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Exclusive | Covid vaccine reluctance: Adverse reactions covered under health insurance

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If you’re hesitant about taking a COVID-19 vaccine fearing an adverse reaction and huge hospital bills that will not be covered, you may want to reconsider that position. Your health insurance policy will certainly cover any hospitalisation due to a reaction to the vaccine.

General insurance industry sources told Moneycontrol that they will be covering any vaccine-related hospitalisation, in line with regular policy terms.

“Adverse reactions to new vaccines are expected. If a policyholder experiences any discomfort after taking the COVID-19 vaccine and needs to be hospitalised for treatment, it will be covered under health insurance. We have clarified this to the regulator,” said the claims head of a non-life insurer, speaking on condition of anonymity as IRDAI may issue a circular clarifying the matter.

The insurers have clarified this to regulator IRDAI recently through their industry body, General Insurance Council, which has all the general insurance companies as members.

However, as reported by Moneycontrol earlier, vaccination costs are excluded.

And, as with all health insurance products, a policyholder will have to hospitalised for a minimum of 24 hours for treatment to avail the claim.

Several healthcare workers had approached non-life insurers seeking clarification on policy coverage for vaccine reactions and allied hospitalisation.

1.58 million vaccinated, 1,238 adverse events recorded

So far, 1.58 million people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in India. A total of 1,238 adverse events have been recorded so far. This is 0.08% of the total vaccinations according to the health ministry. In those reporting adverse reactions, 11 have been hospitalised.

There have been six deaths reported so far of healthcare workers who received the vaccine. The government has stated that these deaths are not linked to the vaccine.  India began its vaccination drive on January 16 and will inoculate frontline workers first.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, through a social media message, said that the public should not pay heed to rumours. “Stay informed, stay safe & when your time comes, get vaccinated,” he said. This was amidst reports of vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers due to safety concerns related to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

Moneycontrol has reported that Bharat Biotech's Phase-1 interim data, published by the company in the peer-reviewed British medical journal Lancet, found Covaxin was well tolerated and produced an immune response.

Some countries have agreed to indemnify the vaccine makers for claims as part of their purchase pacts. This means that the government will extend protection from potential lawsuits and related financial claims associated with vaccine-related adverse events if they are to participate in pandemic responses. India has not agreed to this so far.

This means that individuals taking the vaccine would have to fight lengthy legal battles to get financial claims for extreme adverse reactions. Those with health insurance would get claims passed as part of the regular settlement process in case they are hospitalised.

Insurers said that since there were several queries filed about adverse reaction-related hospitalisation being excluded, they have clarified this to the regulator.

“It is incorrect to say that we will not cover claims. Hospitalisation will not be excluded for all policyholders if their health policy covers this,” added the underwriting head at a state-run insurer.

The process to file a claim will be similar to the regular health insurance claims process. If a policyholder needs to be hospitalised in case of treatment for a vaccine-related adverse reaction, he/she has to inform the insurer.

Depending on the health insurance policy, an insured person can avail of either cashless cover or reimbursement for the hospitalisation. The final claim amount will be paid based on the policy size and sub-limits for room rent and doctor’s fees, among other charges.

However, as reported by Moneycontrol earlier, it is only hospitalisation claims that will be paid. Vaccination costs or treatment/medication for minor fever, body ache by local doctors after taking the vaccine will not be borne by the insurer since this does not involve hospitalisation.

Yellen vote in US Senate committee to test support for Biden economic plan

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The Senate Finance Committee will vote on Friday on Janet Yellen's nomination for Treasury secretary, an early litmus test of bipartisan support for President Joe Biden's ambitious plans for coronavirus relief, infrastructure investment and tax hikes.

Yellen, who would be the first woman to head Treasury after breaking that same barrier as Federal Reserve chair from 2014 to 2018, is highly regarded by both her fellow Democrats and by Republicans. The vote two days after Biden became president is quick by recent standards.

Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan and has pledged to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure, green energy projects, education and research to boost American competitiveness.

