A couple 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 two-and-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 Rs 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."