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Setting new benchmarks in distributor engagement

Sidharth Damani, Co - Head Retail Sales and Distribution, Birla Sun Life AMC

1st November 2016

In a nutshell

Over 30,000 distributors individually called and briefed on each new initiative within just 45 days. New distributors empanelled online within minutes instead of weeks. Focused distributor activation that kicks in immediately after empanelment. A distributor mobile app that enables much more than just transactions. An award-winning loyalty program. And of course, a suite of training programs that are regarded as the best in the industry. There's a lot of hard work that has gone into the giant strides that BSL AMC has made in recent years to strengthen distributor engagement, and emerge a leader. Sidharth takes us through some of the new paradigms that his team has successfully implemented to set new benchmarks in distributor engagement.

WF: BSL MF has been very active in recent years on distributor engagement and distributor centric initiatives. What would you say are the 2 or 3 big initiatives that have made a material difference in the quality and extent of your distribution engagement?

Sidharth: Independent financial advisors have been a big pillar of our growth story. As aspirations for geographic coverage increased over the years, the contribution and importance of the independent distributor channel has grown significantly. Getting more and more distributors active for us has been a big prerogative for our sales team.

There are a number of distributor centric initiatives we have taken, as this graphic demonstrates:


All of them are very important, but if you were to ask me to pick a couple, I would say its Project Sampark and Nipun,

  1. Project Sampark: At the core of Project Sampark is a 14 member dedicated call centre that serves as an outbound outreach initiative for distributors. Project Sampark has enabled us to implement focused outreach initiatives around several of our key programs - whether it is distributor empanelment, or distributor activation or implementing key sales initiatives and promotional drives. For example, we ran an initiative to enhance awareness of our liquid plus scheme and were able to reach out to over 19,600 IFAs across the country. We ran a campaign promoting balanced funds as a concept and our BSL 95 as a solution, and were able to reach out to over 30,000 IFAs with this message, through Project Sampark. Our recent SIP campaign - Sabse Important Plan- has been communicated individually to over 30,000 IFAs in just the last 1 and a half months through Project Sampark. What this has done is to give great support to our sales team in our effort to reach out to every distributor.

  2. BSL Nipun: All our distributor training and development initiatives are covered within Nipun. I think the best part of Nipun is that it is perhaps one of the most extensive programs in the industry. Nipun reaches out to distributors in T-15, B-15 as well as emerging locations (towns where we do not have a branch) - it is very inclusive in that respect. In FY16 alone, we have conducted over 300 training programs, where over 12,000 IFAs participated. In this financial year, over 8,000 IFAs have already benefited from Nipun's training programs. Over 75% of these IFAs are from B-15 locations which demonstrates the inclusiveness of this program. Our in-house Nipun team is ably complemented by external trainers where required, to offer a very comprehensive suite of training interventions across all aspects that IFAs need inputs - products, selling skills, behavioural finance, goal planning, motivation, etc.

The CFGP program in association with the Indian chapter of the American Academy of Financial Planners has been hugely successful, with over 5000 IFAs now certified as Goal Planners, from 108 locations across the country. It's not just a one day program - CFGP involves continuous engagement over a 1 year period beyond the classroom session, through case studies and interactions.

We are really grateful to distribution partners who have recognised us as the best in the industry in terms of distributor training in the 2016 edition of your Wealth Forum Advisor Confidence Survey. Our effort will be to continue supporting them through relevant training and development interventions as they navigate changing market and regulatory environments.

WF: What are the features of FinGo Partner and how can distributors leverage this to enhance their business?

Sidharth: BSLMF FinGo Partner goes much beyond just transactions. With FinGo Partner, we help distributors onboard customers, help them execute client transactions and help them serve their clients.

We have introduced an E-KYC facility in FinGo Partner, with the help of which distributors can get investors mutual fund ready - whether for investments in our funds or any other funds in the industry. It is a big enabler of bringing in new investors into the industry. Distributors can also use BSLMF FinGo Partner to open zero balance folios immediately after completing the E-KYC.

All forms of transactions - purchase, redemption, SIP, STP etc can be initiated through the app. We offer a comprehensive suite of reports on this app to help distributors service their clients better. We also use this app to send out important notifications and alerts to distributors.

BSLMF FinGo Partner is also equipped with a range of goal planning calculators, to enable distributors to use a single app to plan and execute - all through a mobile device, on a single app.

