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Your DTH vendor will sell insurance, too
Mumbai: Don't be surprised if a man walks into to fix a direct-to-home (DTH) broadcast connection for your television set and hands over an insurance product brochure.

With the bancassurance channel drying up as public sector banks launch their own insurance companies, life insurers are using subsidiary sales channels to distribute their products.

Bharti AXA Life Insurance and Reliance Life Insurance Company are in talks with their group DTH arms, Airtel Digital TV and Big TV, respectively, to cross-sell insurance products. Both are already utilising the existing telecom networks, by deploying agents or employees at the franchisees, and intend to expand the reach further.

Nitish Asthana, senior vice-president - direct distribution & telecassurance at Bharti AXA Life Insurance, says, "We are exploring a combination with the Airtel Digital TV. It could be simple lead generation or empanelment of Digital TV as an agent. Wherever there is an opportunity to distribute, we are using the network."

Currently, Bharti AXA Life is distributing through Airtel and Bharti Teletech, which manufactures and distributes the Beetel brand of phones. "We are tapping walk-in customers at 500 of the Airtel relationships centres or franchisees out of 600 total relationship centres present in 65-70 cities. On an average, there are 200 customers, who walk into a relationship centre each day. What is attractive for us is the face-to-face situation.

Asked whether the Big TV venture would be utilised to cross-sell, P Nandagopal, chief executive officer of Reliance Life Insurance, says, "We will be happy to have leads. These are ideas. We are discussing with them."

Other group ventures such as Big Flicks, which offers DVDs, may also be used. "For promotion purposes, we will cross-sell through the group channels, where a customer base of more than 50 million is available. When it comes to the DVDs, the buyers are usually young, who start their journey and may need insurance," Nandagopal says.

Those who do not have their own group networks in non-financial areas are looking at other tie-ups.

Tarun Chugh, chief - alternate channels, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, says, "For the health segment we are planning tie-ups with companies who are into distribution of health related items. We are discussing with pharmacy chains."

Sales figures are also being pushed by other financial services, where the core product is not attractive due to the market slowdown. Chugh says equity broking houses are showing more interest in cross-selling life insurance.

"We have tie-ups with ICICI Direct, India Infoline, Sharekhan, etc. Initially, sales through equity broking were less than 2-3% of the sales via bancassurance, but now contribute 7-10% that of the bancassurance sales. Equity houses have strong relationships with customers and they are leveraging on the relationships," Chugh adds.

Most insurers would be developing simpler product variants to be sold at such partnership networks wherein the sales process is short and can be completed in a single meeting.

"Even through bancassurance, we have realised that success levels are higher if the customer is convinced in the very first meeting. Currently the entire range of insurance products is sold at the franchisees. But we are developing simple over the counter products in both life and health protection exclusive for the Airtel channel to avoid the long-winding sales process," says Asthana of Bharti AXA.

Reliance Life Insurance too would create products to make the group distribution channel effective. This may be because of the low sales seen at these existing wide group networks.

"Our employees are stationed at the Reliance Web Worlds. The percentage of sales generation is small right now, approximately 2%," says Nandagopal. For Airtel, only 12-15% is contributed by the telecassurance channel from the 90 million strong Airtel customer base."

But for some players, the over-the-counter product range already exists and is contributing significantly to the total sales. Take for instance Future Generali Life Insurance, which is selling simple insurance product range at Future group malls.

Jayant Khosla, managing director and chief executive officer of Future Generali India Life Insurance, says the slowdown hasn't had an impact on sales.

"The footfalls at malls have only increased. We have been selling more policies as well. Though the exact figures would be out by March 31, 2009, we sell approximately 25% of our total policies via mallassurance. We continue to use the mallasssurance channel to sell."

Surprisingly, no other company is tapping the flows at malls. "I haven't heard of any other player selling it through the mall. So far we have no competition," says Khosla.

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