IN TOP LEAGUE

VIBHA PADALKAR IS FO­CUS­ING ON PROF­ITABLE PROD­UCTS, RISK MAN­AGE­MENT AND SET­TING HIGH STAN­DARDS FOR DIS­CLO­SURES.

Business Today - - THE MOST POWERFUL WOMEN IN BUSINESS - BY ANAND AD­HIKARI

Acou­ple of years ago, when 50-year-old Vibha Padalkar was hol­i­day­ing in Barcelona, she was fas­ci­nated by fla­menco danc­ing at The­atre City Hall. “The mu­sic sounded so In­dian,” she says. Cu­rios­ity led her to dig more. She found that there were In­dian in­flu­ences in its ori­gin, es­pe­cially from the states of Pun­jab and Ra­jasthan. Re­cently, af­ter watch­ing Wild Wild West, a doc­u­men­tary on Osho Ra­jneesh, Padalkar read sev­eral books to un­der­stand the phe­nom­e­non be­hind his im­mense pop­u­lar­ity. Such in­quis­i­tive­ness best de­scribes Padalkar. In a ca­reer span­ning twoand-a-half decades, Padalkar, a char­tered ac­coun­tant from Eng­land and Wales, has seam­lessly moved across in­dus­tries as di­verse as au­dit­ing and FMCG to BPM and life in­surance.

In her cur­rent as­sign­ment, she took the chal­lenge of pub­lic list­ing head on and, af­ter many twist and turns, man­aged to de­liver. The re­sult — a smash­ing high val­u­a­tion of close to

95,000 crore, al­most six times the em­bed­ded value or EV; the near­est com­peti­tor is val­ued at only three times its EV.

Padalkar, along with the top team, has com­pletely trans­formed the com­pany in the last one decade. HDFC Life’s pre­mium in­come, profit af­ter tax and as­sets un­der man­age­ment have been grow­ing at 16-20 per cent a year over the last three years. “It is easy to grow in life in­surance if you are will­ing to sac­ri­fice mar­gins. But HDFC Life has been fo­cused on growth with prof­itabil­ity,” she says. There is equal fo­cus on risk man­age­ment by hedg­ing in­ter­est rate guar­an­teed prod­ucts and main­tain­ing higher sol­vency ra­tio than the reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ment. “We will not hes­i­tate to pull the plug on prod­ucts that don’t make profit for us,” she says.

The fo­cus on pro­tec­tion poli­cies, health plans and re­tire­ment so­lu­tions has been pay­ing rich div­i­dends. The share of pro­tec­tion busi­ness has gone up from 7.3 per cent three years ago to 18.2 per cent in the first quar­ter of the year. Re­tire­ment is a sub­ject that is very close to her heart. “Peo­ple are liv­ing longer. Your sav­ings will out­live you,” she warns, adding, "The re­tire­ment is­sue is more se­ri­ous than dy­ing pre­ma­turely. An av­er­age In­dian is yet to re­alise the avalanche that is com­ing his or her way.”

As a cus­to­dian of pub­lic money af­ter list­ing on the bourses, Padalkar has set high stan­dards for dis­clo­sure and trans­parency. “We will con­tinue to do the right things. In­vestors should have faith in us,” she says, adding that “we will not chase quar­ter to quar­ter num­bers.”

WHY SHE MATT ERS She man­ages fi­nances of one of In­dia's most highly val­ued life in­sur­ers

VIBHA PADALKAR Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor and CFO,HDFC Life

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