WF: What are plans for FinGo over the next 12 months - what more should distributors expect from it? Would there be some form of integration between FinGo and your advisor portal? Are there plans to offer a comprehensive business platform for your distributors?

Sidharth: We understand distributors need to ensure that our app and portal can talk to a platform or open architecture software that they are currently using. Enabling such collaboration is a big imperative for our team and we are working on this.

Two areas where we have put in a lot of effort recently are a transaction tracker and a lead management solution. Distributors spend a lot of their time in tracking individual transactions through to execution. This results in a lot of to and fro calling, follow up, status updates etc, which is very time consuming. We have put in place a transaction tracker which allows distributors to get real time status on every transaction they have submitted for execution, showing exactly what the current status is of each transaction. This saves a huge amount of time in back and forth conversations and manual status updates.

The other aspect is lead management. We get a lot of leads which we pass on to distributors. We are now implementing more robust lead management solutions that enable us and our distributors partners to maintain efficient tracking of all leads until closure.

WF: What is Mission Happiness? How has it helped investor and distributor engagement?

Sidharth: Mission Happiness originally is an Aditya Birla Group (ABG) initiative implemented by various businesses within ABG, and now by us. As we grow, it is important for us to know how our partners and their customers perceive us. If we want to delight our customers, we must first understand them better and understand what they think of our strengths and weaknesses. Delighting customers is what Mission Happiness is all about.

This initiative commenced in 2015, and one of its key metrics is the Net Promoter Score. Customers can broadly be divided into three segments - promoters, passive and detractors. Our goal will be move as many detractors as possible to at least being passive, move passive customers to become active promoters, and maintain the positive view of our promoters. Moving more and more customers towards being promoters of us will enhance our Net Promoter Score - which in a single metric, tells us whether we are moving overall in the right direction or not in creating happy customers.

Executing Mission Happiness has three basic components: listen, learn and then act. We initiated Mission Happiness covering distributor partners in 54 locations from three zones. We received feedback from over 500 IFAs, and after receiving their consent, reached out to over 9000 of their investors to understand what they thought of BSL MF.

We listened carefully to what they told us, we learnt many valuable lessons from their feedback and we acted swiftly on areas of improvement highlighted by our distributors. It is with some satisfaction that I share with you that in repeat feedback that we solicited from these distributors later, 24% of them mentioned they have seen significant improvement in us.

WF: How does your One Click distributor empanelment work? How many MFDs have leveraged this?

Sidharth: Our experience in the industry is that it takes between 7 to 21 days for an AMC to empanel a distributor. We are in the digital world where we are on boarding investors through E-KYC instantly - we thought why not do the same for distributors as well? If a distributor comes to us seeking empanelment, he clearly wants to commence business with us. Why not enable him instantly - through just one click?

One Click is a facility where a distributors comes to us online seeking empanelment and inputs his basic data that he gave to AMFI at the time of getting his ARN. The data is instantly verified, and he is empanelled straight away.

It's been a year since we launched One Click, and over 7500 distributors have utilized it to get instantly empanelled. But our job doesn't stop with this. We have integrated One Click with Project Sampark to create what we believe is a true distributor delight.

As soon as a new distributor is empanelled, we send out a Welcome Kit to him, giving a lot of useful information including the name and contact number of his BSL AMC relationship manager. Then, the distributor gets a call from our Sampark team, with the object of not only introducing Sampark as an additional touch point for him, but also to help the distributor get familiar with our products and services.

Activating new distributors is just as important as empanelling them - and that's what the combination of One Click and Project Sampark helps us achieve.

WF: This is truly a 360 degree engagement you have built with distributors. What's on the anvil now - what more can distributors expect from your team in the coming couple of years?

Sidharth: There are two main focus areas - one is to strengthen what we have already introduced and the second is a deeper digital thrust. We have a number of good initiatives that are ongoing - BSL Nipun, Project Sampark, One Click, FinGo Partner - our aim will be to continue strengthening all of them and ensure that they deliver more value to our distributors. Digital is clearly the way forward and our distributor engagement initiatives will increasingly focus on digital platforms to enhance interactivity, engagement and ease of business.

We want to build more meaningful relationships with our distribution partners. We want to drive simplicity. We want to enable our distributors to spend less time on operational issues and spend more time on serving their clients. We would like to enable them to build stronger businesses and serve many more investors. In their growth is our growth and our industry's growth.

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