Max Life Insurance’s Rahul Talwar on Axis Group’s investment in the company besides its marketing strategies for LGBTQIA+ community

In FY24, our distribution mix was composed of 40% through the proprietary channel, 58% through the bancassurance channel, and two percent through other channels

By aligning with one of India's largest private banks, we anticipate synergies that will enhance our capabilities as one of the country's leading private life insurers.
By aligning with one of India's largest private banks, we anticipate synergies that will enhance our capabilities as one of the country's leading private life insurers. (Image credits: Max Life)

Life insurance serves a critical role in providing financial security during uncertain times. Sold through both government and private players, insurance products are created to typically meet diverse individual needs. Beyond traditional demographics, one significant and often overlooked community is the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual+) population. A report by Max Life Insurance in collaboration with Kantar highlights that this community constitutes approximately 10% of India’s population, which accounts for 135 million people. In response to this community’s financial challenges, Max Life has launched tailored campaigns and insurance plans aimed at providing essential financial protection. 

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Life insurance is among the most common types of insurance in India, with substantial growth over the years, valued at close to $100 billion in terms of written premiums, as per the market research firm Statista. In a conversation with BrandWagon Online, Rahul Talwar, CMO, Max Life Insurance, talks about the company’s marketing plans to target LGBTQIA+ community, the influence of Axis Group’s up stake in the company, and its marketing split among others. (Edited Excerpts)

What is your marketing strategy?  How has it evolved over the past decade in the insurance industry

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Our entire strategy is anchored in three specific pillars. The first pillar is moving away from the age-old, negative, fear-based narrative traditionally associated with life insurance. Instead of focusing on fear and eventualities, we have shifted to positive conversations. We recognise that India is an aspirational and young economy. Therefore, under the Max Life Insurance brand, we emphasise life expansion and the positive aspects of life insurance.

The second pillar of our marketing strategy is building differentiation and thought leadership through proprietary assets. For example, in this sector, we don’t just view claims paid ratio as a number. We communicate its importance through an emotional lens, branding it as ‘India ke Bharose ka Number.’ Additionally, we focus on customer obsession by creating ecosystems that foster thought leadership around financial protection, health, and retirement. Our platforms, such as the India Protection Quotient and the Indian Retirement Index Study, feature collaboration with research partners like Kantar, PR partners for editorial content, and media partners to disseminate these messages.

The third pillar is inclusivity and broadening the definition of breadwinners. Historically, marketing focused on the male breadwinner. We have shifted to include women in financial decision-making, Gen Z, and even the LGBTQIA+ community. Our goal is to ensure that insurance and financial protection are accessible to all, reflecting our commitment to inclusivity and progressive values.

Over the last few years, our marketing strategy has been centred on celebrating our customers and the value of customer obsession, anchored around these three pillars.

How does your product category and approach cater to both B2B and B2C customers?

Our entire category has a balance between B2B and B2C. This is because the larger category has a significant play with an assisted sales model, where we have our sellers, and bank sellers, besides we also interact directly with our customers. Customers also come directly to manufacturers through the digital gateway. For us, it is essential to ensure that we are present across all touchpoints and screens, engaging with our current and potential future customers. For our product and market strategies, we follow a motto that I call the #ABCDE. This stands for brand conversations, customers, distributors, and employees.

The motto of #ABCDE aims to capture the essence of both the B2B and B2C aspects of this industry. At Max Life Insurance, we aim to create simple journeys for our customers. Our product portfolio is designed to help customers become more self-aware about their life insurance needs, leading them to self-realisation and self-action.

Our products are available across various categories, whether protection plans, savings plans, retirement plans, or market-linked insurance plans. The idea is to guide our customers towards the right kind of financial protection. Ultimately, our core purpose is to offer the right financial protection to our customers through a balanced life insurance portfolio.

Given the current economic environment, how do you adapt your pricing structure and strategy to stay competitive in the market?

Fundamentally, Max Life operates with a balanced product portfolio across various categories. Given our diverse channel play, we maintain a robust and active pricing mechanism. We understand our strengths and relative competitive advantages, and we have clear aspirations for our market positioning across different categories.

