Star Health on Building Pan India Talent Pool, and Going All Out Digital in Sales, Claims and Hiring 4341

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Sriharsha Achar, Joint ED & CHRO Star Health and Allied Insurance Co Ltd.

In a conversation with All Things Talent, Sriharsha Achar, Joint ED & CHRO, Star Health and Allied Insurance, which went public recently, shares his insights on the tech hiring, ESOPs and the back-to-work process for the firm.

Q. What is fuelling this huge tech talent-hiring that has possibly impacted every sector?

A. It resonates with our organisation as well. Remote working has led to many new requirements, changing needs, migration to the cloud, spending on data security, a lot of demand for online services, be it HR or any other department. From the insurance company’s point of view, we wanted to provide a facility where customers can load their claims requirements directly through their mobile handsets or PCs. In the last two years, a lot of experimentation was done. Many processes that were manual or semi-automatic were set aside to be digitised. That is leading to the tech boom within the organisation. Since an organisation cannot have all the skill sets in terms of technology, work is outsourced and that’s why you are seeing the tech boom.

“In the last two years, a lot of experimentation was done. Many processes that were manual or semi-automatic were set aside to be digitised. That is leading to the tech boom within the organisation. Since an organisation cannot have all the skill sets in terms of technology, work is outsourced and that’s why you are seeing the tech boom.” 

Q. How crucial is tech hiring for Star Health and Allied Insurance in terms of growth prospects?

A. At Star Health, we want to simplify the processes of selling, policy updates, and claims being paid out to the person. It’s true that in the last 20 months there has been an uptake in health insurance policies, primarily because of two things. One is fear and the second is awareness. The combination of both is making people take insurance covers. But what remains debatable is which is the adequate cover. People have run up to crores of rupees due to Covid alone. Having said that, if you see the market now, it has slowly come down again because the fear has receded. Even after all that and given the size of the country populace, only 35 percent are covered by some kind of insurance. 65 percent of people still pay out of their pockets. So yes, in terms of last year’s growth, May-June-July saw an excess of 50 percent. It slowly came down to 30-35 percent and then again shot up during the second wave. Now it has plateaued. Both sales and claims are now enabled by technology and that’s where the boom is witnessed in our company.

Q. Could you give some overview of your existing tech talent base? How is Star Health attracting tech talent?

A. We were a small technology team a year ago but today we are 140 people. We were only about 70-80 people last year. At the end of the day, for Star Health, we look for people who have both technology and domain backgrounds. So getting such people from the industry has become a challenge. Plus, an IT guy would want to work for an IT company. All said and done, Star Health is a traditional organisation. It’s a very family value-based organisation and it is based in Chennai. The tech talent is available outside of Chennai. So expecting them to relocate was a challenge. But now we have made a few modifications and offered flexible options to the IT guys. So our dropout ratio has reduced drastically in the last two months. It’s better than the industry where it is said that 50 percent of the people drop out. Once a person considers looking out, the offers escalate continuously to 60-70 percent which is now the average in the industry. It’s a bubble in the present context and we don’t know when it will burst.

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Q. How long do you think this bubble will last?

A. I will give it about 12 months. In the late 2022, it will stabilise, the reason being many of the projects would have taken off or been completed. That’s why you are seeing so many organisations rushing to hire people. If they are freshers, it will take some time to train them.

Q. How was the hiring in the last two years and what happens to it in the next year?

A. Over the last seven months, we have hired about 1700 people across levels. When I joined a year ago, our HR team was about 25 people, today we are 40. The employee strength was around 12000, today we are 14000 people, excluding the agents. We didn’t have a presence in the zones, so we worked on that. Now even the zones are expanding. So we are planning to have one HRBP per zone. We have 20 zones, so will have 20 HRBPs. Currently, it’s only 9. So that will go up in the period of next six-eight months. Luckily for us, our attrition is much better than the industry. So we are able to latch on and retain the majority of the population.

Q. What was the role of tech in the hiring processes?

A. The only thing that changed was the interviews were done in video mode instead of personal ones. We took a risk because you never know when somebody will masquerade as someone else on a video call, particularly when they don’t put on the video. In terms of onboarding, everything was in physical copy. Today you have to fill up a lot of forms, especially in terms of statutory compliances and things like PF, nominees. All that went online.

Q. What could be that one trend that would emerge from all these swift hirings which is noticeable at present?

A. When the bubble bursts, some might be left high and dry. Especially people earning in higher brackets, they will face a bigger problem. But it will stabilise eventually.

Q. If you have to identify a few skills in terms of tech hiring, what would be those?

A. One is architecture, then data engineering, data security, testers, and digital innovation. IT implements but you need someone who knows which sections to digitise and how to do so. I see this booming for at least the next 3-5 years. 

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Q. What has been the back-to-work process for Star Health and Allied Insurance?

A. During the pandemic, as per the Government guidelines, people came in whenever they were required. Everything was enabled over a period of time. Star Health had started taking the pre-pandemic actions from February 2020 itself. Wherever possible, people are working from home. It has given more flexible options. Our sales agents are obviously on the field as even today one has to connect with the agents and consumers directly. We have a lot of presence in the rural areas. Out there, except for WhatsApp or TikTok, they don’t have access to a lot of apps.

I see more playgrounds emerging. 30 percent want to work from the office while another 30 percent prefer to work from home. Then there is ‘phygital’ which looks for flexibility. The fourth category will be the gig workers. That’s how many organisations will be impacted. Now the management techniques for each of these playgrounds will also change. I have seen many managers failing to deal with the team remotely. The techniques they employed before might not work anymore.

Q. Star Health has a lot of rural presence, as you mentioned. So what is the hiring strategy that you employ for such pockets? Is it mostly through referrals?

A. Yes, referrals are one channel that we use. Almost 90 percent of people are hired through references as it makes it easy and the process gets simplified a lot. We also make sure that we train a lot of people to become agents. IC-38 agents are going to be our agents. The health industry gets some benefits from having agents from other sections of the insurance industry. You can have your own agents too and we are hiring them in large numbers making sure they pass the test.

Q. What are the retention policies of Star Health and Allied Insurance? Are there any ESOP advantages?

ESOP has been offered to 4000 people. Initially, it was offered to 200 which kept increasing over the years. This year we decided to include the lowest level best performing sales manager. It was a combination of performance, tenure, the criticality of the position, and longevity in the company.

A. We also have a policy called goodwill gesture, a form of LTIP. For the lowest level, it is the three 20months salary that gets credited to a virtual account in the name of the employee, mid-level it’s about two months while at the senior level, it’s about one month. Every five years one can withdraw a certain percentage. At retirement, the balance can be withdrawn.

Our average age in the workforce is 37 years old. We have started making NPS popular. At the end of one’s service, the person gets an annuity or money as a corpus.

-As told to Bruhadeeswaran R and Moumita Bhattacharjee

INTERVIEW-Sriharsha-Achar_-Joint-ED-_-CHRO_-Star-Allied-Health-Insurance

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Sriharsha Achar has 34+ years of HR experience in several industries such as manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, electronics, IT/ITES, health insurance, and healthcare. He has earlier held senior HR Leadership positions at Apollo Hospitals Group, Apollo Munich Health Insurance, Xchanging Technologies (now DXC), America Online, First Ring India, and AstraZeneca.

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