TAPAN SINGHEL MANAGING DIRECTOR & CEO, BAJAJ ALLIANZ GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY

“Listen to your customers and your employees, they are the most important thing and define your business.”

“I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it does not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives.”

– Satya Nadella, CEO-Microsoft

Mr. Tapan Singhel in all the avatars in his life, as an administrator, a visionary business leader, an orator, and an intellectual, perfectly embodies the glowing spirit that animates the aforesaid words of Mr Satya Nadella.

The magic of the magician

An M Sc in Physics with a specialization in Spectroscopy and Lasers from Benaras Hindu University Mr. Singhel hails from a completely non-business background. In light of his present stature and his boundless wisdom that has shaped and contributed to his life’s work, one would find it very hard to believe that the same man could not clear some of his papers in his first year of B Sc Physics honors. Mr. Tapan Singhel has been with the Bajaj Allianz General Insurance since the inception of the company in 2001 as one of its founding employees. He was an integral part of the team that was responsible for exponential growth in the retail channels of business . Rising through the ranks, from being the Regional Manager to Zonal Manager (East, North, Central & Delhi), he went on to become the President and the Chief Marketing Officer. Mr. Tapan Singhel took over as MD and CEO of the company in April 2012. Last year marked the completion of a glorious journey of 2 decades of Bajaj Allianz. Out of these two decades, Mr. Singhel has been the captain of the company for the last ten years
.

Under his guidance in the last 10 years the company has moved from strength to strength, whether it comes to sales, distribution or customer engagement, with a clear cut digital first approach. As the MD & CEO of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company Limited, Mr.
Singhel has ensured growth, profitability, and cost leadership in the industry – he carries the unique distinction of being the leader who delivered underwriting profit, quarter after quarter, and year after year. In fact, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance has more than 50% share of the industry’s profit.

At present, he chairs the CII National Committee on Insurance and Pensions. He recently won ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the 25th Asia Insurance Industry Awards 2021. He has won ‘CEO of the Year’ for India and Asia- Pacific region at the IDC Future Enterprise Awards 2021. He was honoured as the ‘Personality of the Year’ at Quantic’s BFSI Excellence Awards 2021, India Insurance Summit & Awards 2019, 22nd Asia Insurance Industry Awards 2018 and Indian Insurance Summit 2017. He was also awarded the title of Best CEO at Insurance Asia Awards and was recognized as the Most Promising Business Leaders of Asia 2018 by The Economic Times.He has been recognised as the LinkedIn’s Top Voice in India in both 2018 and 2019. His profile has been featured in the LinkedIn Power Profiles India list from 2015-2018.

Under Mr. Singhel’s dynamic leadership, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance has become one of the largest private insurers in the country, with offices in over 1000 towns and cities. Mr. Singhel fondly reminiscences – “I remember those early days when we were setting up offices. There were no such fancy offices. We would find some small business centers and small shops and we would set up our office there. We would sit there and talk to our customers and clients and give them long presentations. And after the presentation, the customer/client would look at us and say, ‘Yeah it’s good, it’s very nice, it’s very impressive – but I will not give you business right now, because I am not sure that you will not run away!’” – How amazing! In the two decade-long journey, Bajaj Allianz rose from being a humble start-up to becoming an industry leader. One has to just look at what the stats speak for the company: as of today, the company enjoys the faith of close to 13 crore customers, over 7000 employees and can boast of a robust distribution network of more than 80,000 agents, almost 9,000 motor dealer partners, and over 240 bank partners. Still, Mr. Singhel refuses to be complacent and refuses to rest on past laurels. For a visionary like him, even the sky cannot be the limit!

In keeping with the general proclivity of a technocrat with a natural love for innovation and technological advancement, Mr. Singhel has ably guided his company in such a way as to make it possible for the doorstep delivery of insurance solutions to its customers. He has introduced the use of the ‘EEZEEZTAB’, which has significantly empowered their employees, partners and advisors and it has also enabled them to leverage this new age mobility tool to easily reach out to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities – ensuring deeper penetration for Bajaj Allianz General Insurance company as well as upholding the larger financial inclusion agenda of the country. Through its digital and virtual offices, it has reached out to over 1000 new Tier 2 and 3 towns across India. Not only this, the Company is taking its relationships with the customers beyond insurance, by offering them a plethora of digitized customer-centric initiatives.

