BFSI VISION | Human Resources

   
 


Dr. Sriharsha A Achar

People Officer & CISO, Apollo
Munich Health Insurance

Planning the right HR Strategy

Employment trends in the financial services sector
The Indian economy is currently poised on the cusp of change with most organizations getting into the hiring mode. Generally the last quarter of the fiscal sees a downward trend but the larger numbers will emerge in front line sales across industries. What remains to be seen is whether people will really stick on to such opportunities. Entrepreneurship is catching up and strangely all these startups are seemingly being established in Tier II and Tier III cities.

Major HR initiatives we are planning for the year
While employees continue to look forward to the best salaries they also want to be associated with a company that values their contributions. At Apollo Munich, our belief is that the bottom line isn’t the only thing that’s important to the people we most want to hire and retain. Accordingly, our endeavor has always been to showcase the positive aspects of our organization’s atmosphere and environment, which in our assessment, has a profound impact on our recruitment and retention practices.

Our focus in 2015 will be to:
  • Build capacity by growing and strengthening our leadership capacity
  • Recruit for tomorrow by increasing internal opportunities, harnessing the flexible working policy, using rotational assignments as two powerful tools of development.
  • Retain and engage by creating a vibrant work environment that helps employees thrive, not just survive.
  • Manage costs by identifying cost optimization strategies that will satisfy the bottom line, meeting operational needs and encouraging valuable employees to continue to remain with us.
  • Reinforce employee wellness by not treating wellness programs just like another initiative but making it a part of the overall strategy of the organization such that it benefits all.

How do you attract and retain talent?
Our HR strategy revolves around four key areas – be it retention strategy, our training and development plan or our engagement plan for our employees. Having fun while engaging our employees is a key part of our HR strategy and we believe that employees who have friends at work and can trust them, stay longer and stay happier.

We Hire Wisely, Train Abundantly, Pay Fairly

Apollo Munich believes in the above mantra when it comes to hiring and keeping people in its fold. After the basic educational, experiential and licensing qualifications to obtain any position, there are additional qualities that we as an employer find desirable. In any business, success depends more on several essential, learnable skills than upon any particular education or experience.

Of the many abilities contributing to excellent performance in business or career, the ten that are most valued at Apollo Munich are:

  • Leadership
  • Organization and time management
  • Selling Skills
  • Information Acquisition and Management
  • Current Technologies
  • Persuasion and Negotiation
  • Judgment (making good decisions and choices)
  • Financial acumen
  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
Our focus is on retention of the people we need and those that we feel will take us into the future. Generation Y is diverse, ambitious, yet honest and socially conscious. One of our key strategies is our continuous participation in various internal and external social events, supporting various self-help groups by inviting them to hold exhibitions etc. in our offices.

We look for not just any professional, but those with a deep desire to work at the leading edge of their career fields, to develop the products of the future and to pursue nothing short of excellence.

What makes your institution a great place to work?
At Apollo Munich, we share a vision to be a model company. That vision drives us to deliver the best possible results for the population we serve by living a set of core values. We believe that being a model company means winning in the marketplace with integrity and honor. A great culture is the foundation for success—for us and for our customers and partners.

By measuring ourselves along with other great companies, we gain valuable insight that we can use to raise the bar for our company and achieve long-term success.

The top 6 things that our employees say about why Apollo Munich is a great place to work is summed up as follows:

  • You can greatly improve the life/health of others
  • You’ll work with an elite team
  • Your performance will be rewarded
  • You're empowered to do your best
  • It’s always challenging and exciting to be part of something daring/bold
  • See your ideas come to life

What is the role you see for HR in the Insurance industry?
The following five key roles are important from the insurance industry perspective:

  • Executive role – in this role the HR is viewed as the specialists in the areas that encompass Human Resources or people management.
  • Audit role – in this capacity the HR will check other departments and the organisation as a whole to ensure all people policies are being carried out in accordance with the company’s policy.
  • Facilitator role – in this role, the HR helps or facilitates other departments to achieve the goals or standards as laid out in the policies of the organisation. This will involve training being delivered for issues that arise in the areas relating to people management.
  • Consultancy role – in this role HR will advise managers on how to tackle specific people management issues professionally.
  • Service role – in this role HR is an information provider to raise awareness and inform departments and functional areas on changes in policy.

What percentage of CEO time is spent on HR issues?
Significant, I would say. I would like to add that time invested by the CEO on HR issues is directly proportional to the happiness quotient of the company.

What is your approach to skill enhancement among your employees?
We start by hiring the right people. We hire for attitude, train for skills. We recruit the good, mentor the better and advance the best. Our culture is an interconnected fabric made of vibrant, forward-moving, knowledge-thirsty people.

