A Glimpse into the Heart of AIA, Sri Lanka’s Best Life Insurance Company – Chief Executive Officer of AIA Insurance Lanka Ltd, Nikhil Advani

Driven by the brand purpose of helping people live a healthier, longer, better life, AIA Insurance stands as a firm pioneer in Sri Lanka’s insurance industry. Catering to their client’s needs in protection, retirement, health and savings, AIA has sustained a solid reputation over the years, gaining remarkable recognition locally and internationally.  

As opposed to the traditional trends in the insurance industry, AIA’s mission is to provide their clients with an opportunity to live a quality life, ensuring their good health and prosperity. It can be said that AIA has moved away from the traditional ‘you die-we pay’ model to helping people ‘live life’. Strengthening their brand purpose, AIA constantly engages in market research via surveys such as the ‘Healthy Living Index’ and the ‘Healthiest Workplace Survey’ as well as ongoing industry and customer research, to provide holistic solutions that can help customers in their wellness journey. The insurer has moved away from providing ‘just insurance products’ to providing comprehensive ‘propositions’ that help people in their health, wellness and happiness. 

The insurer is also the most stable insurance company in the industry with a Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) almost 4 times the minimum required by the regulators, making it the highest CAR in the industry. This means that the company has the highest capacity to withstand risk and crisis, which was abundantly proven by its strength and stability in the face of the recent covid-19 pandemic. A prudent investment strategy centered on high quality investment portfolio helps AIA maintain this financial strength while maintaining the ability to honour their promises to their customers. 

The company has been recognized as a ‘Best Workplace’ for nine consecutive years and was listed in the Best Workplaces™️ in Asia list – large category, not to forget also recognized as a ‘Best Workplace for Women’ for 4 years and also as a ‘Best Workplace for Millennials’ by Great Place to Work® in 2021. 

Though a company pioneering digital transformation in the industry, it is still one that places the highest emphasis on ensuring the best quality of Distribution across Agency and Bancassurance channels. Testament to this is that the insurer had the highest number of MDRT members in Sri Lanka for the 06th consecutive year. These achievements have led to AIA being recognised as the ‘Best Life Insurance Company in Sri Lanka’ for the second consecutive year by the prestigious Global Banking and Finance Review. (2019, 2020)

Speaking to AIA Sri Lanka’s Chief Executive Officer, Nikhil Advani, he remarked that AIA is on a mission to protect Sri Lankans in terms of health, financial security and long term savings even beyond retirement. Regarding how AIA Sri Lanka dealt with the Covid 19 pandemic, Nikhil said that it impacted the entire world, and they were no exception. Despite the difficulties, AIA responded fast last year and performed admirably. The way they handled the first wave, for example, was influenced by the stakeholders: their customers, the distribution channel and their staff. When they broke it down, AIA took decisive and swift action to address all stakeholder concerns.

Nikhil begins by speaking of the staff, who were instantly concerned about their families and what would happen as the pandemic began last year, and how the organization was positioned to handle it. The first thing AIA did was shift everyone to a work-from-home (WFH) environment. They were in a perfect position to do so because every one of their employees had the necessary infrastructure to WFH. He noted that they have been prepared for a continuity event for a long time and that the systems and infrastructure were designed to support any such situation. 

He further reiterated AIA’s commitment to providing salaries, raises and bonuses on time, even ahead of schedule, so that their staff could effectively handle the lockdown. To AIA, it’s always about interacting with people and keeping them engaged, so the one thing that was compromised as a team was a sense of community since they couldn’t report to the same building, meet their friends, and socialize. As a result, there was a significant increase in online engagement, involving employees in various activities, such as celebrating Avurudu, engaging with family, storytelling, counselling, and helping them cope with stress. Beyond that, it’s about ensuring staff becoming digitally savvy and learning new ways of looking at the world and successfully adjusting to them. He claims they spent a large amount of money on online training to achieve this.

Regarding AIA’s distributors and agents, and how swiftly they reacted, Nikhil emphasized that they are the backbone of the company and were supported by additional incentives, loans and advance payments. “Having topped MDRT in Sri Lanka for the 06th straight year, I think it’s safe to say we have some of the best financial advisors in the industry” enthused Nikhil. AIA are also pioneers in Bancassurance in the industry and work with two of Sri Lanka’s top banks, namely DFCC and NDB to provide top notch insurance products to the bank’s customers. 

