I was taken by surprise the other day when I received my motor vehicle insurance policy in less than five minutes. I had gone to the New India Assurance office on GN Chetty Road to renew my policy, reaching there much before the office opened at 10am. When the sub-staff arrived and opened the gates, I ambled in. The sofas looked like they belonged to an era long past, soiled and dirty, and having worked in the industry myself, I thought little had changed.
However, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Since I was the only customer, the assistant who came in shortly readily accepted my payment and politely told me to be seated. Hardly had I sat down than he called me and handed me the policy, asking me to wait until the officer turned up to sign it. It was one of those good beginnings to a day; the officer soon arrived and even before she could place her handbag on the table, the assistant said I was waiting and could she please sign the document for me. This she did gladly, and they both smiled as I said thank you.
Well, even if the furnishings and make-up of public sector insurance companies may not have changed, attitude certainly has, and changed for the better, if what I experienced was anything to go by.
I had spent close to a decade in the general insurance industry and, looking back, I dearly miss that innings. I was part of a direct recruit officer batch of 25 or so, all of us in our early twenties, as bright and enthusiastic as they come. The six months I spent at the United India Insurance Co. Learning Centre on Nungambakkam’s fourth lane (there was no Ispahani Centre then, no MOP Vaishnav College) were some of my most memorable months in Madras. Yes, to this day.
We would stroll out in shorts to Tic Tac for kababs and gorgeous ice creams, or to Cakes & Bakes ( the place to be in those days), well past 11pm or sometimes past midnight, return to play a game of table tennis, smoke cigarettes and chat up the girls in our batch. Ours was an eclectic batch, with people from Jaipur, Calcutta, Bhubaneswar, Delhi, Bombay, Hyderabad, Cochin and other places. It was a sort of a honeymoon period; we hit the hard ground running only when we were deputed to various UI offices all over India. Some were fortunate to be posted to the metros. I wasn’t. They gave me an extended honeymoon in Bombay and then threw me into what then was considered back of beyond – Korba, east Madhya Pradesh. Only one colleague ‘suffered’ a worse fate – he was sent to Pali (Rajasthan). I had to get a map to see where Korba was. Of course, my two-year innings there turned out to be the best ever in my whole career, considering the amount of things I learned in managing an office. I wish I could go there some day to see my old staff.
I stayed at the best hotel in Korba then – Chandralok. It lived up to its name – my boss (where are you, Mr Naidu?) and the hotel owner would meet at least twice a week for a drink and it was all too heady to be described here. In the office it was a different ball game – tackling irate customers, from lorry drivers to land owners. That was pretty much the scene in insurance offices across the country, unless an office was dealing with only with certain institutional clients. I have handled angry customers in Madras offices too.
The common grouse was about non-delivery of policy. In those days, once premium was paid, policy would be dispatched by post and many times the insured would complain that he or she had not received it. So a duplicate would be typed (there were no computers then), stamps would be affixed by the record clerk and the policy would be brought to me for signing. I would do so after a thorough check to see if everything was in order.
Many a time, I would enter my cabin to see a hundred or more policies piled on my table for signature. That would take about two hours, so I had my work cut out. Because no other work could take precedence over issue of policies – at least that was the rule I followed.
Today, I wonder where any officer is saddled with that kind of work. The computer prints out the policy in seconds. During my time, the typist would take at least ten minutes, that is if you were able to humour him or her; sometimes, the client would wait until the typist returned after a smoke outside. Now, most offices are no-smoke areas. Even so, the old charm is all gone.