Rohit Nambiar: The Face of Axa Affin

New Tech In An Old Industry

Rohit Chandrasekharan Nambiar, CEO of AXA AFFIN Life Insurance

Our editorial team navigated through the twisted and congested KL city streets on a typical sunny Malaysian afternoon, and after much ado managed to arrive at Menara Chulan, where the AXA AFFIN Life Insurance Headquarters are located. Our host and interviewee for the day, Mr Rohit, greeted us with a warm smile and a personal office tour.

The office adopts an open working environment concept and the common area was crowded with people working side by side on extremely long desks. We were hoping to visit Mr Rohit’s private room behind one of the glass panels outlining the common area, but we were ushered to a plain desk space right smack in the middle of the busy working environment. “Welcome to my office!” Rohit said with a smile. We were astonished. “This is…your office?” we asked.

“I do not particularly appreciate working alone away from everyone else, so I moved in together with them.” Rohit justified. “The higher you climb, the bigger your cubicle. But at theend of the day, it is still a cubicle.” This is Mr Rohit Chandrasekharan Nambiar, CEO of AXA AFFIN Life Insurance, and beside his desk, perhaps the company’s unluckiest employee.

Digi Digital Day

Insurance is boring, yes, but it’s also a necessity whose benefits you’ll only see when you truly need it. This century-old practice is important to our everyday lives, and arguably one of the major pillars that modern society is built upon. Complicated payout structures, policy variance, eligibility requirements, mountains of paperwork has made insurance unapproachable, non-user friendly and frankly, unnecessarily cumbersome. But Mr Rohit somehow made the subject exciting and interesting, and more importantly, easily digestible for common folks like you and me.

The Journey

As it turns out, Mr Rohit is one of the youngest CEOs in the insurance company sector here in Malaysia. He embraces the millennial mindset, and uses it to his advantage to come up with new and interesting ideas. More importantly, he is true to himself, and he is not afraid of voicing out his thoughts to others.

“I have been working for AXA for 15 years now. I have been transferred to 5 different
countries and have taken up 11 different roles throughout my time in the company. I started out as an Analyst in India, and slowly worked my way through the ranks in United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong and now finally, in Malaysia.

This is by no means a life plan that I set out, or anything grandiose like that. Like most people, I have always thought insurance as the most boring thing imaginable. I used to work in a public relations firm, and I have always wanted to work in the creative advertising industry. Then I stumbled upon an analyst job which came up in AXA. It was then, that I realized it’s a fantastic profession to be in.

Insurance is a strong calling for me. There are only very few professions in the world that can proudly say without a doubt, that their work has truly helped people in desperate need. To those young people who think insurance is boring, I urge them to work with me for three months. I’m confident that I can change their minds.” says Rohit.

Started in 2006, AXA AFFIN Life Insurance is actually the youngest insurance company in Malaysia. From the name itself, we know that AXA AFFIN is a joint venture between AXA Insurance and Affin Bank. Affin Bank opens the door to the local market by providing network and reach, while AXA provides the expertise and experience in insurance.

An Industry Overview

Insurance has always been a pen-and-paper service. Yes, in recent years, we have digitised a significant part of our daily processes. However, it is not clear how digital integration will ‘revolutionise’ the industry. What can AXA AFFIN do that other industry players cannot?

“The insurance industry is on the verge of a major disruption. It has remained dormant and stagnant for way too long. Our policies and pricing structure have become too overly complicated for the common man to understand. Our current system heavily favours the traditional models of distribution, making the premiums unnecessarily expensive.

Different consumers require different propositions. When it comes to insurance, there is no such thing as a one size fit all solution. Traditional agencies generally target large families, married couples with children, people who owns property and cars, the people who can afford to pay for insurance in the first place. To me, that market is already saturated and it is hard to differentiate ourselves from the crowd. But, there are many neglected socio-economic groups that desperately need protection as well. According to our surveys, the B40 group and millennials are heavily under-penetrated, and these are the sectors that we are aiming to help.

Our goal right now is to simplify our product, our business proposition and communication framework, to finally make insurance accessible for everyone. We need to take complicated matters out of the picture and focus on the main reason insurance exists – which is to provide protection.

The Solution

The three problems consumers have with the current system can be summarized as such:

  1. It is too expensive
  2. It is too complex
  3. It takes up too much time

The team behind AXA AFFIN took these problems to heart and created an online health insurance distribution platform with AXA eMedic – the first-in-the-market online Medical Card. This step will significantly reduce operating costs, and in turn reduce the prices of the policies offered to one fifth of the original price.

Initial trials show that registration and applying for insurance online do not take more than 5 minutes. Policies and medical cards info are stored in an app called myHealth Portal and can be accessed anywhere by the policyholder. Insurance claims can also be submitted via the app as well. We have a live chat support system called “Ask Michelle” that helps the customer navigate through the purchasing process or any other related enquiries.

“With the traditional system, we collected a lot of un-necessary information when applying for insurance. We don’t see why we need to make it complex for everyone and drag out the process. It is better to just obtain information through follow-ups and direct engagements with the customers. A non-smoker five years ago could be a smoker now. That is why agents play an important role in our ecosystem.”

Mr Rohit said that agents will slowly move away from the traditional role of a salesperson to become highly-trained professional consultants. “Sooner or later, only highly qualified professionals will remain in the business,” said Rohit.