Under Mr. Singhel’s able leadership Bajaj Allianz General Insurance , once again registered strong financial results for FY’22 by posting revenue of ₹ 13,788 crores for the period, posting a net profit ₹ 1,339 crore. The company also reported a healthy Combined Ratio of close to 100% and a solvency ratio of 344% during the same period.

‘Home and the World’ of the Insurance Industry at a Glance

Currently, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company has an array of insurance products to offer – ranging from Motor insurance and health insurance to Travel, property, pet dog insurance, House, Furniture, and even a cover for cyber crimes and fraud which are rampant these days.

What makes Mr. Tapan Singhel an extraordinary leader and administrator and which has been the company’s biggest differentiating factor from the rest – is the great importance that Mr. Singhel attaches to ensuring the highest standards of customer service. His unique understanding of the market dynamics has helped him steer the organization to great heights
These are some of the qualities that have given the company an extra edge in this highly competitive industry. The humanist that Mr Singhel is, under him, the Company changed its brand identity to ‘Caringly Yours’ to reposition itself in the minds of Indian consumers as As a brand that protects and cares for its customers. The company not only helps its customers protect their most prized possessions but also aims to solve their day to day worries. With this, the Company not just aims to take its service to the next level but also seeks to provide the best customer experience at every touch-point and make insurance a ‘pull’ rather than a
‘push’ product.

If we look at the Indian Insurance (Life and Non-Life) Market as a whole we will get to know how significant Mr. Singhel’s contributions have been. The insurance industry of India has 58 insurance companies, of which 24 are in the life insurance business, while 34 are non-life insurers. In India, the overall market size of the insurance sector was the US $ 280 billion in 2020. India is ranked at the 10th position among the 88 participating countries in the life insurance business, as published by Swiss Re. India’s share in the global life insurance market was 2.61%, in 2018. During the same period, the growth in global non-life insurance premiums was 3%. However, the share of Indian non-life insurance premiums in global nonlife insurance premiums was 1.1% and India ranked 15th in the global non-life insurance market. So we can see how the Indian insurance sector is underperforming, as compared to the developed and emerging economies. Insurance penetration and density, which are the key performance indicators of the insurance industry, are especially low in India.

This certainly justifies the moves of Mr. Singhel, who had been instrumental in pushing for digitization of the company. Furthermore, there is a significant gap between insurance coverage and value, which highlights the high-risk state of the country. Since these vital parameters of insurance coverage and value are fast improving at a static growth rate, insurance penetration in India (measured as the ratio of the insurance premium paid and GDP of the country) has increased from 2.71% in 2001 to just 3.7% in 2018. Although this is a significant development, considering the volume of business, but still it lags behind in comparison with the penetration levels in the rest of the world (6.13%) and the emerging Asian economies (5.62%).

The man and his principles that had made him what he is…..

For Mr. Tapan Singhel, “People” are not assets in the first place; neither are they tools or machines. One has to respect them. He firmly believes employees are happier when they are given opportunities to integrate. In his idea of equality, to quote him, “We are born a human being and must be respected equally – no matter at what position a person is. Given the equal opportunity, everyone shines and they can contribute in a meaningful manner.”

As Mr. Singhel often contemplates his life, he thinks that one has to ask oneself if his work makes an impact at all. For him, a business leader’s responsibility doesn’t end with ensuring a healthy Balance Sheet for the company. It starts there, but a true leader has to go the extra mile and go beyond the everyday work to ensure that they can make a difference to the society in a way that it leads to overall betterment of the nation. In fact, he often talks about generating at least a million jobs for the citizens of our country and protect each and every citizen against any exigency.

Mr. Singhel is a very humble, down to earth and a simple person who loves to take time and hold conversations with people on diverse topics. In fact, he loves to communicate his point of view, opinions and learnings with a larger audience through his blogs and social media.

