The Life and Times of an Insurance Professional

Hashra Weerawardena – General Manager of Life Operations at Janashakthi Insurance

Qualified as an Attorney at Law from the Sri Lanka Law College, a Chartered Marketer and a Chartered Insurer, the General Manager of Life Operations at Janashakthi Insurance, Hashra Weerawardena’s career journey began when he glimpsed a notice in front of his school office, which announced that Aitken Spence Travels was seeking executive trainees. A few years after taking up the position of Executive Trainee at Aitken Spence travels, Hashra left the company in order to pursue his higher education at the University of Colombo. 

“During this time, I also studied Marketing at CIM (UK), and by the time I was in my final year of university, I had decided to apply for the law entrance exam and had been accepted into law college by the time I graduated from university with a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Colombo. Soon thereafter, I joined Eagle Insurance (presently AIA) a multinational company at that time and was appointed as an Assistant Manager in the Life Insurance Division, during this time I qualified as a full member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and was conferred the title Chartered Marketer by CIM (UK). I was promoted to Manager a few years later, and upon qualifying as an Attorney at Law from the Sri Lanka Law College, left the corporate sector to study law full time.”

The road ahead had its twists and bends, but Hashra adapted and succeeded in finding the silver lining behind the cloud that brought about the end of his career as a Lawyer. “After being called to the Bar in 2000, with almost 10 years of full-time study behind me, personal family commitments prevented me from practicing law full time. I joined NDB as a Banking Executive, however I received a call from my former General Manager at Eagle Insurance, inviting me to join a brand-new Sri Lankan insurance firm that was trying to penetrate the highly competitive insurance market. I could not resist his call, and decided to leave NDB and join Asian Alliance Insurance PLC as a Manager in the Life Division. At Asian Alliance, I was entrusted with performing several diversified tasks from time to time, some of them being; Life Sales, Regional Management for Business Development, Training and Development, Marketing, Human Resources, Administration, Legal and Compliance, etc. Within a span of 10 years, I rose steadily through the ranks and ultimately resigned as the Deputy General Manager – Corporate Operations. In 2014, I joined Janashakthi Insurance PLC as the General Manager – Life Sales and Operations. During this period, I completed studying for my technical insurance qualifications from the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII – UK) and my Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Colombo, and by the time I joined Janashakthi Insurance I was a fully qualified Chartered Insurer.” 

Expressing his opinion of Insurance as a career industry, Hashra explained, “The Insurance industry is a great place to start and develop a career. The Insurance industry offers an enormous amount of opportunities to someone who likes to work with people, analyze numbers, be challenged, work in a fast-paced environment, utilize the latest technologies to improve skills, do something new each day, and make a difference. Today, everyone is looking for nine-hour jobs, but some exceptional people like to boost their career in other ways. They like to face challenges and win.” 

According to the respected Insurer, “The industry growth is on an upsurge. The opportunities are increasing day by day for people with strong people skills and selling skills. In the insurance field, the opportunities can be endless, especially for those looking to climb the ladder of success. Even agents with minimal experience can start off by achieving financial success with unlimited earning potential. There is a small number of barriers when it comes to entering the Insurance industry. A college degree is not often preferred, though it is a definite advantage, when it comes to working for many insurance firms in a managerial capacity. Additionally, prior experience is not required, unlike other jobs within the same pay range. The Insurance industry is growing. In fact, according to reports, the number of insurance sales vacancies are expected to grow up to 9% by 2024. This is because insurance is used everywhere. People are always going to need it, and there are always going to be risks. It provides jobs, supports disaster recovery, and benefits businesses, workers and communities. While many jobs have the underlying fear of advanced technology taking over, a computer can’t provide the type of personalized interaction or help that is required from an insurance professional. Insurance is a profitable industry, so there is a good salary to be had. There is also security in insurance, and it is unique in the fact that it can offer exceptional benefits to both the employees and agents in the industry.” 