We also build sales entrepreneurs by providing a funding scheme to young agents to help them during their set up year. We utilized our strong digital presence to provide them with leads. 27% of their new sales come from the digital leads we sourced for them.

With the core business model and the groundwork set up, the team have come up with
several other supplementary services that help streamline the process. An ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure, and AXA AFFIN is taking preventive measures to
encourage customers to live a healthier lifestyle.

Step It Up+ is the first in the market transformational wellness programme with two customised campaigns – “Fitter Me” and “Better Me” to motivate Malaysians to lead a healthier lifestyle with cashback rewards.

“Fitter Me” motivates customers to meet their desired fitness goal by increasing their step count and get rewarded with cashback up to 24% on their first year annual premium. “Better Me” empowers customers to improve their health with a dedicated online health coach and get rewarded with cash back incentives up to RM600 once they achieve certain health milestones.

Combating Fraud

According to Rohit, insurance fraud is a significant issue that has been plaguing the industry since its inception. In other countries, the percentages of fraud cases can reach up to 10%, and this number only accounts for detected cases, not including undetected ones. That is why insurance companies are overly cautious when processing claims, which drags out investigations, which in turn upsets the customers.

“Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) can be used to combat fraud by identifying and reporting potential fraud cases” Rohit shares. “It is expected that 70% of the customers will get an easy experience filing for insurance claims, while the remaining 30% will be flagged for suspicious activities.”

AXA AFFIN plans to add the fraud detection system once the A.I. technology matures, but this is not the first time that they have brushed shoulders with this technology.

Problems With Artificial Intelligence / Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

“Some years back, I was the Chief Operating Officer in another AXA entity, where RPA was just starting to gain traction. It was an exciting time for us. The technology had made some of the processes 80% more efficient, and work can be finished in mere minutes vs. days earlier.

Unfortunately, there was a mistake in the algorithms, and the system produced 3,000 duplicated invoices. The then Chief Financial Officer was going mad due to the unexpected work, and they had to fix the 3,000 invoices one by one manually. The entire company went on damage control, and it took us some time to get back on track.

It was emotionally and mentally draining for me. I had two options. Either I give up and let the problem fester, or suck it up, find out what’s wrong and fix it before it creates more problems. It was one of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my life. I am responsible for my actions and there was no one else that can pick up the mess. The essence of agile is to fail fast and rectify progressively.

Make no mistake. We are not a tech company. We are still first and foremost an insurance company and it is important to not lose sight of your goals to fancy technologies. We are selling protection, and we are prepared to use any technology in order to reach that goal,” Rohit finished with a note of iron in his voice.

Core Values & Culture

Not many people can bounce back immediately after a major blunder, but it seems that the RPA incident had merely been a small obstacle for Mr Rohit’s resolve. He let us in on his three core values that got him to where he is today – Courage, Empowerment and Collaboration.

“The incident is by far not the largest mistake that I have made. I take risks all the time, and I fail all the time. Plans will definitely backfire and we are left to pick up the pieces. However, risks need to be taken in order to grow your company, and you can’t take risks without courage.

I also believe in the power of empowerment. As a leader your job is to empower others, only then they will achieve great things. In AXA AFFIN, we let people take charge and give them the power to oversee work from the start till the very end. Everyone is permitted to fail, because there is no such thing as getting things done without fail. We encourage employees to test ideas, innovate, adapt and succeed through trial and error.

Regarding collaborations, we are currently working together with nine different partners. We may be large on a global scale, but we are the smallest insurance company here in Malaysia. I see scale as a challenge and opportunity because we are able to evolve and adapt much faster than our competitors.

As a small scale company, our marketing and advertising budget will always have a ceiling. This is where partnerships come in handy, and we have collaborated with Digi, which has more than 11 million subscribers. We have a straightforward business model. We work with almost everyone and we never hesitate to seize an exciting opportunity,” shared Rohit.

Mindset Challenge

The company goals and the methods to achieve it are crystal clear. But Rohit shares that the biggest challenge the company is facing right now is not external, but internal in regards to the employee’s traditional mindsets.

“The problem with the traditional brainstorming is that great ideas will get shut down before they can show any potential. Whenever someone comes up with an idea, everyone will be thinking ‘what could possibly go wrong with this idea?’

At AXA AFFIN, we want to do the opposite. When an idea is given, everybody present can never say no to it and must think of reasons why the idea might work. After a few ideas have been thrown around, we then cast a vote to pick the top three ideas that holds the most potential and makes the most substantial impact. Only then we will discuss the risks, challenges and dependencies of the ideas.

Ideas need time and space to bear fruit. I want to train my employees to see the potential in everything. That is what it means to embody the entrepreneurial spirit. This paradigm shift will take time to cultivate. We need to change our mindset quickly, because if we don’t change ourselves, other people will change it for us,” warned Rohit.

Youth Leading The Way

Before ending the interview, we asked Mr Rohit about his plans for the future. “We want to be the preferred health and protection insurer. We want young people to work with us, and I want to give them space to cultivate new and innovative ideas. We are looking for more partners to collaborate with us to provide better solutions for the public. We want to make working with us fun and exciting for employees, but uncomfortable enough to push us past our limits. But most of all, we want people to be able to live life and grow families without worry. That is what insurance is for,” said Rohit.