Friday's vote on Yellen's nomination may reveal the level of Republican opposition to the Democratic president's plans, for which he is seeking bipartisan support.

Already some Republicans are expressing concerns over its price tag and increased debt in a return to fiscal conservatism after running up deficits with the 2017 tax cuts and nearly $5 trillion in coronavirus spending last year under former Republican President Donald Trump.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey, a longtime fiscal hawk, said at Yellen's hearing: "We're looking at another spending blowout."

Yellen's Republican predecessor, Steven Mnuchin, was not confirmed until three weeks after Trump's inauguration, and then by a 53-47 nearly party-line vote in a Republican-controlled Senate.

The committee vote is scheduled for 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) and Senate aides said it could pave the way for a full Senate confirmation vote later in the day on Friday.

Yellen faces both an evenly split committee and an evenly divided full Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote if needed.

CONCERNING COMMENTS

Yellen's confirmation hearing on Tuesday highlighted some Republican lawmakers' concerns about her role in executing Biden's economic policies, including a bigger federal debt burden and repealing parts of their signature 2017 tax cuts.

Yellen told senators they needed to "act big" on the proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package or risk a longer recession and long-term economic scarring, job and revenue losses.

Her remarks represent a new attitude toward government debt among some economists and policy-makers: Focus on the interest rate being paid and the returns it will generate, rather than the overall amount borrowed. In recent months, Treasury's interest outlays have fallen from pre-pandemic levels due to lower rates.

In written answers to senators' questions, Yellen said she would study raising tax rates for "pass-through" small businesses including sole proprietorships, imposing a new minimum corporate tax and raising capital gains taxes on the wealthy. She also endorsed an effective carbon pricing system and financial regulation to combat systemic risks from climate change.

Outside partisan factors could cast a shadow over the confirmation vote, including the pending impeachment trial of Trump and an ethics complaint against Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz over their objections to Biden's Nov. 3 election victory even after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

With Yellen still awaiting confirmation, the Biden administration on Wednesday named Andy Baukol, a longtime career international finance official, as acting Treasury secretary. A confirmation hearing for Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Wally Adeyemo has not yet been scheduled.

RBI remains net purchaser of US dollar in November, buys $10.261 billion

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The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) continued to remain a net buyer of the US currency in November after it bought USD 10.261 billion from the spot market, data showed.

During the reporting month, the central bank purchased $14.289 billion and sold $4.028 billion, according to the monthly bulletin released by the RBI for January.

In October this year, though the RBI had purchased $15.64 billion from the spot market, it did not sell the US currency.

In November 2019, the RBI had bought $7.458 billion and sold $530 million in the spot market.

In FY20, the central bank had net purchased $45.097 billion.

It had bought $72.205 billion and sold $27.108 billion in the spot market.

In the forward dollar market, the outstanding net purchase at the end of November was $28.344 billion, compared to $13.556 billion in October, the data showed.

Indian insurers’ growth to rebound backed by health, protection business, says Moody’s analyst

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The Indian insurance sector will see growth rebounding in 2021 lead by growth in the health and protection segments, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service.

Mohammed Ali Riyazuddin Londe, Vice President-Senior Analyst, Financial Institutions, Moody’s Investors Service told Moneycontrol in an interaction that this is not a one-off growth as far as health insurance is concerned.

He added that the health insurance sales saw a spike in 2020 due to a rise in awareness amidst the Coronavirus outbreak. He said that this will see general insurers growth to move to positive territory in 2021.

“We expect health premiums to continue growing strongly into 2021, when we anticipate that India's GDP growth will rebound to 10.8 percent, leading to a gradual normalisation of economic activity,” he added.

The Moody’s report said that India's low rate of insurance penetration (premiums as a percentage of GDP) indicates that there is ample scope for continued premium growth. The overall insurance penetration rate stood at 3.8 percent in 2018, low compared with developed markets such as the UK (10.3 percent) and the US (11.4 percent), and also below large developing markets such as China (4.3 percent).

