"Companies that outperform their rivals are the ones which find the circumstances they want, and if they don't, strive to create them." Sitting in his sixth floor office, Ravishankar Subramanian, director IT and corporate services of the US$234 million ING Vysya Life Insurance, recalled the words of his superior at a previous organization. It made a lot more sense now.
In a highly-competitive industry that believes in the survival of the fittest, following the herd can mean death. Subramanian knows how competitive the insurance industry can be. It demands innovation -- innovation that can create the circumstances your organization needs.
But Subramanian knows he can't get there alone. Not when the business depends on a multitude of people -- people who don't cater exclusively to you. And, in insurance, those people form the very spine of the organization: the sales force.
These agents are the pivotal link between the company and its customers. In the insurance business, agents are not on company rolls. They work freelance, often for multiple insurance agencies. They are guerillas who work for the highest price. Insurance companies have learnt the hard way that keeping them satisfied is critical; give them a reason to sell your product over others. It all boils down to incentive schemes.
Incentives and loyalty are definitely two intimately associated issues.
"We need to keep the sales force energized by coming up with frequent incentive schemes, which need to be different. We can't have the same scheme running for a very long time otherwise they will lose interest. So, we need to come up with new schemes based on the company's objectives," says Subramanian.
Every insurance company has its own set of incentive schemes. These range from monetary incentives to club memberships and free trips.
The sales people need to be aware of the schemes well in advance, so that they know how much they need to achieve in the next week or two before the incentive scheme closes. The sales support team, who are directly employed by ING Vysya Life, need to communicate this information to the sales force. The sales support team also needs to monitor the working of the sales agents.
At ING Vysya Life, like most other insurance companies, this vital data was managed on Excel sheets -- a system the company used since its inception in 2001. Needless to say, this information was plagued by inaccuracy and a lack of transparency.
The sales support team had to answer frequent queries and address the grievances from the field force. They had to explain to the agents why they did not make it to a particular scheme.
"The problem was that as there was no proper communication throughout the process, at the end of the day when the payment was made the sales force wondered how the support team arrived at it. It was a very people hungry process. This would waste a lot of time of the sales support team," says Subramanian.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
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