With regard to customers, AIA is constantly evolving to meet their needs, said Nikhil who highlighted AIA’s quick response to providing an end-to-end process for customers online as soon as the pandemic struck. He further brought up AIA’s unique ‘health and wellness solution’ which as he pointed out is a “comprehensive eco-system that caters to our customers’ health and wellness needs.” 

AIA partnered with Sri Lanka’s pioneer telemedicine provider oDoc to deliver free telemedicine to their priority and health customers even before the pandemic and so had the ability to immediately offer it to all customers as soon as the lockdown occurred. AIA was also first to market a covid cover, having negotiated with the reinsurers to allow coverage of the pandemic not only for themselves but for the entire industry. 

Nikhil also holds a special place in his heart for AIA’s CSR efforts that are intricately linked to helping people live healthier, longer, better lives. “In April last year, at the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, AIA pledged its support to help Sri Lanka fight Covid -19. Since then we have been proactively working towards this goal, be it through our social awareness campaigns, CSR or product offerings” noted Nikhil, adding that “AIA has and continues to donate to frontline hospitals fighting Covid 19.”

Another project he was most happy about was AIA’s partnership with the Sri Lanka Cancer Society (CANSOC). “As a company we are committed to fighting Non-Communicable Diseases in Sri Lanka which is a real issue in our country. In 2019 we partnered CANSOC to donate Rs. 100/- for every new policy we sell and have since continued the partnership, expanding it to work together to create awareness and educate Sri Lankans on cancer and related matters. Even at a time when the country was focusing on Covid 19, we didn’t give up on our commitment to CANSOC” he said, adding that “AIA’s commitment to the cause is steadfast.”

When asked what distinguishes AIA, Nikhil underlines quite a few things. Over the years, AIA has evolved into a purpose-driven organization. Apart from selling insurance and a relationship based on a tragic event such as death or a health issue, they increasingly establish themselves as an organization who can assist others in living a healthier, longer, and better life. Nikhil goes on to remark that this is where the company’s decision-making and thinking are focused on, catering to specific customer needs. During the product design process, they spend a lot of time researching before putting together the product’s structure and working with reinsurance to figure it out.

One example is Sri Lanka’s emphasis on traditional Ayurvedic medicine, which was included in their strategy long ahead of the industry. AIA viewed it as a trend and something significant to their consumers, so they went ahead and executed it. Another is telemedicine, which AIA realized a long time ago, based on their own experience and research, noting that customers dislike having to go to the hospital, sitting in the waiting room, and of course, having to contend with traffic which was a time-consuming process.

The strength of AIA is another distinguishing feature. According to Nikhil, most people don’t understand it, but insurance isn’t about addressing a need today, but rather fulfilling one in the future. “So it’s all about the insurance company’s financial strength in the long term and the capacity to pay claims at that time. AIA is significantly more demanding in this sense because they have the highest capital adequacy ratio to support maturities and claims regardless of economic conditions. ”

Nikhil adds that being a part of the 102-year-old company, AIA Group, one of the world’s largest life insurance companies, means that AIA has survived a wide range of global events. They are, nonetheless, still standing strong and tall. They have been appropriately managing their portfolio, which is the highest in the market, as a AA rated corporation worldwide (according to Fitch). 

AIA invests in high-quality corporate bonds, high-quality bank assets, and a significant portion of its funds are allocated to government securities. Of course, many other insurance companies do this, but the key is in how one does it, while maintaining a reasonably stable and steady foundation of returns. As a result, the consistency with which AIA pays rewards to its customers is quite significant. AIA consciously stays out of volatile stock markets and does not invest in lower quality bonds etc.

Last but not least, Nikhil emphasizes the importance of governance professionalism. The company’s robust governance is something AIA is quite proud of. The purpose of governance is to protect customers, employees, and agents. AIA group adheres to a set of standards, which are monitored and regulated. He says that the organization has a discipline when it comes to product development and expense control. That sets AIA apart from many other companies, even in terms of the level of governance they employ. As a result, AIA is designed to withstand adversity and will be exceptionally strong for its clients now and in the future.

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