In this interview, Senath Jayatilake, the recently appointed Chief Executive Officer of Union Assurance, provides a comprehensive overview of the Life Insurance sector, discussing evolving perceptions, shedding light on the unique aspects of the organization, while elaborating on the strategic emphasis placed on value creation and fostering a collaborative team culture.
Can you provide insights into your career progression from the initial roles at John Keells Holdings to your current position?
My career at John Keells Holdings commenced in 2007, within the Group Centre for Business Development and Group Initiatives Division. Following this initial stint, I transitioned to John Keells Logistics, assuming the role of an Executive in Business Development. As time unfolded, I took on diverse responsibilities, moving from a sales and marketing focus to a more operational role as an Operations Manager. Progressing further, I held positions such as Head of Operations and Chief Operating Officer and eventually took the reins as the Chief Executive Officer in 2016.
In 2019, seeking a new challenge, I embraced a shift from the logistics sector to the life insurance sector by joining Union Assurance as the Chief Distribution Officer. While the move from the logistics sector to the life insurance sector was unconventional, I was enthusiastic about tackling the challenge and broadening my skill set. In this capacity, I oversaw both the agency and corporate channels of the business. This journey led me to be appointed as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer in 2023.
Now, as of January 2024, I have assumed the position of Chief Executive Officer at Union Assurance.
What is your outlook on the life insurance sector amidst the economic challenges?
The life insurance sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience, persisting through challenges and sustaining growth. Despite the economic contraction in 2023, the sector exhibited an impressive 11% growth in the first three quarters of 2023, highlighting its robust performance in adverse conditions.
This resilience not only positions the life insurance sector to weather challenges but also primes it for thriving in the ongoing recovery phase of the economy. The surge in demand for protection, especially during the economic crisis, has played a significant role in this upward trend. The need for a safety net in areas like health and retirement has intensified as households grapple with reduced savings rates, emphasizing the crucial role of life insurance in providing financial security against unforeseen circumstances.
In this landscape, customers, now more attuned to their financial positions, are increasingly prioritizing self-protection. This shift is not solely about financial stability but also involves empowering individuals to have more financial freedom. Consequently, financial security is emerging as a fundamental component of household financial planning and goals.
Despite the evident potential, the life insurance sector penetration is extremely low in Sri Lanka. This level falls significantly below regional benchmarks, lagging behind markets such as India, where average household income rates and GDP per capita are lower than those of Sri Lanka.
The immense growth potential for the life insurance sector hinges on strategic factors such as raising awareness, developing a well-suited range of products and solutions, and establishing a robust service proposition. Building confidence and gaining traction in the market will be pivotal to aligning with customer needs and fostering sustained growth in the sector.
How can life insurers shift the perception of insurance from discretionary spending to an essential part of individuals’ primary expenses?
Many individuals still categorize expenses related to retirement, investment, protection, or health insurance as discretionary spending, potentially impacting the broader financial landscape. To address this, there is a critical need for life insurance to shift from being perceived as a discretionary expense to becoming an integral component of one’s primary spending basket.
It is imperative for individuals to consciously allocate a portion of their monthly, quarterly, or annual budget for Life Insurance. This shift is essential, transforming life insurance into an absolute necessity for the financial security and well-being of one’s family. The evolution from discretionary to primary spending is spurred by a heightened awareness among customers about the importance of protection. As an industry, our role is pivotal in fostering this shift, emphasizing the creation of awareness, and developing tailored propositions that align with customers’ evolving needs.
How does your Company’s commitment to creating stakeholder value manifest in your strategic focus?
Our strategic commitment stands firm, dedicated to creating value for all our key stakeholders, with a special emphasis on the four pillars—policyholders, shareholders, distributors, and employees—integral to our overarching strategy. Our unwavering efforts are consistently directed towards generating value for each of these groups.
A specific focus lies on delivering unparalleled value to our policyholders, extending across the meticulous structuring of our offerings, encompassing products, solutions, and services. This commitment is a testament to our dedication to providing the best value in the market for our valued policyholders.
Simultaneously, we prioritize the creation of value for our shareholders, adopting a holistic approach to ensure overall stakeholder satisfaction. This commitment is evident in our operational practices and the meticulous channelling of returns, reinforcing our dedication to shareholder interests.
Furthermore, our business strategy is anchored in solid and market-relevant fundamentals, addressing both present and future needs. Central to this strategy is our pivotal embrace of digital transformation, rendering our entire business operations paperless. From acquisition to servicing and other processes, our seamless digital channels enhance efficiency and accessibility, facilitating effective engagement with customers and distributors throughout their journey.
Additionally, our strategy integrates Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) principles and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations, aligning our business practices with ethical and sustainable principles.
In essence, our commitment revolves around creating immediate value and ensuring the relevance of everything we do for the future, maximizing positive impact for all our key stakeholders.
How does the Company’s life insurance application, Clicklife distinguish itself from industry counterparts?
Our life insurance application stands as a leading platform, surpassing industry counterparts in both reach and capabilities. With an impressive active user base, our platform’s functionalities are not only benchmarked against global standards but also underscore our unwavering commitment to excellence.
Serving as the most comprehensive app in the sector, the Clicklife app operates as a central ecosystem within the organization. It goes beyond empowering customers to access and manage their life insurance policies on the go; it also enriches their overall well-being. The Clicklife app features an innovative suite of functionalities tailored to various lifestyle needs. For instance, the ‘Get Fit’ facility provides users with a dashboard to monitor physical activity and an artificial intelligence-driven calorie log to track daily food intake, contributing to customers’ efforts to maintain good health and ensure physical well-being.
Moreover, Union Assurance is actively engaged in expanding the app’s scope by introducing innovative features and functionalities aligned with customer preferences and the evolving demands of the sector. This ongoing commitment reflects Union Assurance’s determination to stay at the forefront of innovation, ensuring that we consistently meet the dynamic needs of our customers.
How does Union Assurance foster an empowering team culture?
We are a large-scale business operating across the country with a network of over 90 branches. Our influence further extends to various private banks in Sri Lanka through our bancassurance network, underscoring the depth of our reach. Recognizing the significance of every staff member as a robust pillar and ambassador for our organization, we understand that our strength lies not in individual efforts but in the collective synergy of over 4,000 individuals nationwide. We are committed to fostering a culture where each person sees themselves as an integral part of Union Assurance.
To fortify the foundation of our dynamic culture, we have implemented a robust support structure comprising two essential components: social structures and technical structures.
In terms of social structures, we have embraced operating principles that empower all employees in their respective roles. Our commitment to fostering a culture of empowerment extends to providing the freedom for employees to bring their best selves to work. We champion meritocracy, where the growth potential is limitless. Our workplace ethos is characterized by openness and friendliness, and we actively promote team-building activities to underscore the importance of collaboration over traditional siloed approaches. Additionally, our commitment to people development is evident in our emphasis on delivering best-in-class training and development opportunities, ensuring the continual growth of our employees.
In the realm of technical structures, we have established robust governance frameworks to support all employees in their roles. Additionally, we place a high premium on providing the right processes, platforms, and technology to streamline our internal operations and enhance the efficiency of our processes and turnaround times.
Our strategic focus on nurturing these structures underscores our commitment to achieving optimal results, ensuring a vibrant organizational culture, and fostering sustained success.