Having graduated from the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor of Business Specialisation in Marketing & Management in 2010, Sasith Bambaradeniya began his career in the Insurance industry as a Management Trainee in the Marketing Department of AVIVA NDB, now known as AIA Insurance. Upon completing a thorough Management Trainee program, he moved onto become the Product Manager, overlooking the development and launch of a range of Health, Long Term and Short-Term Endowment Insurance Solutions.

“In 2015, I joined Union Assurance General as the Marketing Manager and by that time a majority of the company was owned by Fairfax Canada. From this point onwards the company acquired Asian Alliance General and the merger of both companies formed Fairfirst Insurance. This provided us with the golden opportunity to ideate, develop and launch a new brand identity in the local Insurance market.  Whilst spearheading this brand change, I also completed my MBA at the Post Graduate Institute of Management (PIM), University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

Thereon, my job scope expanded into developing e-commerce capabilities within the organization, which revolutionized the Insurance market by making Fairfirst the first and only Insurance company to offer an end-to-end e-commerce platform to purchase Insurance on the go. My span of 5 years at Fairfirst saw me to become the Head of Marketing and Digital Solutions, and at present I am a part of this amazing company in the capacity of Chief Marketing Officer overlooking brand building, communications, social media management, CSR and e-commerce. The successful delivery from all these avenues has featured us as one of the youngest brands to be placed in the Top 100 Brands in the Brand Finance Directory 2020.” 

Speaking of facing and overcoming challenges in the industry, Sasith explained, “In Sri Lanka, Technology and Insurance are two words that work in isolation. Despite the consumer behavior shifts other product and service categories have seen, when it comes to Insurance, consumers were still comfortable with the traditional agent-led Insurance channels. Buying Insurance online was nonexistent and complexities with regard to consumer onboarding remained unchanged. 

In this light, we were keen on exploring what works and doesn’t work for people, and so aimed for the unconventional approach in satisfying our customers’ needs by introducing “Insurance on the go”. Just as there are the offline customers, there are also online customers. These individuals have aspirational needs and are impatient to progress in life – be it in their personal or professional spaces. We also understand that people have an intrinsic value, which in this case, are their happiness and their interests. So, working towards making the Insurance buying process more seamless for our present and potential customers, we were the first stand-alone General Insurer to introduce a fully-fledged online platform for purchasing Insurance policies online.

The Fairfirst Online Shop has radically reduced the many stages customers have to go through to buy a policy. Through our Online Shop a customer can browse, customize and purchase a tailor-made Insurance policy within at least 5 minutes. Furthermore, we were the first to introduce the A’ La Carte Insurance concept through our Online Shop. In a restaurant A’ La Carte refers to the practice of ordering individual dishes from a menu, as opposed to settling in for a set menu. Fusing the two elements of Insurance and A’ La Carte is the Fairfirst Insurance Online Shop. Here, customers choose from a menu of Insurance solutions and decide what they want to go for and how much to pay for it. For instance, a policy can insure the buffer/back of the vehicle, windscreen/bonnet or just the sides of your vehicle (side mirrors and doors) etc. This empowers the consumer to decide what to buy, thus fitting their individual needs and budgets. The same concept has also been extended to most online product categories. Most importantly, the products offered through the Online Shop were especially designed to suit an e-commerce product isle ranging from motor and mobile screen to pet and lifestyle Insurance. Since the launch, the Online Shop has proven to be the fastest growing channel in the company.” 

On the topic of how Insurance Advisors can counter the negative impression that many of the general public have about them, Sasith first admitted, “It is undeniable that the Insurance industry brings numerous positive contributions to society. However, it is also undeniable that the industry suffers from a negative image in the public opinion.”

He went on to say, “In my view, malpractices associated with “some” cases aren’t an accurate representation of the intent or integrity of the Insurance industry. Just as it is with any industry, this is not a unique problem for the Insurance industry. The customers’ trust is not only dependent on the quality of the products’ design, but very importantly, on the sales forces’ level of integrity and professionalism when dealing with the public. In this regard, the industry has rolled out a number of initiatives to upskill the role of the Sales Agent. As a result, we notice that over the years, the role of the Sales Agent has started to gradually shift from a purely sales role towards a risk consultant’s role. 

