Surviving and Thriving in Times of Crisis – Sanjaya Attanayake

A former Anandian and professional cricketer, Sanjaya Attanayake, the current Head of Corporate and Personal Lines at LOLC General Insurance, began his career in Insurance as an Underwriting Executive at Union Assurance General in 1992. 

“With my sporting background I received quite a few job offers from the mercantile sector just after school. The Mercantile Cricket Tournament was extremely popular at that time and many firms tried to get school leavers into their teams by offering job opportunities.

Since my dream was to represent Sri Lanka on the cricket pitch, I selected Union Assurance General since many popular national cricketers including Arjuna Ranatunga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Upul Chanada and Chandika Hathurisinghe worked there.”

Whilst pursuing his cricketing dreams, Sanjaya worked his way up the hierarchy of Union Assurance. Following the 2015 acquisition of Union Assurance by Fairfax Financial Holdings and the later merger with Asian Alliance, which led to the creation of Fairfirst Insurance, Sanjaya was appointed as National Head of Key Account Management, overlooking 225 permanent sales teams, 55 Branch Heads and 6 Zonal Managers. 

In September 2019, after 27 years at Union Assurance and Fairfirst Insurance, Sanjaya joined LOLC. 

Speaking from experience about the vital characteristics of a successful Insurance Advisor, Sanjaya said, “There can be many identifiable traits in a successful Insurance Advisor. These are widely viewed as core competencies, which make up a successful marketer. However, the following characteristics are deemed very critical in an Insurance Advisor who can create valuable prospects for the organization.”

He also went on to list,

Excellent listener –

It really doesn’t matter what you offer if you don’t have the patience to listen carefully to your client. Listening is not hearing and it is done with a purpose. The main objective is to analyze what a customer really needs. As an Insurance Advisor, you should always look for a solution rather than just offer an Insurance policy. This makes the decision not only comfortable but also brings peace of mind to the customer with each cent spent. By doing this you create a lifelong relationship with the customer and instead of just a client for a year.

Commitment and passion –

These characteristics are the ingredients of a successful person whether it is in selling or in life. The opposite of passion is stress. Thus, to build a satisfying career you need passion for what you do. Insurance is a trust-based business and relies purely on service marketing. Due to the nature of the product, the real service comes into play when the client is in an unexpected situation (claim). Delivering on your promise is the key to success. It is not just the Advisor’s task to provide the necessary services. The entire company’s support services should align in the same direction to deliver it. Therefore, the ability to build trust among the internal customers is also very important to succeed in this business.   

Product knowledge –

Knowing your product in depth is a way of building confidence in the eyes of the customer. This is not limited to one’s own product, but includes the competitor’s offerings as well. Knowing your product as well as that of your competitors will give an Advisor a better chance of influencing potential clients. Product knowledge can even build/enhance the image and credibility of the Advisor and the organization. It is simply about doing things knowingly. 

Describing how import controls have impacted the Insurance industry, Sanjaya explained, “A country like Sri Lanka relies heavily on imports rather than exports. If you take the Insurance industry, it’s mainly driven by the Motor Insurance segment. Thus, the restrictions on vehicle imports hinders the growth prospects of the increasing population. Thereby, all Insurance companies have to fight for the same pie, resulting in reducing rates with the risks remaining the same. This competition among Insurers is not healthy and can severely impact their bottom line. Sri Lanka has been dependent on imports for various essential and non-essential items in the past. The impact of the Covid pandemic along with a curb in imports, impacts the whole economic cycle where port usage, transportation, clearing etc. have drastically reduced.

These can be in the face of either threat or opportunity. What is crucial is assessing these environments on a regular basis, planning and executing initiatives, and monitoring the progress. 

Implications –

  • Import Marine Insurance will be negatively impacted, especially with regards to finished products.
  • The Marine Insurance sector’s GWP is expected to decrease.
  • Export marine will be in demand since the economy is shifting towards an export-based economy.
  • General Insurance/ including projects, fire, personnel accidents will boom
  • Risks will be greater with the economies shifting towards industrialization and digitalization. Opportunities for newer insurance schemes/policies.

However, it is important that the new government looks at the implications of this ban, which can negatively impact many sectors including Insurance. General Insurance is one of the main revenue contributors to the government and thus, it is in the best interest of the country that these regulations are reviewed.”

“For the first time, General Insurance has decreased (-5%). Many leading companies recorded a (-) or a zero growth by the 2nd quarter of 2020, obviously because of the prevailing sluggish economic conditions. The current General Insurance sector is very competitive. It is very costly to bring in new clients in this environment. Small players are worried about their top line rather than concentrating on the bottom line of the company. This has led to very unhealthy competition within the industry.

LOLC has done well with a double-digit growth of 11% and registered the highest growth in the industry, even without a medical portfolio. Also, we have moved to the 5th position in terms of GWP from among the Insurance companies of Sri Lanka. LOLC Insurance is mainly a bottom-line driven company with a clear focus on top-line as well. LOLC has become the most powerful and profitable business conglomerate in the country with diversified local and international interest. It has even provided much needed strength to both General and Life Insurance companies in terms of financial backing, network and synergies across the group.

Innovation is of paramount importance when it comes to developing this market, as new product initiatives need to be driven along with service. Also, the implementation of cash before cover for Motor Insurance, which has been requested by many companies is a good option that is mutually beneficial to Insurance companies and their clients”, replied Sanjaya, when questioned about the current status of the General Insurance sector and how it could be further developed.

On the topic of the major steps necessary in ensuring that Insurance agencies can adapt to the changing trends and needs of their potential customers, Sanjaya stated, “The first step is technology and digitalization. If you can get your Insurance proposal through to the Insurance provider and have your claims submitted electronically without having to walk to a branch, pay your premiums and make bargains online, it would be super time efficient. Social distancing is being practiced by many countries including Sri Lanka in order to restrict the community spread of COVID-19. During this time the Insurance companies that adapt to new technologies successfully, tackled the situation by delivering services focused on convenience. (E proposals, E polices, Claim Handling, Online Payments Gateways, Etc.) Some of these initiatives are already activated by LOLC General Insurance. The new generation is fond of technology and the use of smartphones is becoming increasingly popular. Companies can capitalize on this in order to reach out to this segment if the proper infrastructure is in place. 

The second step is competitive offerings. The term competitive offer does not simply mean price cuts. It is centered around value additions. These value additions can be turned in to USP. Premium reductions are only one way of doing it, as is additional coverage for the same price. Some examples of value additions are – loyalty offers, risk inspections, safety awareness programs, campaigns and additional Insurance offers like critical illness cover coupled with motor policies.

The third step is higher service standards. Insurance depends on trust. When promises are made to customers, it is of paramount importance to deliver on such promises at the time of a claim. For example, an Advisor who closes a deal is not solely responsible for providing the best customer service. All the staff members including the security guard, call center agent, peon and clerical staff members, even senior managers in the firm are responsible for achieving service excellence. So, each one of them is accountable, and must be very clear and keen about their contributions to the goal as a whole.” 

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