After Shakti Ammas, it may be the turn of Bima Vahaks



In a remote rural village, a group of women are deeply involved in an animated conversation – not about household chores or idle gossip about trivial things – but about something more substantial. The women are listening to someone of their own on the efficacy of having insurance covers. This imaginative scene may become a reality soon, with the insurance regulator planning to develop mostly a women-centric distribution model in order to facilitate insurance availability in the hitherto untapped areas and rural population.

The move is a much-needed one as insurance penetration in India is hovering around just 4.2%, with large parts of the remote parts of the country remaining untouched by insurance companies.

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According to the draft guidelines issued by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irdai), Bima Vahaks (BV) will be the crucial last-mile connect for insurers in the form of a field force comprising corporates as well individuals with a focus on onboarding women who can gain the trust of locals for the distribution and servicing of insurance products.

But why is the regulator focusing on onboarding of women for creating customised distribution channels to reach untapped rural areas?

Raj Kumar, former managing director of Life Insurance Corporation, says women are seen to be in a better position to convince people about insurance about which there are still a lot of misgivings. Women are increasingly taking decisions on behalf of the family and will confide more if they meet women BVs. “There will be a certain degree of comfort between the buyer and the seller,” he said.

Kumar, an insurance industry veteran, believes focusing on women as Bima Vahak will definitely increase penetration, particularly in rural areas. “Women have a habit of small savings. They do save for a rainy day. This is ingrained in their psyche. So women BVs will be able to convey the message very clearly to the families and the womenfolk that life insurance also has saving products. So both life as well as the saving prospect can be covered,” he adds.

In fact, the concept of a woman-centric distribution model for rural India is nothing new. Consumer giant Hindustan Unilever had launched Project Shakti, the company’s rural marketing initiative, in 2001, with stellar results. The company’s rural connectivity team, working with non-government organisations and self-help Groups, evolved a model that would carry both Hindustan Lever’s brands and their communication to inaccessible parts of rural India. Project Shakti was launched in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh as a pilot. Under this project, women entrepreneurs in villages are called Shakti Ammas.

HUL’s annual report for 2022-23 says till date it has empowered over 190,000 women in rural India to become Shakti entrepreneurs.

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Irdai’s draft guidelines propose that a BV shall sell and service the Bima Vistaar product approved by the regulator and other insurance products specifically approved by it.

According to Prashant Tripathy, MD & CEO at Max Life Insurance, “while BV is a good way to reach out to every village, a different distribution and product approach is needed. To address this, Irdai is looking at a simple and standard product that will offer affordable but comprehensive cover to the rural population.

“What we are looking at now is one simple kind of a product which has a combination of a life, health and and other non-life insurance products. This product will be very easy to understand to buy or make claims,” says a senior executive at a large private sector general insurance company.

“Today we have digital movement everywhere, internet and banking services reach every village. So, insurance needs to be actively there. Unlike banking and other technologies which are more easy to understand, insurance is a little more complex. So, there is a need for people to be aware of insurance and then obviously generate interest towards it and think of it as a protection for a family,” the executive adds.

Irdai has asked all the stakeholders to submit their comments and suggestions on the proposed guidelines by June 22.


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