On the same note, a continuous focus on training and development is crucial to upholding the image of Insurance Advisors. At Fairfirst, we have initiated a number of programs to groom our advisors to be empathetic, authentic and transparent in their career. Maintaining the consistent professionalism of our advisors invariably provides an overall improvement to the quality of advice offered to our customers, and this is done through frequent training, fair reward systems, the inclusion of their valuable thoughts and feedback in shaping the company, their voluntary engagement with other activities within the company and most importantly, ensuring that their wellbeing is made a priority. All these interests help to boost their morale and productivity in order to play a professional game on the field. At Fairfirst, promoting a culture of empathy, authenticity and transparency while treating others the same way you want to be treated is a mandatory practice.”

“Comprehending the needs of the community is vital to any business. However, it is important to start this process by clearly understanding and defining a problem.  At Fairfirst, we apply Design Thinking to create a design-led thinking culture combined with empathy that reinforces failing – but failing quickly and cheaply – and thereby learning quicker.

In essence, Design Thinking is a process that’s used to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test—it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown. For us, solving problems with a design-led approach in an empathetic manner defines the company’s human-centered core, which encourages us to focus on the people we’re creating for, which leads to better value driven products, services and internal processes, thus positioning our brand, as not the biggest, but the best Insurer. 

For instance, our belief in a design-led thinking culture has helped us understand that in the event of an accident, the notion of claim settlement is perceived as a lengthy process, which leaves a customer’s life suspended. Customers are advised to contact the Call Centre and wait until an assessor arrives at the accident site to process the claim, thus making the experience time consuming and strenuous for the claimant.

This understanding then brought about the introduction to an innovation – which was an industry first – Click2Claim (C2C).  A product that offered quick, reliable and consistent service to our policyholders. This innovation set new standards in the market and redefined the whole claim settlement process by completely eliminating the time wasted at the accident site waiting for an agent to assess the damage. Further, it fast tracked the claim settlement process by providing instant claims.

Having a product that redefined the local industry was not yet a benchmark for us. With the intention of making good things better, we reached out to our consumers again to understand the pain points of the first project and introduced a refined version, Click2Claim Version 2. Based on the built-in video calling ability it provides a speedy and hassle-free claim solution, including fast tracking of claim assessments and also the ability to pay the settlement in full in less than 5 minutes, all in real-time. The importance of our capability not only made life easier for our customers, but we also gained their trust and appreciation”, replied Sasith when questioned about the vitality of the role of Need Analysis in the Marketing sector of the Insurance industry.

According to the CMO, the two key marketing trends that will shape the future of the Sri Lankan Insurance industry are –

  1. Insight Driven Marketing 

This approach helps us promote empathy-based marketing through the collection and analysis of data. Deriving insights from our customers is how we are able to market products and services suitable to their needs and lifestyles. Whilst there are many means to gather and evaluate such data; the following are some of the processes we’ve taken:

We understand that society, including all our stakeholders such as our employees, suppliers, shareholders, competitors, media and community members are going through a phase of change. We also understand that in order to meaningfully engage with them it is crucial to identify their journey and the respective phases they’re going through. We employed the Kubler Ross model for this purpose.

The implementation of the Kubler Ross Model helped us identify and understand how our stakeholders are dealing with change. This then led to us crafting communication amidst a negative environment with sensible communications that are relatable and engaging. 

Flexibility and personalization are the key words for any customer to feel at home. Insight driven marketing will help Insurers to move away from cookie cutter solutions and craft usage-based Insurance that provide freedom of choice and affordability. 

By embracing a Design-Thinking stance we are able to design new ways to improve performance.  

The core of a Design Thinking culture revolves around data and insight collection, and interpretation.  Using such techniques, we are able to innovate and develop products and services that offer quick, reliable and consistent service to our policyholders. This is not limited to product development. It extends to the way we work and view ourselves. We apply our design-led thinking to our teams and internal processes, augmenting different components to better deliver value to customers. If something can be taken to the next level then it must be done with empathy.

  1. Conversational marketing

Conversational marketing was highlighted as a key innovation in the latest Gartner Hype Cycle alongside Artificial Intelligence, which often fuels it.  Conversational marketing is the fastest way to move buyers through marketing and sales funnels through the power of real-time conversations. It builds relationships and creates authentic experiences with customers and buyers.

Instead of old-school marketing where you push advertisements or sales pitches in someone’s face, conversational marketing is about creating availability to communicate with prospects when they’re ready to talk.