At 42, Jasleen Kohli, the new managing director (MD) and chief executive officer (CEO) of Bengaluru-based new-age general insurance company Digit Insurance, is one of the youngest CEOs in the insurance industry.
She took over the baton in April 2022 from Vijay Kumar, who held the position since the company was founded in 2017, on his retirement from the organisation.
With 19 years of experience in the life and general insurance industry, Kohli, prior to becoming the CEO, oversaw all sales and distribution channels of Digit as its chief distribution officer (CDO). And then not only has she been with the company since its inception, she was also its first employee!
She has seen Digit Insurance, whose parent company Go Digit Infoworks Services Private Limited is backed by Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Financial Holdings, grow from a startup to a unicorn and thrive over the last five years.
Her agile market strategies and her prudent operational planning have aided the company in expanding its presence at an accelerated pace despite the pandemic.
During an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Kohli talks about her journey from being Digit’s first employee to now heading the company as MD & CEO, her priorities as the new CEO, challenges and opportunities in the insurance sector and her success mantra.
Here are some excerpts from the interview
You have seen Digit evolve over the years. How has your journey been from being Digit’s first employee to now the company’s MD & CEO?
Digit started with a mission to ‘Make insurance simple’, built on the base of two values ‘Question the status quo’ and ‘Be transparent’. These values have been there since day 1! And to foster this culture, one needed to be experimental, agile and have a heart big enough to fail and try again. This for me has been the best part of the journey at Digit and also defines me as an individual.
I have seen the company through its highs and lows, Covid-19 being a significant one. What sets Digit apart is its culture and the people who make it alive. Throughout this journey, our employees, including our partners, have been resilient and have helped us make the necessary pivot to ensure strong growth despite the challenges that came our way.
For me, it’s been a continuous process of learning and unlearning and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am looking forward to what the next few years have in store for us as we continue striving towards making insurance simple and more accessible.
What are the top two priorities as the new CEO for your company this new year?
One, simplicity; Two, simplicity!
And this will be seen in our products, our distribution operations, and processes, and will be backed by technology throughout. Also, reiterating Digit has been built on the culture I mentioned before, therefore will focus on anchoring the team to stay motivated, agile, never fear to try even if it means losing at times!
Ultimately, culture is an intangible yet most priceless of assets that makes organisations succeed.
What is the scope of insurance in the country, India being one of the most under-insured countries?
General insurance penetration in India is low at just about 1% of the GDP. This shows that a large section of our population is uninsured, which means that the opportunity is huge.
While the perception towards insurance products is gradually changing, collective efforts from across the industry will be required to ensure that more Indians understand the benefits of insurance and take the plunge.
While Covid-19 has increased awareness for health insurance, the participation from Tier III cities and beyond continues to be low. The regulator, by way of introducing standardised products, is trying to tackle this challenge. It will also require insurers like us to step up and find newer ways to make sure Bharat is not left behind when it comes to availing adequate insurance cover.
At Digit, we identified the need for simplification across the value chain, including the kind of products that we offer. A large part of the uninsured base procrastinates or ignores buying insurance simply because it comes across as a complex product and here’s where we see a huge opportunity.
Since inception we’ve taken up a host of initiatives to make insurance simple. However, a lot more needs to be done. Across the industry, the goal should be to make insurance accessible, and this can only happen if the category is made easy to understand.
What are the major industry challenges that you believe Digit addresses?
The biggest challenges that are hindering the industry’s growth are lack of awareness, poor perception towards insurance products, lack of transparency, and complex products and policy documents.
We recognised these issues even before the company was founded and therefore, since inception, we have focused predominantly on tackling these challenges. From products and policy documents, to how we communicate with our customers, and how we settle claims, we are constantly looking at how things can be simplified from customers’ point of view.
Our website also is built in a way that lends transparency and easy understanding of insurance jargon including what’s covered and what’s not. Through various marketing initiatives, we are constantly working on improving awareness and educating the masses on adopting the right strategy when it comes to buying insurance.
A few examples include Digit Dictionary, our #InsuringIndia podcast, the “Ouch Potato” Instagram mascot to reach the younger audience, among others.
What is the best advice you received during this time of uncertainty?
Nobody had expected the pandemic to last that long and for a company like us which was just founded, it meant high levels of uncertainty.
However, given that we were 100% on the cloud, the transition to remote working was rather easy. We also equipped our distribution teams and partners with the required digital tools to ensure their business doesn’t take a hit.
While it may sound cliched, the phrase “This too shall pass” is something that kept us going. We rose to the challenge and came up with relevant products, including a Covid-specific health insurance cover, which helped us clock healthy growth despite the challenges that came our way.
What is your mantra for success?
You grow when people around you grow. So, nurture the people around you, learn from them, help them grow. This is the only way the position as a leader will not be alone; it will be a party to enjoy.