For almost six months, Usha Sangwan presided practically alone over an empire almost twice the size of Reliance Industries. The behemoth Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India had revenues of Rs 4.92 lakh crore in 2016/17, against RIL's Rs 2.65 lakh crore. With assets of over Rs 25 lakh crore and 280 million customers, LIC is usually run by four managing directors. But two vacancies were not filled for a long time, while the third MD, V.K. Sharma, was promoted as chairman, leaving Sangwan as the sole functioning MD. It must have been an impossibly demanding period, but Sangwan shrugs off any such suggestion. "It was a very enriching phase for me," she says. (Finally, in February and April this year, three more MDs were also appointed.)
Sangwan can take pride from LIC's performance in 2016/17 when she ran it as sole MD: new business (first time premiums) increased at 27 per cent, higher than the industry average; market share rose from 70 to 71 per cent despite intense competition from the slew of private insurers; while the claim settlement ratio was one of the best ever at 99.6 per cent. It was perhaps due to her unrelenting drive towards greater digitisation and increased use of technology.
Sangwan is in direct charge of a new department LIC has set up to drive this objective - Mission Office for Digital India. The Office has already rolled out five products from Unified Payments Interface (UPI)-enabled payments to Jeevan Pramaan, a biometric initiative to enable hassle-free annuity payments. "We have teams working on artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics," she says.
The public sector giant is also using data analytics for business strategy, cross-selling and more. Sangwan has helped start an SMS-based helpline for customer queries, which has led to a sharp fall in the number of customer grievances LIC has to deal with. Agents are being empowered, with an agent assisted online model of buying insurance in the offing. A mentoring programme for 60,000 of them is also planned. "I'm studying blockchain with a lot of interest," she adds. "Blockchain can make a major difference to our industry."