For instance, on aggregator platforms such as PolicyBazaar, where customers interact directly, Max Life is one of the most competitive brands. Our pricing strategy is informed by our brand strength and an important metric called the claims pay ratio, which is crucial in our industry. By leveraging multiple data points, we ensure that we operate at optimal pricing levels, making Max Life one of the best-performing brands in the market. This approach helps us stay highly competitive.

Can you break down the percentage of sales attributed to each distribution channel, specifically agents, brokers, bancassurance, and digital platforms?

In FY24, our distribution mix was composed of 40% through the proprietary channel, 58% through the bancassurance channel, and two percent through other channels. Our proprietary channels saw a  22% year-over-year growth. Our e-commerce channel excelled, ranking second for the year and claiming the top spot in Q4 FY24, a 55% year-over-year growth. Despite the high base impact of over five lakh ticket size sales in March 2023, the agency channel also achieved an eight percent  growth.

Bancassurance channels saw new business premiums (APE- Annual premium equivalent) grow by 12% to Rs 4,340 crore in FY24, while emerging channels at Axis experienced 76% year-over-year growth. Max Life secured 45 new partnerships in FY24, including 17 in Q4 alone, which comprised five banks, six chartered accountants, 12 online and offline brokers, 20 group credit life businesses (GCLs), and two other partners. The group credit life business (GCL) soared by 66% to Rs 387 crore in Q4 and 59% year-over-year to Rs 1,136 crore in FY24.

What is your marketing plan for targeting the LGBTQIA+ community, and how significant is this community in your overall strategy?

Regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, we have a thought leadership platform called ‘India Protection Quotient’. Now in its sixth edition, this platform has, over the past six years, worked with Kantar to provide robust, research-backed content and insights on how respondents feel about life insurance and financial protection, specifically term insurance, which we consider the purest form of life insurance.

In our sixth edition, themed ‘Financial protection for all,’ we extended our research and the India Protection Quotient platform to include the LGBTQIA+ community. Recognising that this community makes up approximately 10% of India’s population, Max Life Insurance aims to amplify its voice regarding financial protection.

Our research revealed a 17-point gap in feelings of financial security between the LGBTQIA+ community and the general population. Additionally, over 80% of respondents from this community listed their parents as nominees in their life insurance policies, in stark contrast to the general population, where only 15-25% listed parents, with most nominating partners or children.

We also found that this community demonstrated exceptional awareness of life insurance products. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the insurance industry and brands like Max Life Insurance to ensure that we make this community feel more included in our plans and strategies.

What do you think about digital versus traditional marketing mediums in the life insurance market? Which one brings the maximum ROI?

If we look at any brand or here at Max Life Insurance, our marketing strategies and deployments are tailored to where the viewer is. The viewer is no longer limited to a single screen, as was the case traditionally. Today, viewers consume content across multiple screens. Thus, it is incumbent upon Max Life Insurance and similar brands to tailor both our creative strategies and media deployments to meet viewers where they are.

Our deployments are increasingly moving towards digital. Currently, our offline-to-online approach is roughly a two-thirds to one-third split. In terms of ROI, thanks to the world of online media, even traditional media sources have become more measurable and targeted. This measurability is applied equally to both offline and online media, ensuring that our deployments are optimised to achieve maximum ROI.

This phenomenon is seen across most players in the industry, both in life insurance and beyond. Additionally, we have been pioneers in adopting connected television (CTV), ensuring a strong presence in this new-age medium. This strategy adds incremental reach to our otherwise linear television plans.

What is your market share in the life insurance market in India?

We are operate  in the top tier when it comes to the private life insurance space. We finished last year at rank five, and that was for the full year. Currently, we are in the first quarter, and we aspire to be one of the top-tier players in the private space. Importantly, we have been one of the top-tier growing players in the life insurance sector. In terms of growth, Max Life Insurance is undoubtedly a leading player driving growth in the category.

Since Axis Group increased its stake in Max Life Insurance to 19.99%, how does this reflect on the company’s business?

The completion of this transaction represents a significant milestone that is expected to strengthen Max Life’s position and facilitate a new growth trajectory for us. By aligning with one of India’s largest private banks, we anticipate synergies that will enhance our capabilities as one of the country’s leading private life insurers. This partnership with Axis Bank builds upon a decade-long association, leveraging its expertise in customer insights, distribution, and operational efficiencies to benefit our business.

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First published on: 03-07-2024 at 08:00 IST