insurtech Asia

Evolve or get left behind. The concept may be a tough pill to swallow for corporations both large and small but that doesn’t make it any less true, especially in our rapidly digitising world.

Profound changes are already happening across all industries, despite the pandemic, from utilities to logistics to retail. In many ways, people are driving that change as digital habits take root and, as a consequence, their expectations shift.

Asia’s population, including in China and Southeast Asia, has been quick to embrace digital trends, which are reshaping economies and how we live. Indeed Asia’s rapid digital evolution has allowed some markets in the region to leapfrog with technologies – think smartphones and e-wallets – and it is where we see plentiful opportunities.

Consider the seamless, online experiences people get from PayMe to Taobao to Grab. Those experiences now influence their expectations for the next digital interaction, be it for food, finance or fun.

While the financial services sector has made strides to improve digital capabilities, there’s still room to grow; and in it, big opportunities for insurers in Asia to play directly into space – and for a strong market leader to emerge.

Where digital opportunities lie

The life insurance industry across Asia continues to grow, buoyed by strong fundamentals such as a growing middle class and favourable demographics. However, the adoption of emerging technologies like AI, automation and big data, which can transform the insurance industry, remains patchy across the region with some markets farther ahead than others.

Sometimes we see digital capabilities tacked on to existing processes with sub-optimal results. But processes oftentimes require a complete rethink, particularly those that impact customers the most – for example, when they need to make a claim.

Also Read: ‘SEA is lagging behind in the growth of insurtech, financial advisory, embedded finance’: Ganesh Rengaswamy of Quona Capital

For any insurer, that’s really the key ‘moment of truth’ and that’s also where some of the biggest opportunities lie for the insurance industry. Customers who have paid money in advance for an abstract product, to protect against an unforeseen risk, and now need to recoup a loss.

Historically, that insurance claims journey – namely, assessment, handling and settlement – has been complex, cumbersome and confusing to customers. Oftentimes people are at their lowest when they make that claim, and they seek reassurance and simplicity. So, as an industry, there’s a lot we can do to make that process simple and easy to navigate and, as a result, make lives better for customers.

Faster, analytics-driven systems and approaches can be implemented for claims handling, and for straightforward cases, that process can be fully automated through AI and machine learning. And that’s just one example.

The digital opportunities lie not just in claims handling though, life insurers also have numerous touch points at servicing.

Throughout a policy lifecycle, which could easily be 20 or 30 years, customers may need to add a beneficiary, change an address, make a payment and so on. Each of these interactions, no matter how simple, is an opportunity to engage and further strengthen relationships with customers.

The value of what an insurer brings, and what sets them apart, then extends beyond financial protection. In the digital age, it’s about offering, and delivering, exceptional customer experiences that are reinforced by intuitive digital processes.

This is particularly crucial in Asia where demand for internet-based services is soaring, and where customers are looking for platforms that are secure, simple and convenient.

Human-centred approach to digitisation

In an age of increasingly digital lifestyles and habits, and especially during COVID-19, giving customers the choice of how they would like to engage with an insurer, whether virtually or physically, has become incredibly important for both safety and efficiency.

Over the last two years, we’ve made significant digital investments company-wide to do just that, and it’s paying off. In many markets across Asia, our customers can now meet their financial advisors virtually, purchase most of their policies digitally, and submit their claims online, all done within secure and fully regulatory approved environments.

What we’re doing is taking a human-centred approach to digitisation, which translates to enhancing human relationships with efficient digital solutions. And what underpins this approach is having an innovative mindset. This means initiating disruption ourselves, rather than waiting for external forces to disrupt the industry.

Also Read: Why a robust digital insurance distribution system is the future in APAC

Disrupt or be disrupted

Disruption from within, however, may take longer to transpire if everything is done in-house. That’s where the value of partnerships comes in.

Bringing in a partner can expedite proofs of concept or development of a technology application. More importantly, startups typically possess the ability to be nimble and responsive – and they’re freer to experiment – which is crucial for the development of transformative ideas. And exchanging ideas with a specialised team can also nurture fresh perspectives on how to remove friction from the customer journey.

For example, Manulife’s commitment to expanding our health and wellness ecosystem inspired us to collaborate with venture accelerator firm Brinc in a programme called Boost. The aim is to support qualified startups that want to pilot their projects with us, fine-tune their product offerings and potentially commercialise their solutions.

Of course, as the volume of collaborations between insurers and startups rise, it’s important to recognise that there’s also a risk of failure, no matter how well you plan for it. But we should endeavour to debate and analyse these failures – the causes and their outcomes – instead of brushing them under the rug.

So much can be learned from these mistakes, and through exploring and testing new approaches and perspectives, we can confidently apply those lessons the next time around.

That enlightened mindset complements our human-centred approach to digitalisation. While improving outward interactions with customers, we’re also looking inwards to our employees – current and future – who are at the heart of our operations. Those professionals, including startup entrepreneurs, who are excited to break the mould, think big and disrupt from within should look to the life insurance industry.

Ultimately, the life insurance business in Asia is ripe for transformation. It’s now incumbent upon us to embed innovation and forward-thinking into the industry’s corporate DNA in order to empower all stakeholders, change the status quo and bring about truly meaningful change for our customers.

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Image credit: Ulises Baga on Unsplash

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