The pace of our workplace is such that every day brings new challenges, goals, peers, partners, and customers. For the right type of person, our hyper-growth climate seems like an intellectual playpen filled with programs, training, and development tools to grow and thrive at Apollo Munich for the long term. Our focus is to keep up with the intellectual thirsts and demands of our highly motivated work-force.

Our T&D strategy is geared to help develop leadership talent in our young company. Programs are external in nature and geared up to provide exposure in various leadership skills as well as practical training in dealing with a dynamic workplace. We encourage real-time, on-the-job problem-solving and collaboration. Our workforce is filled with insurance industry experts who mentor one another daily. As they learn from a new problem that they’ve solved or a new challenge posed to them by a customer or prompted by an industry shift, they’re transferring that knowledge among one another in real time. Recently, we have started Vidyasagar sessions by our subject matter experts on variety of topics.

What are the HR challenges you face in meeting the business challenges?
The insurance industry needs a constant flow of people for its functioning. The easy option for insurers will therefore be to recruit from other sectors such as Pharma, FMCG, Finance etc. However it is imperative to train them for the insurance industry, thus ensuring that these relatively fresh candidates are effective contributors to the industry.
Finding the Right Talent Our challenge will be to target job seekers with the best mix of education, experience and proven skills to work efficiently in a business that is lean and mean - employing the right people therefore becomes more essential than ever.

  • Creating Opportunities- Our challenge will be to create opportunities for our most valuable staff members—perhaps through cross training , job rotations or continuing education, if not through actual advancement.
  • Managing HR and Benefit Costs - Our challenge will be to identify strategies that will satisfy the bottom line, meet operational needs and encourage valuable staff members to remain with us
  • Developing Leadership- Our challenge will be to identify people with performance potential established on past record and knowledge based expertise and help develop required traits by way of imparting soft skills.
  • Managing Change- Our challenge will be to manage people issues in the volatile business environment and competitive landscape

How geared up is the HR organization to meet the above challenges?
Every year HR faces different challenges that they are required to overcome for the benefit of the business. 2015 and beyond will be no exception, and with the continuing volatility in the economy, these challenges may well be significantly more than those faced currently.

Insurance is not a profession for the thin-skinned or faint-at-heart. In fact, more than any other factor, including education and experience, insurance agents must possess a fighting spirit. They must be people who love the thrill of the hunt, the rush of a sale and see rejection as a stepping-stone to eventual success. A career in insurance sales is not ideal for those who view themselves as introverted, soft-spoken, or afraid of conflict.

The vast majority of insurance companies have no formal education requirements for becoming an agent. Previous experience in the insurance industry is not required because most medium and large insurance carriers have internal programs to train their salespeople about the products they're going to sell.

While the insurance industry promises great rewards for those who are willing to work hard and put up with a good amount of rejection, there are two other pitfalls you need to be aware of. First, you will most likely be expected to market to your friends and family. While that might be tempting and seem like a great idea to get you started, it can also burn a lot of bridges with people you care about.

No business school is going to teach you these skills. Use your common sense and human sense to master some / most / all of these over a period of time and keep improving these to reach excellence. This will also make sure your business thrives.

What are the focus areas for HR in the next one year?

  • Build capacity by growing and strengthening our leadership capacity
  • Recruit for tomorrow by increasing internal opportunities, harnessing the flexible working policy, using rotational assignments as two powerful tools of development.
  • Retain and engage by creating a vibrant work environment that helps employees thrive, not just survive.
  • Manage costs by identifying cost optimization strategies that will satisfy the bottom line, meeting operational needs and encouraging valuable employees to continue to remain with us.
  • Reinforce employee wellness by not treating wellness programs just like another initiative but making it a part of the overall strategy of the organization such that it benefits all.

What would you say are the biggest challenges to the business and what are the key focuses for HR?
HR to my mind is considered the fire fighter. We are thought to be the rear-guard of action in case of a challenge to the organization.

In my view, HR needs to be appreciated as an equal player in the strategy designing and execution process. Often, strategies fail to succeed because of the human element. And when organizations involve HR too late in the day, the capricious human element takes a toll on the strategy.

Another area of concern is the belief that engaging an employee is HR’s job. That is the single biggest fallacy that causes people to move on to other opportunities and yet business or line is unable to address this issue. Overwhelming amounts of research done indicate that the single biggest cause of employee engagement or otherwise is the line manager yet this seems to be very tough to digest by all.

Adding to the above points, with growing competition, reducing in-house capital cost like salaries, managing HR related databases is another area of concern. In a dynamic business like us, reducing attrition in sales workforce is an apprehension that any Indian insurance company faces.

At Apollo Munich we strive to make each manager a HR manager and are trying to create a place where a new employee does not merely visit but enriches his / her stay.