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A Successful Training Partnership

INSEAD–HDFC Life: Strengthening the Distribution Network

Pankaj Gupta

Chief Marketing Officer

"The programmes we have developed with INSEAD provide access to cutting-edge thinking on key challenges such as responding to digital disruption and managing in a VUCA world. Participants get a chance to step away from the minutiae of the day-to-day work environment to consider such big-picture questions, along with relevant case studies from around the world."

Pankaj Gupta, Chief Marketing Officer for HDFC Life, explains how working with INSEAD – including co-creating customised courses – is helping the organisation strengthen its distribution network.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your role.

I am the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for HDFC Life, one of India’s leading private life insurance providers. We offer individual and group insurance solutions that meet customers’ various life-stage needs, from protection to savings and pensions. 

Apart from my role as the CMO, I wear a number of other hats. I look after certain strategic parts of the business, including signing up new partnerships and running key relationships. Together, these roles give me a 360-degree view of how I can contribute towards the success of the organisation. 

Tell us about your distribution model. How does it work?

The life insurance market in India is extremely competitive. Low levels of penetration offer a huge growth potential — but given the sheer size of the potential customer base, it makes sense for us to rely on a multi-channel and multi-partner distribution model which enables us to offer our solutions to as many customers as possible. So, we enter into strategic alliances with banks, financial institutions, non-banking financial companies, and healthtech and fintech companies, amongst others. 

What are some of the main challenges facing HDFC Life, given the changing landscape of life insurance distribution in India?

It is a very dynamic world out there. Indian consumers are becoming more digitally savvy, crossing seamlessly between the online and physical worlds in their purchasing journeys. To remain competitive, organisations like HDFC Life need to focus more on what these “smart customers” want and develop offerings using social and digital tools. This includes creating a customer experience that is more customised and convenient, and available across multiple channels. 

At the same time, digital advances mean we have the opportunity to explore new distribution models, where we embed our products and offerings. Pooling our customer knowledge can also help us to offer people more convenient and targeted solutions.

In short, a world of digital opportunities is opening up. It is vital to ensure our people understand how to harness these so that together, we can deliver value to our customers. Since I am responsible for building strategic alliances at HDFC Life, I keep a close eye on opportunities and possibilities. 

How does embarking on a series of customised programmes at INSEAD allow you to address such challenges? 

The opportunities I mentioned are not easy to capture. Typically, embarking on a distribution journey would mean committing for three to five years to allow the ecosystem time to mature. In short, it involves a certain degree of management commitment, and an investment of time and resources.

Training and development is a key aspect of that partnership journey. The programmes we have developed with INSEAD provide access to cutting-edge thinking on key challenges such as responding to digital disruption and managing in a VUCA world. Participants get a chance to step away from the minutiae of the day-to-day work environment to consider such big-picture questions, along with relevant case studies from around the world. 

The programmes also give us the opportunity to consider how we can get more value from our collaborative efforts – they help us gain fresh perspectives. And because attending is a highly immersive experience, participants become advocates for innovative ways of thinking in a short span of time. They can then take what they have learned back to the organisation allowing them to take on more responsibilities.

Why did you choose INSEAD to explore these possibilities?

We were initially drawn to INSEAD because of its stellar reputation as “the business school of the world”. Over the last two years, we have co-created three customised programmes and it’s been an extremely positive experience. 

INSEAD’s faculty have global reputations. More importantly, they excel at enabling participants to understand how to apply their knowledge to the specific business context that their organisation is facing. 

You chose to develop customised training programmes, rather than enrolling in open programmes. Why did you choose this approach?

Tailoring the content allows us to focus on the best ways to implement solutions in our particular line of business and create a high-level dialogue that suits our specific business needs. We are also able to focus on the most relevant case studies and frameworks that directly relate to our needs. 

What’s your impression of the quality of the programme content and faculty, and have your objectives been met?

We have really appreciated INSEAD’s flexibility and willingness to consider how best to customise content to meet our training needs. That has helped us create thought-provoking content that addresses the needs of all participants and tells them something new. That is no mean feat when you consider that the participants are typically senior leaders with direct, on-the-ground experience of many of these situations and challenges.

What feedback have you received from your participants? 

Participants have told us how rewarding it has been for them to attend the programmes. It is indeed gratifying to see that there is a real element of pride in attending, and the feeling of wanting to be a part of something exciting. 
Most importantly, people have told us that attending these courses has opened up fresh perspectives on new business opportunities for the digital era and how these could be applied in practice. 

What is the added value that you see INSEAD bringing to the table?

We have really appreciated faculty members’ willingness to share their perspectives on any business challenge we face – such as how to collaborate across boundaries, across industries and create new ecosystems. 

Overall, what difference has the partnership made to HDFC Life?

It is early days — developing our distribution ecosystem is typically a three-to-five-year journey. However, the programmes have been able to put us on a path to positive change, which is a real achievement. So, from that point of view, our partnership with INSEAD is already providing a substantial return on investment. 

To find out more about INSEAD Customised Programmes, please contact us.

INSEAD Personalised Experience




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