Economic performance hit affects insurers

Moody’s said that India's economic performance is increasingly weak. The report expects real GDP to contract by 10.6 percent in the fiscal year starting April 2020, compared with our previous forecast of a 4 percent contraction.

Londe explained that the economic slump had an adverse impact on the Indian insurance industry’s premiums.

In the April to December 2020 period, premium growth slowed to 2.5 percent in general insurance, while life insurance new business premiums fell by 1.7 percent. This compares with growth of 11.7 percent and 20.6 percent for general and life insurance premiums respectively in the previous fiscal.

However, he added that the sustained strong demand for health insurance has slowed the decline. Health premiums rose 13.7 percent in the April to December 2020 period. This was in line with the 13.4 percent growth in the previous fiscal.

The Moody’s report said that persistently strong sales of health insurance reflect rising consumer awareness of the product as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with insurers' efforts to develop their digital sales channels.

Moneycontrol had reported how health insurance overtook motor insurance as the largest business segment among non-life insurers.

Solvency pressures may aid M&A, capital infusion

Some Indian insurers’ solvency remains inadequate due to weak profitability, resulting from the intense competition in the market as per the Moody’s report.

Londe explained that the general insurance sector's profitability has been under particular pressure, with a combined ratio of 117.6 percent.

While positive investment results have previously helped compensate for a weak underwriting performance, falling yields have reduced this source of support, he explained.

The government also took steps to ensure that state-run insurers are giving a helping hand to boost their profitability.

On July 8, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi called off a 2018 Budget proposal to merge three state-owned general insurers, National Insurance, Oriental Insurance and United India Insurance.

Instead, the government approved a capital infusion for an overall value of Rs 12,450 crore (including Rs. 2,500 crore infused in FY20) in the three insurers.

“We see the capital injection as credit positive as it will allow the insurers to enhance their risk-based pricing and underwriting discipline, helping them generate organic capital growth and attract foreign reinsurance coverage. Given the capital increase is happening for state-run insurers, their focus on underwriting discipline and risk-based pricing will trickle down and benefit the wider market,” he added.

In the private sector, he explained that profitability and solvency concerns are driving M&A.

"Capital raising must be accompanied by an increased focus on writing profitable business to put these companies on a sound financial footing in the long term," he said.

Indian insurers’ growth to rebound backed by health, protection business, says Moody’s analyst

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The Indian insurance sector will see growth rebounding in 2021 lead by growth in the health and protection segments, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service.

Mohammed Ali Riyazuddin Londe, Vice President-Senior Analyst, Financial Institutions, Moody’s Investors Service told Moneycontrol in an interaction that this is not a one-off growth as far as health insurance is concerned.

He added that the health insurance sales saw a spike in 2020 due to a rise in awareness amidst the Coronavirus outbreak. He said that this will see general insurers growth to move to positive territory in 2021.

“We expect health premiums to continue growing strongly into 2021, when we anticipate that India's GDP growth will rebound to 10.8 percent, leading to a gradual normalisation of economic activity,” he added.

The Moody’s report said that India's low rate of insurance penetration (premiums as a percentage of GDP) indicates that there is ample scope for continued premium growth. The overall insurance penetration rate stood at 3.8 percent in 2018, low compared with developed markets such as the UK (10.3 percent) and the US (11.4 percent), and also below large developing markets such as China (4.3 percent).

Economic performance hit affects insurers

Moody’s said that India's economic performance is increasingly weak. The report expects real GDP to contract by 10.6 percent in the fiscal year starting April 2020, compared with our previous forecast of a 4 percent contraction.

Londe explained that the economic slump had an adverse impact on the Indian insurance industry’s premiums.

In the April to December 2020 period, premium growth slowed to 2.5 percent in general insurance, while life insurance new business premiums fell by 1.7 percent. This compares with growth of 11.7 percent and 20.6 percent for general and life insurance premiums respectively in the previous fiscal.