Mr. Singhel lucidly explains the reason why he thinks it is necessary to take the cover of insurance to every common household, to the bottom of the pyramid, where it matters: “When a flood happens, say the economic loss is 20,000 crores, as an insurer, insurer’s loss is only 4,000 crore, who gives the balance 16000 crores? Not the rich people, the average middle-income group bear the burden. So we must work for their betterment.

The consumer must say “It’s good to be insured” to take insurance there is a great social issue”.

Mr. Singhel has often spoken about and stressed about the need of insurance and says that a customer must feel good to be insured. He often states that insurance is such an excellent risk mitigation tool and is so affordable, and is a must have for everyone. For example – a death-only personal accident cover of Rs 1 lac may be obtained at a small sum of just Rs 45 per year, an insurance cover against Covid would cost something around Rs 600/700 a year.

The change of mindset will usher in the change in the scenario…

However, there is a negative perception towards insurance and misconceptions about settlement of claims make people apprehensive about opting for insurance. However, if one were to look at data this seems to be misplaced, if you see the entire industry has a combined ratio of more than 100% i.e a huge amount of claims are getting paid. Then Mr. Singhel mulls, maybe it is just not this, he continued even more strikingly ‘Once I spoke to a psychologist friend about this topic, who suggested that the human brain is not wired to see risk.’ The younger you are, the less you see risks.

Both these elements actively contribute towards lower penetration and hesitancy to buy insurance. And the only way to change this mind-set is to have conversations about insurance. Mr. Singhel strongly believes that distribution is the backbone of the insurance industry. The more conversations the distributors are able to have about the significance of insurance and how it is the most cost effective method to mitigate risks, we will see the more acceptance towards insurance as a whole.
Mr. Singhel truly believes that insurance is the business of doing good because it gives you the privilege to be there for your customers in the direst hours, to support them, to wipe their tears and make a real difference to people’s lives.

Sneak peek into his life….the life worth celebrating!

Mr. Tapan Singhel grew up in Kolkata, where he studied science at the prestigious La
Martiniere for Boys School. With a wistful smile across his lips, Mr. Singhel reminiscences how under the spell of childish fancies and whimsicalities he would often imagine himself as a grown-up man in the colorful guises myriad of professions, from being a conductor of a bus to becoming the President of India! He grew up learning about the tidbits of the lives of illustrious scientists. He would be all the more fascinated to learn that some of them even got the coveted Nobel Prize. Contrary to popular career choices of his time, which invariably remained confined to being either doctors or engineers, young Tapan dreamt of becoming a scientist. This scientific curiosity is still at large even today and fuels his passion for innovation, and asking the question “Why not”

The vicissitudes of life, however, led young Tapan to the age-old but prestigious BHU. However unknown to Tapan, the campus was waiting for him with an exciting and thrilling array of experiences. Tapan felt very much at home playing sports, being part of extra-curricular activities, handling student unions and even staging protests and lockouts. In displaying street smartness seasoned with prudence, young Tapan would prove himself to be second to none.

It was again a fortuitous path that took him into the world of the insurance industry. Before taking a flight to the US to conduct research, Tapan, in a spirit of self-examination and a quest for some thrill, chose to take an insurance entrance examination. For him, it was no more than a casual IQ test. But destiny had other plans: Tapan passed the exam with flying colors and got a posting in the Mumbai office of New India Assurance. Tapan took to the insurance industry as a fish takes to the water. Needless to say, what followed was the making of a legend in the field of the insurance industry.

His success in valuing people and relationships is something that Mr. Tapan Singhel counts as one of his key achievements. He is always respectful about the affective forces that inform human life; he eschews the mercenary value which sometimes impels certain business honchos to use people and only value money. Tapan however, only deeply values people. He is still a scientist at heart, which makes him privilege a rational scientific bent of mind over everything else. Not unlike the brilliant but industrious scientists, Tapan considers perseverance to be one of the chief guiding principles of his life. The innate humility of the man inextricably ties him up with the so-called ‘old school’ family values. Thus he believes in his heart of hearts that it is most important for a man to ensure that even beyond his life on earth people remember him as someone whose contributions made a genuine difference in their lives.

