- Date : 10/10/2019
- Read: 6 mins
She is ambitious, a go-getter and inspires women to let their success do the talking. Meet Sonia Notani, the CMO of IndiaFirst Life Insurance
A highly passionate individual, Sonia is a visionary who prides herself in being able to make something out of nothing. She is someone who can ideate, drive and implement, and is best known for getting things done.
She has been able to fortify her talent over the years by acquiring cross-functional expertise across a variety of roles. From strategic alliances, social commerce, product development to the newly acquired role of CMO, she has donned many hats.
With sheer hard work, dedication and focus, she has achieved success in the finance world. She believes women should not shy away from ambition and grab every opportunity that comes their way.
In tête-à-tête, Sonia talks about her roots, being an integral part of IndiaFirst. She also discusses her challenges and achievements and shares advice for women wanting to conquer the corporate world.
You are a founder member of IndiaFirst Life Insurance Company and have been part of its growth for a decade. Tell us about your experience as a woman in a male-dominated sector.
I am a very proud founder member of IndiaFirst Life Insurance, having been with the company since before it got its licenses to when we clocked business to the tune of INR 3200 crore in FY 2019. It’s been an interesting journey, where I had a lot of opportunities. One of the key learnings I have had is nothing speaks better than success – be it in a given project, launching a new product or even small internal wins. For this to happen, grit is very important. Culturally, we face stereotypes on a daily basis – be it gender, or age. The only way to be successful is not to get bogged down by these cultural trappings. Simply continue on your path till you achieve what you started out to – daily, weekly, monthly.
Is awareness about life insurance lacking in India?
India is a vast country with a large and varied socio-economic skew. This diversity is also applicable to how Indians feel about life insurance. Penetration is low. However, there is a concentration of people who are aware of these tools. The irony is that many people who are aware do not understand the importance of risk management and protection, and life insurance is often purchased due to tax reasons. Life Insurance is a superior risk management tool that provides financial protection if you die too young or live too long. With Insurance, safeguarding a customer’s life goals is a certainty as It also provides an assurance of returns in the long-term, while taking on the reinvestment risks associated with financial instruments.
You are the winner of the Femina Super Achiever Award and the Assocham Award for Women Business Leader. What are you hoping to achieve next?
I am extremely humbled and honoured to have been recognised and awarded for my contributions to date. I recently got featured in the Fortune India 40 - under 40 list. All these laurels strengthen my resolve to make a difference. My goal is to achieve a socially relevant, yet commercially viable risk protection model covering all customer segments across the vast landscape of India. I would love to be featured in the power list of imminent publications. This would enable me to make a difference by connecting to a larger audience.
Tell us about your childhood. What inspired you to enter this field?
I have been brought up in a way where I was taught to believe in myself. Born and raised in Mumbai, we were always free to make our own choices, and very few life decisions were thrust upon us. Parallelly, we also had to deal with the struggles that accompanied the decisions we made. I understood the concept of risk and reward, along with complete accountability, early in life.
I chose to go to St Xavier’s college. This experience was crucial in shaping a large part of my personality since it gave me tremendous exposure to different possible vocations. It was clear to me that in order to make a difference, you need to be strong and grounded. Similarly, you need to make a difference to stay relevant. High on ambition and keen to make a difference, I chose to do an MBA from NMIMS on completion of my Economics degree. Honestly, I chose to venture into the BFSI space because of my educational qualification suitability and interest in the field, along with the idea that this sector was perceived to be relatively more gender-neutral within the corporate set-up.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
I believe innocuous cultural stereotypes niggle at us daily and accordingly impact the surrounding environment and our own mental make-up. Few examples of these stereotypes would include an unwillingness in men to work for women, the idea that creative or soft jobs are more suited for women, or that primary home responsibilities are above professional commitments for women, etc. We often let these socio-cultural trappings play an important role while deciding our choices. We need to believe in our own abilities and what interests us. We should not shy away from being ambitious. We also need to take opportunities that come our way. As they say, success favours the prepared mind!
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
Daily discipline is very important for accomplishing both personal and professional goals. Further, in today’s world of hyper-connectivity, based on the daily demands, we need to be willing to adapt by prioritizing work and home responsibilities accordingly. I ensure that I get into work early to be able to get a head start and simultaneously, focus on getting home on time at least 2-3 days a week. I try and ensure that I spend the weekends with my family, and any related work is done from home.
In your new role as Chief Marketing Officer, what is going to be your leadership philosophy?
I strongly believe that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Hence, collaborative excellence is deep-rooted in my style of work. I believe that people can surpass their own achievements as long as they believe in themselves and are equipped to do so. I handle a range of functions under the CMO umbrella. All these functions need me to wear different hats and work towards meeting the larger organisational objective of creating a valuable brand supported by innovative products. Our aim is also to increase awareness and ensure holistic customer experience platforms while sustaining long-lasting relationships with our stakeholders.
You have been described as innovative and far-sighted. What are your biggest strengths in the workplace?
Thank you! I believe my strength lies in being able to not only formulate strategy but execute it properly. I am a highly passionate individual who can ideate, drive and implement; best known for getting things done. I pride myself on being able to think outside-the-box and do more while leveraging the functional strength of all the departments around me.
What advice would you give to the women on career growth and development?
Leverage your ecosystem and reach out for help. You will be surprised how many friends and family members will support you, whether it is with regard to your daily needs, child-rearing or simply letting your hair down. Do not get bogged down and definitely do not make excuses. Flexibility is different from the concession. Grit is a very powerful trait when it comes to being successful. Lastly, wear your ambition on your sleeve. Dream big and be proud of it.