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Ground Zero: Glimpses from a relief camp in flood-ravaged Assam

While the authorities struggle to provide relief, people are finding ways to get by.

In every direction you look on the way to the famous pumpkin market of Khowang, in Assam’s Dibrugarh district, there is just water. The national highway appears like an elongated island of brown amidst different shades of blue and green. At Khowang, the sight to greet you is misery. Scores of people have camped on high ground along railway tracks in tents made from bamboo poles and tarpaulin sheets.

They moved there about a week ago after a breach in the bund at Kawaimari near Khowang Ghat resulted in the flooding of around 73 villages in Dibrugarh West revenue circle and another 14 villages in Moran revenue circle. Their tragedy mirrors the adversity that has beset much of Assam.

Heavy monsoon rains in the state has swelled its rivers, making them overflow their banks. So far this year, more than 50 people have died in the floods, including 15 people in the past week. As many as 1.5 million have been impacted.

The relief camp near the railway tracks.

A young woman sleeps on a bed alongside her utensils at the camp in Khowang.

A mother feeds her child.

At Khowang, some older children play hide-and-seek among the tents, while the younger ones complain to their mothers. Two women busily chop a gourd to cook on a makeshift stove of bricks. Some lucky ones were able to rescue gas burners and cylinders while escaping the rising floodwaters. The less fortunate are now using kerosene stoves and firewood.

“The last flood like this was in 1977,” an old man recounted.

The district authorities have tried to provide the camp some drinking water, but it hasn’t been enough. As a result, people are drawing water from the lone tube well that, constructed on high ground, hadn’t sunk, though they know it isn’t clean.

“The water rose fast within a night,” an old lady said. “It took only eight hours for the whole place to go under water along with the national highway. Every hour it rose by around one foot.”

There water level is still too high for the camp dwellers to go back, and besides the Burhidihing River is still overflowing. For them, normalcy is still a long way away.

A boy inspects his book damaged in the floodwaters.

A boy looks on as his mother cleans utensils.

A boy shows off his set of books.

A man pulls out rations from his flooded house.

A submerged house.

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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.

We conducted a survey among 150 consumers in 4 metro cities (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Ahmedabad) and 2 tier-II cities (Indore and Bhopal) to understand the financial products Indians are buying online and their needs.

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.

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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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