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Why did the EC set up an entire polling booth just for this man?

And it's done so four times before.

Bharatdas Darshandas lives in solitary splendor in an ashram in Banej, 20 km deep in Gujarat’s Gir forest. On Wednesday, a clutch of five Election Commission officials and a policeman gathered at a watchpost deep in the jungle to transform it into a polling booth solely to cater to the 65-year-old priest. Election regulations require that voters should not have to travel more than 2 km to cast their ballot, so all these staff had been mobilised to ensure that one man could participate in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Darshandas – or Bapu, as he prefers to be called – is no stranger to this kind of attention. The EC has set up this booth solely for him four times before.

On polling day, Bapu took his time getting to the station, so officials instructed journalists who gathered to witness the event to go off to shoot the lions in the interim. The forest, after all, is the last home of the Asiatic lion.

Near the post, officials had set up a pole with several rough-hewn plastic boxes on it, each with a mobile phone inside. Each box was in a different colour, each representing a different network. For some reason, officials said that the phones wouldn’t work unless they were placed in the boxes.

Just past 9.30 am, Bapu made his appearance, followed by a TV camera. But the officials wouldn’t let the crew into the booth to shoot Bapu voting and an argument broke out. Bapu waited patiently, watching the squabble. In the end, the crew gave up, and Bapu went inside to cast his vote. He came out to declare that Banej had now cast 100% of its votes and that he could confirm that to the world.

He returned to his ashram, where he has lived since 2000, crossing a stream he called Choti Ganga. His only companions are two pet peacocks, Sonu and Monu. But it’s less lonely than you’d imagine. Other sadhus sometimes drop by to stay with him. Tourists out spotting lions often stop by his shrine. On Shiv Ratri, he gets as many as 4,000 pilgrims.

Back home, Bapu revealed that he’d voted for the Bhartiya Janta Party. If the party comes to power, he expects it to give him money to renovate his temple. After that’s done, he wants to start charging visitors to stay in ashram, just the way the forest department charges tourists to enter the forest.

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45% consumers purchase financial products online according to our survey. Here’s why

How one of the last bastions of offline transactions is rapidly moving online.

With flight bookings, shopping and buying movie tickets all moving online, it was only a matter of time before purchasing financial products followed suit. In fact, with greater safety, better user interfaces, simpler processes and of course, busier lives, many Indians are opting to buy financial products like insurance and bank deposits online and on-the-go rather than at a bank branch.

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The market for financial products still has huge potential for growth with 29% respondents reporting that they owned no financial instruments. Insurance is without a doubt the most widely owned financial instrument for Indians. Nearly half the sample—45% of the respondents—reported investing in insurance. Apart from that, around 27% invested in bank deposits like Fixed and Recurring Deposits and only 13% opted for mutual funds, 13% bought stocks, and just 10% took home loans. While many people still consume financial products only at their bank branches, a large number have started seeking financial information and buying financial instruments online.

The shifting tide

We found that 45% of the survey respondents bought financial products online, indicating that a large chunk of Indians is trusting the internet to manage something as sensitive as their financial investments. It is clear that Indians value the distinct advantages of transacting online. Convenience is an integral part of the experience—60% of those who bought financial products online felt that convenience played an important role in choosing to purchase online. Multiple aspects of convenience resonate with buyers—over 40% felt that the availability of 24/7 services and the ease of comparing different products from drove them to buy online.

However, findings also reveal some concerns that even tech-savvy Indians have with the online medium.

Security is king

Understandably, security is a key factor for buyers of financial products. Even among the 45% who purchased financial products online, almost half felt that the lack of security prevented them from buying more financial products online. Tellingly, the most commonly bought financial product online is general insurance. It has to be bought (in the case of travel) or renewed (in the case of car insurance) regularly and quickly, which is easier done online. It also doesn’t require the submission of too many personal documents—another­ factor reported by many as a barrier to online purchase of financial products.

To overcome these security concerns, many companies are taking concrete steps to improve the online security of their portals. They are setting up SSL security systems that encrypt and protect the user’s data and payments and are educating customers on how to recognize online payment scams. Thus, people are slowly moving towards buying high involvement financial items like life insurance as well online.

The human factor

Research is a crucial part of the buying process, and most buyers seek information from multiple sources. While research for several consumer products like electronics and furniture has moved online even if purchase is offline, financial products have been slower to move, especially due to the need for expertise. From the sample, 55% rated talking to financial consultants and advisors as very important. Similarly, 55% rated advice from friends and family as very important.

As is evident, while the world is going online, there is something to be said for the familiarity and comfort of human interaction. Even online buyers value non-digital channels of communication. Of those who bought financial products online, 25% felt that visiting bank branches was important, 30% felt that recommendations from friends and family was important, and 33% felt that discussing it with financial advisors was important.

However, we find that online forums and aggregators are also gaining in terms of people using them to research products. According to a BCG report, search queries on life and health insurance have grown 4.5 times from 2008 to 2013, showing that digital is certainly influencing the research part of the buying cycle. Many life insurance companies and banks have caught on to this trend and are finding ways of making customer service executives available online through chat facilities on their portals. Additionally, companies are also investing in a better online user experience by designing their websites to be simple, attractive and easy-to-understand, so that the process of purchase becomes easier for customers.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HDFC Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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