The Now and Tomorrow of Life Insurance – Lasitha Wimalaratne

With over two decades worth of experience in the Life Insurance sector under his belt, Lasitha Wimalaratne, the Chief Operating Officer and Principal Officer of HNB Assurance has come a long way in his career journey since the day he went through the rainbow pages in search of companies to which he could send his resume. 

“Having completed my studies at Mahinda College – Galle in the stream of Bio-science, I faced my very first job interview at the age of 20. I began my career at Union Assurance as an Insurance Assistant attached to the Life Servicing Department. I was then promoted, and by the time I left I held the position of an Executive. Whilst working at Union Assurance, I authored the very first Sinhalese book on Life Insurance. The book was titled ‘Jeewitha Rakshanaye Asiriya’ (The Beauty of Life Insurance), and it was one of the crucial points in establishing myself in the industry. I served Union Assurance for 6 years prior to moving to London to pursue my higher studies. Having completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Studies from the University of Sunderland and gained an MBA from the University of Wales, I subsequently completed an Associateship of Chartered Insurance (ACII) and obtained the status of a Chartered Insurer. I also earned a Fellow Membership of the Chartered Insurance Institute (FCII) and a Fellow Membership of the Australia and New Zealand Institute of Finance as well as an Associate Membership of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (ACIM). 

Following my return to Sri Lanka, I joined Eagle Insurance (presently known as AIA Insurance) in 2007 as a Technical Manager and was then promoted to Senior Manager in 2013. After gaining 7 years of multinational exposure at AIA, I joined Softlogic Life in 2014 as Assistant General Manager/Head of Life Operations to take on more responsibility and more challenges. During my five-year tenure at Softlogic Life, I was promoted to General Manager – Life Operations and contributed to building a legacy. I was able to contribute towards the setting of many benchmarks in the industry, including the development of a 2 Bn rupee Alternate Sales Channel in just two years.”

Having joined HNB Assurance in 2019 as Deputy Chief Operating Officer, overlooking the operation and sales functions, Lasitha was promoted as Chief Operating Officer and Principal Officer of the Life Insurance business. He is the current President of the Sri Lanka Insurance Institute (SLII), a Council Member of the Association of Chartered Insurance Professionals (ACIP) of Sri Lanka and was the Founder Secretary General of the ACIP Sri Lanka. During the course of his career journey, Lasitha received many opportunities to share his knowledge and expertise as an Insurance professional at local and international forums including the Insurance Claims & Underwriting Management Asia Summit in 2017, which was held in Singapore.

Speaking of the current status of the Life Insurance sector of Sri Lanka, Lasitha said, “In 2019, the total Gross Written Premium of the Sri Lankan Life Insurance sector was worth close to 90 Billion rupees with 15 players. The current Life Insurance penetration is at 0.5% of the total GDP income of the country. On a head count basis almost 12% of the population have a Life Insurance policy. 

Though the market penetration is still extremely low, we expect an exponential growth along with an increase in per capita income. Research has found that when the per capita income reaches USD 6000 per year it is expected that the Life Insurance industry will double in size. This is what has happened in most of the other parts of the world. Hence, we can see that there is huge potential in the industry and as result, you can witness large international firms that have already entered the market, and I expect a few more to join our industry as they have seen the potential of the market.”

Identifying the biggest challenges faced by the Life Insurance Advisors, Lasitha explained, “The number one challenge is gaining the acceptance of the society. The role of the Insurance Advisor is one of the unique professions in the developed markets. Yet in Sri Lanka the majority of the general population has not identified the true value of the Life Insurance mechanism. As a result, they view buying an Insurance policy merely as a favor to the salesperson. Hence, we can see almost 50% of new products lapse eventually. The second biggest challenge is the disposable income level of the mass-market segment. Hence, the industry is predominantly centered around the affluent masses and the real challenge is to take it to the general masses where we can generate higher business volumes.” 

On the topic of the impact of the prevailing pandemic upon the Life Insurance sector and HNB Assurance’s way forward, the COO stated, “The Life Insurance sector did suffer a severe blow beginning from March for a period of three months and from June onwards it seems to be picking up.  At present, the business flow is almost normal and more importantly, as a result of the pandemic people have realized the importance of Life and Health Insurance more so than ever before. On the other hand, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has declared the Insurance sector as an essential service. Hence, I would say that the Life Insurance sector especially, has gained an advantage out of the current situation.  

As a company, HNB Assurance managed to pay all Covid related claims to our valuable policyholders and we will continue to do so into the future. Because as the most trusted Life Insurer in the market, we always strive to safeguard the interests of our customers as our number one priority. Focusing on the present situation, our company has taken steps to improve the health product suite as a means of providing world-class health benefits to the Sri Lankan population.”

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