Ten years ago, Vijay Govada created Toyota Tsusho Insurance Broker India (TTIBI), one of India’s leading insurance brokers. “We started with three employees and one office,” Vijay tells The CEO Magazine. “Today, we have more than 190 employees in eight offices spread throughout the country. This is complemented by a presence in 30 other cities in India.”
With more than 33 years’ experience already accumulated in the insurance game, Vijay shows no sign of slowing down, and continues to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to doing right by his customers, particularly in the face of systemic problems in India’s insurance sector.
Both within the company and in the wider industry, Vijay’s role is to act as a bridge between the industry’s product and the customer. “I put myself in the customer’s shoes, to understand what they require. Understanding the need is one thing; delivering the right product to the right person at the right time is significantly more challenging, given the issues of trust prevalent in the industry,” he says.
TTIBI operates in line with six core values: professionalism, commitment, reliability, fairness, integrity and, most pertinently, trust. One of the biggest problems standing in the way of customer satisfaction in the insurance sector is a deficiency of trust. “People do not know enough about the way insurance works,” Vijay laments. “There’s a huge lack of trust in the insurance companies among customers, due to a lack of information and explanation.”
Coupled with this, there is considerable competition in the insurance industry today, with customers being very price sensitive. “However, everybody wants to compete on price, and nobody wants to understand the customer. Failure to align quantitative and qualitative aspects of insurance premiums leads to increased incidences of customers being sold insurance that isn’t the right fit,” he says.
Combating these failures is Vijay’s priority, and an additional cause for concern is the profit motive of many of the brokers in the market. “We place insurance products into one of two categories: customer-friendly products, which meet an actual need, and intermediary-friendly products, which fill the coffers of the insurance broker.”
Appalled at how people in India were short-changed by intermediary-friendly products, Vijay notes that, before the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) stepped in, there were acquisition costs of up to 40–50% paid to the intermediary. In November 2017, the IRDAI updated its guidelines for motor insurance service providers (MISPs) like TTIBI, introducing a ceiling on fees that can be collected by MISPs.
Positive changes to the industry are gradually being made, and Vijay is focusing on the company’s strengths. He believes that he is very fortunate to be a part of the Toyota group. “Here, we are introduced to the Toyota way of doing things: We are methodical and process-oriented, and always try to understand the root causes of problems as they arise before eliminating them.”
When facing a problem, he has learned the art of addressing it in a way that will prevent it from multiplying, or recurring down the line. “Don’t sweep the problem under the rug and do not hesitate to tell someone if they are wrong,” he says.
“We are methodical and process-oriented, and always try to understand the root causes of problems as they arise before eliminating them.”
These lessons have shaped Vijay’s leadership style, and he makes sure to instil the same values in his employees, while contributing to their overall fulfilment. “Ours is a customer-centric philosophy: We work for our customer. In addition to leaving customers satisfied, though, I believe strongly in contributing to employee satisfaction.” To this end, Vijay is very passionate about, and involved in, team recruitment. “I take a keen interest in recruiting my team members particularly at the senior levels,” he says.
He is confident that his involvement in the recruitment process, as well as in the nurturing of employees once they have joined the company, will encourage loyalty, even in the face of offers by rival companies, some of which are “10–20 times bigger”.
His involvement in recruitment aside, Vijay is content to let TTIBI’s branches run themselves, having made a commitment to decentralised management. He tells his managers to trust their own calls, and that he is always available for advice.
Vijay is optimistic about TTIBI’s future, and outlines several priorities for the years ahead. Regarding the company’s market position, “we’re among the top five insurance brokers in India, out of a field of 390. I would like us to be number two within the next three years,” he notes. His second priority is “to build on our presence in Tier-1 cities, and spread to 15 Tier-2 cities in the next three years”. Finally, the company is looking to increase its footprint in the reinsurance sector.
Vijay will also continue to champion increased transparency within the industry to benefit individuals seeking insurance. “Customers should first understand, precisely, their insurance needs, and how much cover they require in various areas. Second, they need to study what they already have, and bridge the gap between the two, by going to a knowledgeable intermediary,” he says.
With a passion for insurance not dimmed by more than three decades of work, Vijay wants “every person in India to take another look at their current insurance, identify what they need, and work to close the gap adequately by finding an optimum premium”. He will always be there to help them at every step along the way.