However, he added that the sustained strong demand for health insurance has slowed the decline. Health premiums rose 13.7 percent in the April to December 2020 period. This was in line with the 13.4 percent growth in the previous fiscal.

The Moody’s report said that persistently strong sales of health insurance reflect rising consumer awareness of the product as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with insurers' efforts to develop their digital sales channels.

Moneycontrol had reported how health insurance overtook motor insurance as the largest business segment among non-life insurers.

Solvency pressures may aid M&A, capital infusion

Some Indian insurers’ solvency remains inadequate due to weak profitability, resulting from the intense competition in the market as per the Moody’s report.

Londe explained that the general insurance sector's profitability has been under particular pressure, with a combined ratio of 117.6 percent.

While positive investment results have previously helped compensate for a weak underwriting performance, falling yields have reduced this source of support, he explained.

The government also took steps to ensure that state-run insurers are giving a helping hand to boost their profitability.

On July 8, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi called off a 2018 Budget proposal to merge three state-owned general insurers, National Insurance, Oriental Insurance and United India Insurance.

Instead, the government approved a capital infusion for an overall value of Rs 12,450 crore (including Rs. 2,500 crore infused in FY20) in the three insurers.

“We see the capital injection as credit positive as it will allow the insurers to enhance their risk-based pricing and underwriting discipline, helping them generate organic capital growth and attract foreign reinsurance coverage. Given the capital increase is happening for state-run insurers, their focus on underwriting discipline and risk-based pricing will trickle down and benefit the wider market,” he added.

In the private sector, he explained that profitability and solvency concerns are driving M&A.

"Capital raising must be accompanied by an increased focus on writing profitable business to put these companies on a sound financial footing in the long term," he said.

The risk-based capital regime that could be introduced in India in the next two years may also lead to some shake-up in the industry. Risk-based capital refers to holding according to the business written by individual insurers and their allied risks.

"The shift to a risk-based capital regime usually brings some shock to the industry in the short term but market will benefit in the longer term. Here, smaller insurance players may face pressure and may look at merger or consolidation in some way," he added.

Petrol crosses Rs 85 mark for first time in Delhi, nears Rs 92 in Mumbai

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Petrol price on Tuesday breached the Rs 85 a litre mark in the national capital and diesel neared record high after rates were raised for the second consecutive day.

Petrol and diesel prices were hiked by 25 paise per litre each, according to a price notification from oil marketing companies.

This took the petrol price in Delhi to Rs 85.20 per litre and to Rs 91.80 in Mumbai.

Diesel rate climbed to Rs 75.38 a litre in the national capital - just shying away from its record high - and to an all-time high of Rs 82.13 in Mumbai, the price data showed.

Petrol and diesel prices were hiked by 25 paise per litre each on Monday as well.

While petrol and diesel prices are at a record high in Mumbai, petrol price in the national capital is at an all-time high. Diesel price is just short of Rs 75.45 a litre record touched on October 4, 2018.

State-owned fuel retailers -- Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOC), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) -- had on January 6 resumed daily price revision after nearly a month-long hiatus.

Since then rates have gone up by Rs 1.49 a litre on petrol and Rs 1.51 in case of diesel.

This comes after international oil prices firmed up on hopes of demand returning from the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in different countries, including India.

When fuel prices had last touched record high on October 4, 2018, the government had cut excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 1.50 per litre in a bid to ease inflationary pressure and boost consumer confidence. Alongside, state-owned fuel retailers cut prices by another Re 1 a litre, which they recouped later.

This time, there are no indications of a duty cut so far.Petrol and diesel prices are revised on a daily basis in line with benchmark international price and foreign exchange rates. They vary from state to state depending on the incidence of local taxes.

Sugar output up 31% at 142.70 lakh tonnes in 2020-21 till January 15: ISMA

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The country’s sugar output rose by 31 percent to 142.70 lakh tonnes in the first three-and-a-half months of the 2020-21 marketing year that started in October 2020, industry body ISMA said on Monday.

