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Prudential powers ahead in tech with AI health platform

The insurer believes that the combination of AI and healthcare can help people live longer lives and be in good health.

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"We're looking to work more closely with the various technology communities in Asia and globally, to bring the right mix of partners together from the insurtech, healthtech and medtech communities." Kalai Natarajan (above), head of Strategic Engagements, Prudential Singapore.

IN an industry that has been seen as slow to change, Prudential is cutting through the perceived inertia and reinventing itself by working with the latest breed of technology-fuelled firms.

Its latest venture? Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) for preventive healthcare.

Kalai Natarajan, head of Strategic Engagements at Prudential Singapore, said big data and analytics, artificial-intelligence based solutions, and the entry of preventive healthcare services are "changing the face of traditional insurance".

"The insurance industry is undergoing an innovation-led transformation," she said.

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Last year, the insurance giant invested S$70 million in technology in Singapore. Across Asia, the group will also continue to invest £300 million (S$545.4 million) annually in technology to digitalise the business, from customer acquisition and onboarding, to servicing and claims payment. (see amendment note)

"These investments have helped us create great customer experiences, work smarter, and support our financial consultants as they provide customers with valuable advice and solutions in meeting their changing needs."

She added that the industry as a whole needs to "re-evaluate its role in our ecosystem to address and manage rising healthcare costs".

"At Prudential, we are investing in preventative healthcare because we see a need to move away from the traditional role of underwriting a life, collecting a premium and paying for treatment when the person falls sick."

Rising demand

There's also rising demand for healthcare in the region. Emerging countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia are experiencing rapid population growth, while developed ones such as Singapore are dealing with ageing populations.

Ms Natarajan noted that even though people are living longer lives, most are not fully prepared to live these added years in good health.

"Our research revealed that over half of Singapore's residents are not ready to live to 100 from a health and wellness perspective. As an insurer, we believe we have a role to play to help our customers live longer and better."

Combining AI and healthcare has the potential to plug that gap.

"Healthcare is a data-intensive domain," she said. "Medical professionals depend on volumes of patient data every day for analysis and diagnosis of a patient's condition. AI changes this by enabling them to process data more quickly, make diagnoses more efficiently, as well as better manage the many administrative tasks that eat up time."

Individuals also stand to benefit from the technology. Ms Natarajan said they can "better manage their personal health and fitness with the help of AI-based health tracking and coaching applications as well as wearables and food diaries that can track their patterns and behaviours and provide useful information and insights".

With that, starting next year, Prudential will roll out an AI-powered health and wellness ecosystem to customers in Singapore. It is backed by four tech applications - Babylon Health, DocDoc, WellteQ and MyFiziq - that will be integrated into a platform that serves as what the firm hopes will be a one-stop shop for users.

UK-based Babylon Health combines AI technology with medical expertise to deliver round-the-clock access to digital health assessment, triage and health tools.

On the other hand, DocDoc uses AI to match patient needs with a suitable doctor from their network of more than 23,000 doctors in Asia.

Rounding out the platform are Australian-based MyFiziq, which uses 3D imaging to allow users to track and assess the impact of fitness programmes on their physical appearance over time, and digital health platform WellteQ, which is based in Singapore.

The ecosystem will provide users with a trio of tools: AI-symptom checking and health risk assessment, doctor discovery and virtual consultation, and wellness coaching and activity tracking.

In an imaginary scenario, an individual who feels unwell might first use the AI-symptom checking and health risk assessment tool to get a better understanding of the symptoms and establish what the situation could be.

Afterwards, the individual can use the doctor discovery and virtual consultation tool to connect with a general practitioner for a virtual consultation - even receive a prescription, medical certificate or a referral letter, if needed.

Day to day, the wellness coaching and activity tracking application would help people monitor their health and offer digital coaching on ways of healthy living.

The applications will be showcased at the Prudential booth at the upcoming Singapore FinTech Festival. Some of the applications have also been made available to employees and corporate clients in a pilot programme.

Such collaborations with tech startups is also emblematic of how Prudential looks to tap into the potential of startups locally and overseas to help create digital solutions for customers.

Last October, it launched the PRU Fintegrate Partnership - a deployment programme that is unlike a traditional incubator model, offering startups the opportunity to build and to validate prototypes at scale and speed.

Startups that have been chosen offer services such as pattern recognition technology, secure messaging and cloud-based software for customer due diligence and onboarding.

This year, the programme focuses on addressing 10 rapid-growth areas that are driving insurers to innovate, such as preventative healthcare, enterprise solutions, customer engagement and underwriting.

Prudential has also inked strategic partnerships with the Infocomm Media Development Authority, the Singapore Fintech Association, and UK-based Institute 4 Entrepreneurship, to tap into their regional and global networks and to reach out to technology communities overseas, she said.

"We're looking to work more closely with the various technology communities in Asia and globally, to bring the right mix of partners together from the insurtech, healthtech and medtech communities," she added.

"There are many game-changing solutions available but often we find that they make up individual pieces of the big picture. To develop an end-to-end solution, collaboration between various parties is key."

Amendment note: The story above has been updated to reflect that Prudential invested S$70 million in technology in Singapore, not S$700 million as previously reported.