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Your insurer just wants to 'keep in touch'

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It's a Saturday morning, and you get a Whatsapp message. Is it your partner or friends asking about weekend plans? Oh, it's your insurance company!

Bharti AXA General Insurance announced on February 26 that it has started delivering policies and renewal premium to its customers through the instant messaging platform.

The insurer joins a list of companies like ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, Future Generali India Insurance, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance and Aditya Birla Health Insurance among others to offer products and services to customers.

In July 2019, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant had said that WhatsApp had 400 million active users in India. For insurers this seems like a golden opportunity, considering that insurance policies are a 'push' product in India where customers need to be nudged to buy it.

Indians are hooked to WhatsApp for personal and professional communication with workplace colleagues. Banks and mutual funds have also jumped on to the bandwagon, offering services on the messaging platform. So why will insurers back off?

Not only policy documents are being sent over WhatsApp, but customers are also allowed to submit claim documents and pictorial evidence for motor claims over these chats. For insurers, 'cross-selling' is the biggest opportunity on chat platforms.

The heads of sales at a Mumbai-based insurer told Moneycontrol that ever since a majority of users opted for the telecom regulator's 'Do Not Disturb' or DND service, it has been tough to contact customers to sell relevant products. Though insurers also experimented with Facebook and Twitter to contact customers, companies tasted little success.

WhatsApp does not have such DND service to bar promotional messages. The platform usually displays it as a 'business account' if it is registered that way. This is being used as a sales advantage. If the policyholder clicks on a link, insurers would get access to offering products and services on the chat platform.

WhatsApp is different. Young professionals in the age group of 25-30 years, who are the main target segment of insurance companies, are prolific users which also lessens the chances of them missing the message.

A study by smartphone brand Vivo and Cybermedia Research in December 2019 showed that an average Indian spent 1/3rd of their waking hours (the time a person is awake) on their phone, which translated to 1,800 hours a year.

With a high likelihood of a prospective customer rejecting insurers' calls by tracing identity details from apps like Truecaller, using WhatsApp has now become the top choice for companies.

However, just like the multiple pesky calls you would keep blocking on your smartphone, WhatsApp calls from sales-persons could soon become a reality. It could get worse if you are added to random WhatsApp groups for 'cross-selling' and promotional offers.

Why just insurers? Other financial services firms have already started using WhatsApp. These entities could soon be joined by real estate firms, retailers, food delivery apps and even the infamous eyewear brands who are ready to make the switch to chat platforms. It could be easy to ignore multiple text messages sent to lure customers. But over chat, this would be tough to miss.

But what about the dangers of over-use of technology?

While companies claim that all service requests and policy documents are encrypted, a smartphone being hacked is not uncommon. In fact, even Amazon's Jeff Bezos fell prey to a situation after private texts and pictures were leaked.

The young Indian is technologically savvy, but since they consume a lot of content on their smartphones, there are potential threats of data theft by hackers. Merely clicking on an unknown link could give access to your phone to third-party users who could then also control the device.

Insurance companies in India are yet to address these concerns. Also, within services offered on instant messaging platforms, there is no clarity on which set of insurance employees are able to access your personal data shared over chats.

For older customers, there are other challenges. Someone who has just started using WhatsApp at the age of 50 could find it a challenge to navigate the application. Here if a policy document or claim intimation would be over this messaging app, chances are that the customer could be unable to access it. A few incorrect steps would either lead to a wrong policy purchase or even rejection of a claim.

Physical services of insurance are still available. But if the idea is to make the process simpler and faster, it should be accessible to all.

Keeping in touch is a good practice. But when it comes to persistent insurance salespersons, maintaining a safe distance looks like a better option at least on WhatsApp.