Sugar production in India, the world’s second-largest sugar-producing country, stood at 108.94 lakh tonnes till January 15 of the 2019-20 marketing year (October-September).

Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) has projected the sugar output to increase by 13 percent to 310 lakh tonnes in the 2020-21 marketing year on likely higher availability of sugarcane as against 274.2 lakh tonnes last year.

Releasing the latest production update, ISMA said the country’s sugar output is higher by 33.76 lakh tonne so far this year as compared to last year’s production for the corresponding period.

As many as 487 sugar mills were in operation as against 440 in the said period, it said.

Sugar production in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s leading sugar producing state, remained slightly lower at 42.99 lakh tonnes till January 15 of this marketing year, as against 43.78 lakh tonne in the year-ago period because of reportedly lower cane yield and lower sugar recoveries in the state.

The output in Maharashtra, the country’s second-largest sugar-producing state, rose to 51.55 lakh tonne from 25.51 lakh tonne in the said period.

Similarly, the production in Karnataka, the country’s third-largest sugar-producing state, increased to 29.80 lakh tonne till January 15 of this year from 21.90 lakh tonne in the year-ago period.

Production reached 4.40 lakh tonne in Gujarat, 1.15 lakh tonne in Tamil Nadu, while remaining states of Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Odisha have collectively produced 12.81 lakh tonne of sugar till January 15 of this year, ISMA said in a statement.

On ethanol, ISMA said oil marketing companies (OMCs) have allocated about 309.81 crore litres for 2020-21 marketing year, including about 39.36 crore litres from damaged food grains and surplus rice.

This would enable ethanol-petrol blending of 7-8 per cent, depending on the total fuel demand.

However, some states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand have already achieved blending percentage of 9-10 percent on January 11.

The industry body said that the allocated quantity of ethanol indicates about 20 lakh tonne of estimated net lower sugar production during 2020-21 due to diversion of B-heavy molasses and sugarcane juice to ethanol.

As per market reports, about 3 lakh tonne of sugar was exported during October-December 2020 as per the Maximum Admissible Export Quota (MAEQ) allotted to sugar mills during the 2019-20 marketing year, which was was extended up to December 2020, it added.

MSME budget expectations: Lower GST, Basel norm suspension, enhanced free loan limit

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Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is set to present the Union Budget 2021-22 on February 1.

The COVID-19 pandemic had ravaged all the sectors, but it is the micro small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector, which is said to have borne the maximum brunt of the pandemic.

As a result of the pandemic-induced lockdown, the MSME sector has been facing a massive liquidity and supply crunch, shortage of labour and non-payment of dues.

The government had announced a Rs 3 lakh crore Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) for MSMEs under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package in order to mitigate the stress caused by the lockdown. The scheme was valid till the month of October.

Finance Minister Sitharaman had later extended the ECLGS till November 2020 and had further extended it till March 21, 2021.

Experts, however, feel the Centre should take more steps for the revival of the MSME sector.

Financial Express had reported that experts have said the government should lower the GST on professional services from 18 percent to 5 percent to boost the MSME sector. 

MSME body Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises (FISME) has sought the temporary suspension of the Basel norms to ease lending from the banking sector, Financial Express had reported.

Further, the experts also want the government to increase the collateral-free loan limit to Rs 5 crore for micro-units, Rs 15 crore for small businesses and Rs 35 crore in case of medium businesses.

Union cabinet may consider proposal for enhancing private investment in mining sector on January 13 meeting

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The Union cabinet is most likely to consider the proposal of mining sector reform for enhancing private investment, in the meeting scheduled for January 13.

Amendments in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 have been proposed, sources said.

Earlier on Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said coal sector will play a very important role in achieving the target of $5 trillion economy by 2022.

He even launched a single window clearance system for the coal sector, and stated that commercial coal mining auctions will now facilitate small and medium industries to receive coal supplies easily.

