and use such products for their benefit. Insurers have to develop effective marketing strategies to tap this segment.

The strategy has to be aligned to the attitude and habits of females at different income levels. They cannot be approached as intermediaries while approaching the male prospects. More than returns or benefits, a woman prospect would like to spend more time figuring out the ease of holding a policy, renewing it and securing the benefits when due. Hence, there has to be a specially trained sales force to market insurance to women customers.

The idea of selling to women through women, as it is done in Japan, can be explored. Even for strategising female-oriented products and marketing, women executives must be involved so that every action on the part of the insurance provider meets the exclusive needs and aspirations of women with maximum empathy. They should let the customers fully understand what value a plan would bring to their life. Even terminologies used in policy conditions should be such that make women feel comfortable.

Companies must learn from experiences earned while launching a female cover and reinforce their strategies accordingly. In such a situation the intermediary has to act as a partner and not just a salesman.

Research suggests women driver are less prone to accidents and cars damaged in accidents involving females cost less to repair. Insurers must offer discounts on motor insurance premium if it is driven by a female owner. Similarly, it is well-known that the longevity of women is higher. Hence, females must be charged a lower premium. Insurers must attract females to buy a higher cover with less premium. Women are generally more worried about the safety of household goods and jewellery. It is easier to convince them about a householder’s policy provided conscious efforts are made. Health coverage, with an assured cover for cancer and preventive checkups such as mammogram, would help females think seriously about insurance.

With greater economic power, today’s women have greater responsibility. There is no reason why they should not opt for insurance. Insurers have to rise to their expectations and needs. The female segment may speed up the industry’s efforts for market penetration.

The sales strategy has to be aligned to the attitude and habits of females. They cannot be approached as intermediaries in the process of approaching male prospects.

As women drivers are less prone to accidents, insurers must offer discounts on motor insurance if the car is to be driven by a female owner.

Health covers with assured coverage for cancer and preventive check-ups would help females think seriously about insurance.

The writer is director, India First Life Insurance Company and advisor GIC Re

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