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Insurers must do more with digital technology: Tharman

INSURANCE firms can and must take advantage of digital technology, and there is significant room for them to do more in this space, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Tuesday.

Mr Tharman was speaking at the launch of Prudential Singapore's new office at Marina One.

Health insurance can tap digital technology to go beyond paying for medical claims to preventive care and to encourage a healthy lifestyle and habits, he said.

He noted that some insurers have already begun to track users' health and habits through fitness devices and apps and pricing in premium discounts for healthier habits.

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Healthcare itself can also be delivered and administered more effectively with digital technology, Mr Tharman noted, and insurers should encourage this.

"Tele-health is increasingly being used, saving patients time and money. Here in Singapore we have been rolling out TeleRehab services for stroke patients," said Mr Tharman.

"It delivers better health outcomes because doctors can monitor patients and make sure they follow through on rehabilitation without the inconvenience of regular physical travel to the clinic."

Apps and social media also present insurers with more touch points to engage their clients, Mr Tharman added, while telematics and Internet of Things devices enable data analytics, allowing insurers to deliver more customised and innovative products and services.

And at the backend, he noted that the life insurance industry is testing smart claims - using artificial intelligence and blockchain to automatically trigger and settle claims.

With such changes taking place across the industry, the role of the insurance agent will also evolve, Mr Tharman said.

From selling standalone life or health insurance products, the agent must now offer more holistic wealth and risk management advice.

"Given the growing demand for risk management and compliance-related roles in the industry, I also encourage insurers to consider reskilling some of their agents to take on such roles," he said.

The new PRU Workplayce aims to promote such change among its staff.

The insurer has two floors totalling 80,000 square feet at the new office building, where it is housing 1,000 employees.

The open plan office is designed to inspire innovation and build a creative work culture to support the company's future growth.

It includes social spaces, activity rooms such as one in which employees can play with Lego bricks as they brainstorm ideas, nature-inspired nooks and rest pods in which staff can take naps.

The new Workplayce supports Prudential's outcome-based work culture which means employees have the flexibility and autonomy to work from anywhere and at any time.

"Just as we are challenging our people to make a mental shift to a more creative and collaborative culture, our physical workspace and work policies must equally support our journey," said Prudential Singapore chief executive Wilf Blackburn.

"It is about breaking down the walls of hierarchy, making our Workplayce a space that offers an equal voice to all employees and empowering people to undertake greater ownership of their work."

The new office also marks an important milestone in the company's ongoing journey to become even more agile and customer-focused, he added.

"As part of our digital roadmap, we've planted the seeds of innovation across Prudential and have nurtured its growth with significant investments in technology and people.

"We want to groom a future-ready workforce that is able to help our customers meet their life goals and make insurance simpler and more accessible."

Over the past year, Prudential has spent about S$70 million on technology in Singapore, an important market and innovation testbed for the Prudential Group.

The company's workforce has grown by more than 15 per cent over the same period as it builds its bench strength to meet the fast-evolving needs of its nearly one million customers in Singapore.

Prudential has been building new digital capabilities to enable employees and its more than 4,500 Financial Consultants to work smarter and to serve customers better.

This includes solutions such as the PRUONE Express digital sales tool and the askPRU chatbot.

Prudential is also collaborating with fintech startups on new customer solutions through its PRU Fintegrate Partnership programme.