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Prudential pivots on preventative healthcare through technology

Its new app helps customers better manage their current and future health needs.

Wilf Blackburn, CEO of Prudential Singapore says that investing in preventative health technology and developing innovative financial solutions will help Prudential's customers better prepare for longevity.

PRUDENTIAL Singapore is tapping on technology tools and artificial intelligence (AI) in a concerted push towards preventative healthcare, pivoting away from the conventional cure-based approach that is the mainstay for many traditional insurers.

"As Singaporeans live longer, we recognise that they are finding it challenging to cope with rising health-related expenses," said Wilf Blackburn, CEO, Prudential Singapore.

"And so, we are investing in preventative health technology and are developing innovative financial solutions that will help people better prepare for longevity."

This comes as recent studies found that Singaporeans are now living longer, but many are living their older years in ill health.

To help customers manage their health and lifestyle, Prudential will soon roll out a digital health app which offers a suite of AI-powered services, in partnership with UK healthcare tech company Babylon Health.

This app enables users to monitor their current and future health needs, as well as provide real-time information about their health conditions.

Helping customers to live well is a win-win situation for both Prudential and its customers - as more customers stay healthy, they get rewarded with discounts of up to 20 per cent on their premiums, while the insurer benefits from fewer claims made as it keeps costs down.

Aside from solutions to help customers live well for longer, Prudential is also using technology to shake up its processes for greater efficiency, as well as to enhance the experience of both customers and employees, revealed Mr Blackburn.

The launch of its various chatbots is a prime example.

An agency chatbot known as askPRU was introduced in 2017 for its 5000-strong financial consultants to enable them to respond to customers' queries about their policies.

These consultants can communicate with the chatbot via a mobile app to obtain information pertaining to their customers' insurance plans, enabling them to be more responsive and improving customer experience.

Mr Blackburn said that this innovation has made life easier for its financial consultants as it gives them choice.

"They can get the information instantly from anywhere. It's 24/7," he said. "Previously, they would have to send an email or call the call centre. They can still do all that if they want, but mostly they would rather not as they just want the information."

More than 90 per cent of its agents have downloaded this application and it has reduced call volume at Prudential's contact centre by 40 per cent, which Mr Blackburn said is "huge" for the insurer.

This comes as business volumes are still growing even as call volumes go down, meaning that Prudential gets to save on costs. In the long run, this will benefit its customers as premiums can stay affordable, he added.

Another internal chatbot, known as PRUBuddy, was rolled out last year to employees to help answer their HR-related questions on rewards and recognition, benefits and onboarding. This frees up time for Prudential's HR professionals to tackle higher value-added work, while staff get their needs responded to immediately.

Its latest development is a customer-targeted chatbot aimed at complementing the agency chatbot - this will be launched some time in 2020.

This creates another option for customers to interact with the insurer - through this platform, they can get answers for some of their more basic and commonly-asked queries any time they want, freeing up capacity in the call centre and allowing financial consultants to focus on the more complex issues.

Technology has radically changed how customers connect with Prudential, with most of the interactions now taking place digitally, revealed Mr Blackburn.

It's about giving customers a choice in how they interact with the insurer, be it online through the portal, call centres, service centres or financial consultants, he pointed out.

Technology underpins much of Prudential's strategy to improve processes.

Just this year, it introduced a new digital solution which allows the insurer to perform real-time risk assessment on policy applications and make instant underwriting decisions.

With this offering, customers just need to answer a series of questions tailored to their individual profiles and they will know instantly if their applications for insurance cover are successful or require further review.

If the policy application passes through the digital underwriting engine successfully, customers can expect to receive a copy of their electronic policy contract in as fast as two hours. Previously, the turnaround time was about two days.

For now, this solution is available for Prudential's PRUTriple Protect, its critical illness plan that provides protection against multiple illnesses. Since it was rolled out in late January this year, the tool was used for more than 6,500 PRUTriple Protect applications.

The insurer is currently working on rolling out this solution for other products, added Mr Blackburn.

Aside from individual customers, Prudential is also tapping tech to reach out to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - frequently thought of as an under-served segment despite making up 99 per cent of businesses in Singapore.

To help SMEs with their HR and insurance needs, the insurer created a one-stop digital shop known as PRUworks. The system allows for easy tracking of insurance claims and employee benefits online as well as access to value-added services such as financing options or wellness programmes.

This is targeted at tackling several painpoints of SMEs. According to a 2018 survey, SME respondents said that insurance plans were too expensive for their small company size and that employee benefits were not a priority.

"This has created a whole new market and the reason it works is that we have done everything digitally," said Mr Blackburn. "It is very simple for employers to sign up their staff and we are really proud of this because it means that many more employees are now covered by group insurance." To date, Prudential serves 100,000 employees through the 2,000 companies that it insures, including those from large corporate customers such as Singapore Airlines and PwC. Among them, 90 per cent of these 2,000 companies are SMEs.

For the insurer to continue its digital innovations, it needs to focus on building its in-house capabilities.

The insurer is ramping up its technology team, which has grown from fewer than 100 to more than 200 in the last year, he said.

"A lot of our traditional jobs have disappeared," noted Mr Blackburn. "We used to have a lot of people working in call centres, but now with chatbots, there are much less."

To accommodate this shift, the company has invested in retraining for its workers to be able to take on other higher, value-added roles in the company. For example, more than 100 staff have completed the SkillsFuture course on AI and finance, and then have gone on to apply what they have learnt in their jobs, he said.

"We have not asked anyone to leave the company - if people are willing to retrain, we still have other jobs for them," he emphasised.

With tech as a growing sector, Prudential will continue to hire tech talent to sharpen its competitive edge, even as it continues to collaborate with partners, added Mr Blackburn.

He is also quick to shrug off talk that other insurance tech players can be seen as competitors to the insurance giant.

"We are collaborating with a lot of them - often, they are not trying to replace an entire insurance company, they just work on a little part of what we do," he explained.

"They each do something for part of our value chain, but they are not going to replace it."

As technology continues to speed ahead, he maintained that technology is an "enabler", rather than a replacement for its people. This comes as insurance remains a business built on trust, and Prudential still relies on its agents to nurture these relationships.

"For example, technology helps them become more productive, so they have more time to focus on the most important things - such as talking to customers about their needs as they journey through life," he said.

By harnessing the strengths of technology through solutions such as instant underwriting and its chatbot for agents, its financial consultants are able to work smarter and serve customers better, added Mr Blackburn.

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