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Giving cover to all walks of life
SHIELDING the underserved and underprivileged in society is a tall order for any institution, but this has been - and continues to be - the mission of Singapore insurance cooperative NTUC Income.
Established in 1970 with the objective of providing affordable insurance for workers in Singapore, Income protects about two million people in the island-state. Its efforts to protect the underprivileged and those most in need have taken it to areas of coverage that would give most other insurers pause.
It offers insurance, for instance, to people with autism and Down Syndrome, a first in Singapore. The policies were launched in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and remain the only ones in the industry today.
CEO of Income Ken Ng says: "As children and youths with autism or Down Syndrome were previously excluded from accident-related insurance plans, Income's Special Care Autism and Down syndrome policies were developed to provide the much needed coverage for this unserved community."
More recently, Income also launched Silver Secure, which covers senior citizens against old-age diseases such as dementia and Parkinson's Disease, and Silver Protect, which provides the elderly with coverage from early and advanced stage cancers. Both were launched in March and October 2016 respectively.
Mr Ng says that a person between 50 and 74 years of age requires no medical check-up to sign up for Silver Protect and the individual will be insured even if he/she has declared pre-existing conditions such as higher body mass and blood pressure - on the condition that the conditions are not cancer related.
"The elderly falls under the category of the underserved population as insurers traditionally focus on the younger set. It gets more difficult to obtain insurance as one grows older due to stricter underwriting requirements as traditional underwriting is designed to target the younger population as the primary customers. However, such an approach will prove increasingly obsolete when older customers are becoming the norm as Singapore faces a silver tsunami."
Mr Ng adds that the onus is on Income to meet the needs of the growing silver population with the right insurance products and services.
"Hence, we recalibrated traditional underwriting requirements and set practical benchmarks to suit older customers when insuring them. Due consideration is given that the elderly may have pre-existing conditions, so the standards of underwriting have been adapted to ensure that more seniors receive cover."
Mr Ng says that while Income may not be able to meet the needs of all underserved people here, it has entered unchartered waters to offer targeted products that are industry-first to specific segments of the population in need.
Clara Lee, senior secretary of Income's corporate office, says that the move to help the elderly exemplifies the compassion that the firm has for the more vulnerable people. She adds that Income has also done good for the community at large.
For example, Income established its community development and involvement arm OrangeAid in 2010 to level the playing field for children and youth from underprivileged backgrounds through long-term community partnership and social investment programmes.
Income contributes one per cent of its insurance operating profits to OrangeAid initiatives, and its flagship programme, the Future Development Programme (FDP), seeks to support tertiary students from low-income families studying in polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.
Mr Ng says: "The objective of the FDP is to empower these students to continue with their education by offering them bursaries, as well as other important lifeskills such as financial literacy and money-management knowledge."
By the end of 2017, OrangeAid would have disbursed 1,000 bursary awards worth S$2.55 million. Jonathan Lee, a beneficiary of FDP, says: "I have benefitted from FDP greatly. The bursary award not only helped with my school expenses but has enabled me to pursue my interests in muay thai and boxing. On top of the financial grant, Income has equipped me with the necessary handles to manage my money. It is one thing to support me financially with the bursary award, but another to help me manage my finances better."
Mr Lee is pursuing a diploma in mass communication at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
Mr Ng says that Income is continually exploring opportunities to cater to the underserved and unserved groups in Singapore.
"We continue to deliver our goals in the context of competition and changes in the insurance industry. . . We make doing good a strategic part of our business and delivering social impact is embedded in our business model. This also means we offer certain products and services for the benefit of social good and maximising value to our policyholders and not profit."
- This article is part of a series of stories covering companies contributing towards underserved causes. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. Visit www.companyofgood.sg for more information.