Prior to this, Mines Secretary Anil Kumar Jain had indicated that reforms will pave the way for auctioning of at least 500 mineral blocks and had emphasised that calendar year 2021 will be a "bridge year between the past and the future".


India set to play a vital role in global digital economy

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India in 2020 has been one of the biggest and fastest-growing technology markets in the world. Digital and technology adoption in India has been increasing at a steady rate over the last few years, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of technology adoption across sectors, including in high involvement services such as education and healthcare.

From the consumer perspective, there is a behavioural shift in using digital as the primary channel, even for high velocity everyday purchases. Domestic and global investors are actively participating in building digital infrastructure — communication networks, data centre and cloud services, and electronics manufacturing — to support India’s fast-growing digital economy.

Specifically, 2020 has been a breakout year for the electronics manufacturing industry. Government incentives such as Production Linked Incentives (PLI), Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS), and Modified Electronics Manufacturing Clusters Scheme (EMC 2.0) under the aegis of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ generated significant interest from global investors in setting up manufacturing and supply chains in India. In October, the government approved applications of 16 electronics companies under the PLI scheme, and the scheme is now also being extended to 10 other sectors, including telecom and networking components.

A strong manufacturing ecosystem complements scientific and industrial research, and the developments in the electronics manufacturing industry in 2020 are likely to boost the overall technology manufacturing in India in the years to come. This will enable a self-sustaining ecosystem for research & development in advanced technologies, leveraging India’s cost-effective science and engineering talent.

In the export markets, India’s tier-1 technology services companies have shown resilience in not only revenue performance, but also in margin performance during this pandemic, and also stepped up hiring activity during the year. There has also been significant interest from tier-1 and tier-2 technology services companies to establish strategic partnerships with their MNC clients with respect to their captive technology and business operations, including acquisition and business transfer of certain assets.

For the MNCs, exiting sub-scale captive operations through strategic sale and business transfer helps unlock value, while ensuring business continuity. For service providers, such deals tend to strengthen client relationships and also provide revenue stability in the medium term along with skilled employees and capabilities. This year witnessed a few strategic transactions of this nature, and this trend is likely to continue into the future, as MNCs streamline their global product development and service delivery strategies in the post COVID-19 world.

From the demand side, digital transformation deals continue to gain momentum as enterprises invest in cloud based infrastructure for digitising their customer channels and business operations. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and edge computing are gaining momentum in designing next generation cloud-to-edge architecture and services. Workforce transformation in a work-from-anywhere environment has witnessed significant developments during the year, and also fundamentally transformed the way global delivery models are executed.

As we look into the future, global delivery models in technology services industry could witness a significant redesign, in the technology enabled world of work. Client project delivery would shift from mobilising resources to mobilising skills in a fully distributed workforce spread across multiple geographies, collaborating seamlessly for client projects delivered using cloud-based environments.

COVID-19 has brought significant shifts in technology consumption for enterprises, governments, and consumers alike, and 2020 has been the inflexion point in that transformation journey. As we look into the future, mass digitisation is a reality, across sectors and across the world, and a range of enterprise and consumer technologies — from 5G to the cloud to virtual reality and edge computing — will continue to offer opportunities to global enterprises. There is greater market potential, shorter adoption cycles, and possibly lower costs for next generation tools and technologies, and it’s imperative for organisations to reimagine customer experience and business processes for a digital first world.

Workforce transformation has proved to be one of the significant developments across industries. What started out as necessity in 2020 is likely to find a new equilibrium in 2021, as organisations reimagine workforce and workplaces at a more fundamental level keeping in mind long-term transitions in their business. Successful organisations will be those that are able to redesign their approach towards workforce management, in attracting, engaging, and retaining talent in a wholly different, technologically-enabled world of work.

The learnings on workforce transformation from the technology industry, which is one of the earliest to adapt to this phenomena would have relevance and resonance across the broader knowledge industries. The Indian technology industry’s talent machine coupled with fully distributed global delivery models is likely to play an important role in the transformation journey of the global digital economy in the years to come.

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