Describing his role in the IASL, the former Chairman of the MSF stated, “The Insurance Association of Sri Lanka consists of all the insurance companies in Sri Lanka and was formed as an association of member companies to further the interest of both the Non-Life and Life Insurance industries. The Marketing and Sales Forum (MSF), a vital sub-committee of the IASL, as the name implies looks into matters pertaining to the sale and marketing of insurance products in the country. Equally important is the role that the MSF plays in growing the insurance market in the country, by educating the general public on the importance of insurance. In this regard, the MSF carries out various activities conducted collectively with the collaboration of all industry players. During my tenure as the Chairman of the MSF, I was able to achieve two very significant milestones for the industry; firstly working with the Insurance Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka to have the Government of Sri Lanka declare the 1st of September as National Insurance Day, and secondly, working with the Postal Department to have a commemorative stamp and 1st day cover issued to coincide with the National Insurance Day. The MSF launched a National Life Insurance Sales Competition to create healthy competition amongst life insurance agents and to provide a national level platform for the recognition of insurance advisors during this period as well. Also, I have held the positions of Chairman of the Legal Advisory Forum of the IASL and committee member of the HR subcommittee, prior to being appointed Chairman of the MSF.” 

Hashra lists the 3 common characteristics of a successful insurance advisor as, 

  • “Strong people skills and selling skills. You need to handle objection and rejection from potential customers, but never lose your positive attitude 
  •  Be bold, face challenges and win. You must have the need to do something new each day, and make a difference in the lives of others 
  •  A need for unlimited earning. Have dreams and goals in life, and the drive to achieve them.”

On the topic of the rising pressures in the current operating environment and the manner in which these will reflect on the Insurance industry, Hashra said, “The Life Insurance industry has still not carved out their own identity in the savings category. It tries to compete as a substitute to a long tenor fixed deposit. Hence, the industry is battling it out with banks for the same pie. In a society where healthcare is free of charge and the life expectancy is 80+, the Insurance industry has the potential for growth in these health-related markets. Even though the potential for a great career is there, due to a poor reputation among millennials, as a dynamic industry it fails to attract the top tier to its fold. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about its own issues to the Life Insurance industry, some of which are positive and others negative. A significant reduction in claims was brought on by the current situation, especially where it’s medical and hospitalization related, even though it’s generally the other way round. A high number of healthcare claims were experienced during March and April. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical claims recorded significant reductions during the first half of 2020. As the WFH initiative continues, it is likely that cost savings will continue for the rest of the year. However, the gradual increase in claims due to the easing of lock-down measures is possible. A second COVID-19 wave will reduce the renewal collection of the insurance policies and the gross written premium (GWP) might reduce further than envisaged.”

“As a responsible Insurer, Janashakthi came forward to cover all its policyholders with protection for COVID-19 related medical expenses and benefits. In this process, Janashakthi honors any life claim with regard to COVID-19 for its existing and new policyholders. Other than that, the customers will be covered for medical expenses related to COVID-19 related medication in government approved medical facilities. In order to communicate better and ease the claim process for any customer faced with an emergency, Janashakthi strengthened its call center operations and adopted a simplified claim process. These were extensively communicated to the customers via television and social media platforms. Further, in providing convenience to its policyholders for premium payments, Janashakthi enhanced its online payment options by tying up with banks, e-commerce and digital payment platforms. Further in line with the country’s situation and the difficulties faced by the customers, a grace period of 3 months was put into place for the payment of premiums. Utilizing its extensive branch network, Janashakthi reached out to its valued customers using technology and our ground staff, in order to create awareness regarding preventive measures in terms of safeguarding themselves against the COVID–19 threat.  As a socially responsible insurer, Janashakthi distributed essential food items to selected customers in areas, which were heavily affected during these times”, responded Hashra, when asked about the steps taken by Janashakthi Insurance to aid those of its customers who have been affected by COVID-19.

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