Even before COVID-19, the rise of the digital economy had allowed consumers to become progressively more well-informed about even complex products and to carry out their own research and market comparisons. What are the implications for how companies digitize, especially with COVID-19 changing their sales and distribution channels? Ryan Cheong, Managing Director, Digital for Business with Great Eastern, shared some thoughts with People Matters on how the insurance industry, traditionally heavy on sales expertise and also, is adapting digitally.
What are your thoughts on the digital landscape for the insurance industry today? Where are some of the more significant opportunities and challenges?
Consumers today have ready access to technology, are increasingly more digital-savvy and expect simplicity, convenience and speed in their transactions with companies.
We see the rise of the 4E customer. Customers are increasingly becoming Experts and are much better informed of insurance and the options available to them. Their Experience with us will become an important consideration for their next purchase, as will their Engagement with the brand and even the insurance products they buy. Customers also expect to be Empowered to make decisions in their interactions with us. To stay on top of our game, insurers have to re-examine our roles and ways of working and be relevant to these evolving customer trends.
Could you share a little about Great Eastern's digital strategy for adapting to these trends?
We saw the need to go digital some years back based on how the industry has been evolving. Digitization is the means towards an end and also the end in itself. Customer-first has always been our focus and strategy before we started on our digital transformation journey, and for that matter, before COVID-19.
What digital technologies offer, in the form of the use of data for analytics, artificial intelligence and mobile solutions, are tools for us to understand our customers and “do the job” of insurance for them better.
Digitization also provides many opportunities for greater customer engagement, product innovation and operational transformation. This transformation strategy was applied to all aspects of our business—from how we engage our customers to how we design our products and streamline our processes, etc.
As the market and consumer demands evolve, we will continue to use appropriate digital technologies to design and deliver the right solutions for our customers. We also believe in tapping a larger ecosystem of partners and co-creators for suitable collaborations in the wider financial and technology space.
How has COVID-19 accelerated your strategy?
The pandemic brought greater focus and immediacy to our digital transformation plans, which were already in the pipeline even before COVID-19. As we have been progressively rolling out services on digital platforms since 2018, we are well-positioned in the first instance in our response, with room to improve of course.
Even before the circuit breaker or social distancing measures were in place, we had already started using virtual/remote channels to minimize face-to-face interaction yet continue consistent customer service and engagement.
Since February, customers have been able to purchase simple and annually-renewable insurance products such as personal accident plans on our digital sales platform, yet still have the post-purchase servicing from assigned financial representatives. Some of our solutions have required simplified health underwriting, and this has removed some complexity for customers with regard to health checks at a time where they want to limit face-to-face clinic visits for health checks.
COVID-19 has accelerated the speed of digital adoption and our customers are getting more familiar with engaging us online or through virtual platforms with their representatives. It is also an opportunity and competitive advantage for our representatives as they operate seamlessly between both offline and online ways of working.
Could you share some of the challenges you faced with digitization?
In our digital transformation journey, some of the challenges we have faced were in transforming our workforce, changing outdated systems and processes, and being agile and innovative in responding to the evolving needs of our customers.
We have progressed well in those mentioned areas even prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has really accelerated and reinforced the fact that going digital is essential.
Which technologies do you think the next major investments need to be in?
Looking ahead, we expect AI to continue to play a big role in transforming our business—speeding up process through automation and providing valuable customers insights through data analytics to help us better understand our customers. These insights will help us design more relevant products and solutions and enable us to pre-empt the needs of our customers and provide an anticipatory layer of customer service. Combining digital solutions with process improvement, automation and data analytics, we will work towards creating more superior customer experiences, to ensure that we are always one step ahead in anticipating and delivering to their future needs.
What supporting processes have you implemented to get your people and your clients accustomed to making full use of the various digital tools and methods?
Building a digital mindset among our people is pivotal to getting alignment and support throughout the organization in our digital transformation journey, as we depart from the more traditional ways of doing things and look at things anew with a digital lens.
In transforming our workforce, there is a distinction between “doing digital” and “being digital”. In other words, if we want to up the digital game, we have to instill a culture of relentless pursuit of excellence in being customer-first. As the saying goes, “If it is working, it is obsolete”.
To engage the workforce, it is not enough just to equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in the digital era, but also to stir their hearts to embrace change and grow a positive risk culture. Dr Goh Keng Swee once said, “The only way not to make mistakes is to do nothing, and that in the final analysis, will be the ultimate mistake.”
We have designed a series of initiatives and programs to empower employees to put in practice our core values—Integrity, Initiative and Involvement—and in doing so to act on the values that are crucial to who we are, and how we serve our customers.
We have also provided comprehensive training to equip our financial representatives to deliver better financial advisory and customer experience. As of today, all of our financial representatives have fully adopted the digital platform which we rolled out and we have received very positive feedback from both our agency force and our customers on the improved financial advisory experience as well as increased efficiency.
Finally, what do you think is most needed today to advance the digital agenda for your business, and for the industry at large?
Keeping our customers first is our topmost priority and is what drives our business strategy and digital agenda. As the situation evolves, there will always be changes in how insurance is distributed and how advisory and servicing is conducted, but our essential purpose to life-proof our customers’ every protection need and our customer-centric focus will not change.
The question is how we can use digital technology to help us do more of the right things for our customers in the best and most effective way, as well as enable our financial representative and employees to do their work better.
We need to think big and tap on the many opportunities that technology provides to constantly move into upping the ante on the next level of customer experience and satisfaction.