A section from his blog, ‘My Take’, his memoir, will further illustrate the point:

“When I reminisce about my academic life, the days I looked forward to the most were the sporting tournaments. As a young boy, I enrolled in various matches held in my school, albeit at times it was to surreptitiously escape from classes. Back then, I used to view sports as a fun activity that allowed me to break from the otherwise monotonous curriculum of the school. Although my initial tryst with sports was a result of the carefree enthusiasm of boyhood, it soon transcended into something more important as I started appreciating the fine lessons that sports teach. Many hours that I spent on the field, practicing and strategizing with my teammates, taught me a few of life’s most valuable lessons. My basic foundation of team spirit, leadership, failures, and success, can trace it all down to sports. On the solid foundation laid in the sports ground, I have learned how to remain calm amid the roaring passion that naturally comes while playing. I have learned how to read the conditions, form strategies, decisions making, take calculated risks, and most of all – the spirit of sportsmanship. These lessons have helped me in life and business.”

Leadership is all about team building and trusting your team. Mr. Singhel cites the example of Bayern Munich’s 7 players, who were in the 2013 FIFA World Cup Winning national squad because they developed a relationship while playing for the club. Mr. Singhel spends a lot of his time and energy nurturing the next generation of leaders – pushing them into difficult situations deliberately. He believes that giving serious responsibilities to young people with confidence and then encouraging them to go ahead without fear is the first step toward building up a pool of future leaders.

What is the future of work – his understanding of the “new normal” world…

He firmly believes that physical brick-and-mortar offices will inevitably disappear or will become things of secondary importance in the foreseeable future. That would indeed mark a tectonic shift in the way “offices” or “office spaces” are perceived in the general consciousness of the populace. A vibrant spirit of cooperation and collaboration can be the only animating force in the industries of the future. He emphatically averse that, “If you don’t collaborate you are over… If you don’t collaborate you will not be able to reap the benefits for years. Every future industry should be collaborative. Employees who will survive are not the muggers. Those who can solve problems fast – not arrogant and collaborative will only win the race in the long run.”

To educate his staggering number of followers on LinkedIn (around 7 lac) and to add to their level of awareness of the modern world’s existence, Mr. Singhel regularly writes with intelligence, warmth, and élan. He never forgets to mention that it is the banal existence of normal lives lived amid myriad challenges and stray moments of joy that is the perennial spring of his inspiration. The glitz and glamour of icons and their celebrity could never seduce the mind of this down-to-earth man.
Mr. Singhel, needless to say, is the nucleus of the advisory board to the insurance regulatory body. His wife is an MBA, and both his daughters are well established in life, one being a doctor, and the other an engineer. He also has two sisters (one is a doctor in Calcutta, and the other, is a professor in Delhi).

Whilst one side of Mr. Singhel is deeply rooted in the scientific and rational approach, he firmly believes that having empathy and genuine concern are the hallmarks of a good human being. He firmly believes that one must smile and keep smiling irrespective of what the situation is and always look to derive the positive learning from any setbacks. One should always live life with a child-like enthusiasm.

For him, wealth creation is not directly proportional to happiness creation. As a part of his job – he is an extrovert /but loves to spend time with himself, his deeply cherished moments of solitude and peace which he calls his, “no disturbance time”. He believes that the most important journey that one can embark upon is inward and he has embarked upon an ever learning journey of spiritualism

What better way to end this, than quoting the man himself: “Remember – knowledge transfer is multi-dimensional. Only when we are open to learning from an inanimate object as much as we are from an established subject matter expert – do we grow and evolve as human beings! I believe that in your biggest apprehension often lies your greatest opportunity! So rather than shrinking away from taking on a new perspective from someone younger than you, be open and flexible to embrace their ideas, who knows it might lead you to your next aha moment in life!”

Whenever we look back in pride and wonderment at the illustrious professional career of Mr. Tapan Singhel for the last 3 decades, we cannot help but get reminded of the very last line of G B Shaw’s comedy Arms and the Man: ‘What a man! Is he a man!’ Indeed…Mr Tapan Singhel is indeed an extraordinary confluence of erudition, humanism, leadership prowess and business acumen.

Excerpted from Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri’s upcoming book ‘TIGER ROARS’ by Times Books