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Vighnesh Shahane, CEO (left) & Kapil Udaiwal, CHRO Image: Neha Mithbawkar for Forbes India
Two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have put the spotlight on companies that have focussed on nurturing the employee-employer relationship. Ageas Federal Life Insurance—previously known as IDBI Federal Life Insurance—is one such company that has reaped the benefits of investing in its workforce. “We keep our employees at the centre of all that we do, and work towards creating a culture that fosters openness and transparency, promotes meritocracy, and limits politics and bureaucracy,” says Vighnesh Shahane, 52, CEO of Ageas Federal Life Insurance.
The organisation’s people-first approach has earned it a spot in Kincentric’s Best Employer study 2021. In the last four years, the company introduced close to 52 employee-centric initiatives that focus on employee benefits, infrastructure development, improving the work environment, and increasing rewards and recognition for its 1,062 employees.
The pandemic has enabled an increased demand for life insurance, especially term and health insurance, which has augured well for Ageas Federal. “One of the positives to emerge out of the pandemic has been an increase in life insurance sales… not just in the metros and big cities, but even in smaller towns and rural areas, people have a greater understanding of the need to protect themselves and their families from life’s uncertainties,” says Kapil Udaiwal, 44, chief human resource officer at Ageas Federal Life Insurance.
“We increased focus on improving persistency, risk mitigation strategies, rationalising the costs, and a decline in surrenders and healthier solvency margin have helped us stay afloat through this difficult time,” he adds.
IDBI Federal Life Insurance Company was renamed Ageas Federal Life Insurance Company after the Belgian multinational insurer Ageas Insurance International (Ageas) bought 23 percent holding, taking the total stake in the company to 49 percent.
During the protracted stake sale process, employees were anxious and uncertain about the future of the organisation, says Shahane. “Business was disrupted as one of our distributors reduced business volumes to the lowest possible. It was a classic scenario of VUCA [volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous] where intervention was required, as leadership was under the scanner from all angles,” he elaborates.
“During the stake sale process, usually the employee issues are sidelined and employees turn sceptical of any initiatives introduced for their benefit,” says Udaiwal. “Contrary to this, during the stretched two-and-a-half-year-plus stake sale process of our company, we have heightened employee connect and listening initiatives. During this period, we have implemented 35 initiatives demonstrating the ‘business as usual’ and ‘employee-first’ philosophy, even during challenging times,” he says, adding that this continued communication with employees has helped them retain trust.
Ageas Federal has been working towards easing the discomfort caused by the pandemic. “Covid-19 has increased role of the employer as a social safety net. We focussed on our employee concerns and care for them during the crisis, basing our strategies around three pillars: Physical health, mental health, and financial health,” says Udaiwal.
Employees are encouraged to ask questions, raise doubts, and clear concerns without fear of retribution. Based on the feedback from employees, the leaders take measures to address those concerns by implementing new processes and altering existing policies. All this is regularly communicated to the workforce under the initiative ‘You Said, We Did’ to ensure that employees know that their voices are being heard. This effort has led to a high engaging leadership score, improving business performance, and strengthening employee engagement.
Ageas Federal is on a hiring spree as it is expanding its proprietary channels and eyeing a larger pie of the insurance market. Women comprise 20 percent of the workforce, with around 21 percent female managers. The organisation is now working on improving its female-to-male ratio. “We are focusing on creating a gender-sensitive, inclusive work environment for diverse groups of employees by providing them with opportunities for professional and personal growth. We are also regularly redefining policies and procedures to ensure that the workplace is inclusive, equitable, and open to new ideas and approaches,” says Shahane.
Vishal Mulgaonkar, 44, who is the head of compensation and has worked with the organisation for 14 years, believes that Ageas Federal’s employee-centric policies are unique and have helped shape the success of the company.
“With the employee wellbeing as a top priority, we have an empowering work culture that gives us the confidence and reassurance to try new things and take bold decisions,” he says. “The open, honest, direct communication practised by Vighnesh, and Kapil’s ability to effectively manage teams and push boundaries while keeping the bigger picture in mind have been game changers for the organisation.”