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COMMENTARY

Why the insurance industry needs to level up for the digital age

OVER the last decade, the workplace as we know it has changed beyond recognition. Every single person has one or more mobile devices. Storing data and accessing apps in the cloud are familiar to the majority of the population.

The next generation of customers will demand a "digital first" experience, one enabled by analytics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI). The way we do business in the insurance industry must change or we will simply fade away as irrelevant relics of another age.

Some may see this as a dangerous time to be an incumbent. I see this as a massive opportunity to make a difference.

What is especially exciting for me is what we can do as an industry - we can build and empower a digital workforce, including our financial representatives, for the future where technology will play a much larger role.

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This will require a transformation of the way the insurance industry works, and how we recruit, train and retain the best financial representatives of the future.

More people are now accessing insurance resources on the move using their mobile devices, with an expectation for immediate information and a faster response time.

Insurance companies must deploy digital technologies such as social media, AI, mobile analytics and augmented reality to help people and financial representatives to better understand customer behaviour and improve the customer experience.

This means that financial representatives must pick up technological skills to better serve their clients.

Another way we can make ourselves relevant for the times is by offering insurance products that are streamlined and relevant to the current demographics and their preference for digital delivery.

In April this year, Great Eastern rolled out the Great Digital Advantage, a suite of digital tools that gives our financial representatives a one-stop solution to help enhance their efficiency, productivity and professionalism. This is in line with our initiative to help our agency force take advisory and customer experience to the next level.

BUILDERS OF DIGITAL TALENT

According to the Life Insurance Association of Singapore (LIA), the insurance industry grew its workforce this year, adding 567 people to reach 15,384 financial representatives in the year ended March 31, 2019.

With most life insurance companies pursuing digital innovation and business expansion, recruitment has been mainly in the areas of data analytics, cyber security, customer service and marketing.

Yet, finding qualified professionals from the local talent pool continues to be a struggle, especially for the finance and insurance industries. A report by Korn Ferry estimated that the insurance industry is at high risk to be hardest hit by a talent crunch.

What can we do to mitigate this? We have to change our mindset from being consumers of work to builders of talent. Our job is to equip our existing financial representatives with the digital capabilities they need to get the job done.

Investing in training and skills may seem like a "nice-to-have" extravagance to some, but it should be seen as an absolutely necessary investment that will deliver invaluable returns.

The Singapore government is targeting the creation of 3,000 net jobs every year in the financial services sector. In line with this, insurance companies should ramp up recruitment practices and upskilling initiatives to prepare the workforce to support the government's Smart Nation vision.

ATTRACTING MILLENNIALS

Millennials - those born between 1981 and 1996 - make up the bulk of today's workforce. Within the next decade, many of them will be in leadership positions, making it crucial for companies to start thinking today about how to attract, develop and retain high-potential candidates.

In years past, the insurance industry has seldom been top of mind for millennials entering the workforce. Thankfully, this trend has been changing over time.

The efforts put into digital transformation and innovation over the last three to five years are crucial for our survival. At the same time, these initiatives are also making us more appealing to a younger generation of workers.

Great Eastern runs a highly popular internship programme for young people who are considering becoming financial representatives.

It is important for them to understand how an insurance business works and more importantly, decide for themselves if this is the life for them after getting a real look at what the job entails.

This generation wants to work for companies they believe make a positive contribution to the world, giving them a sense of purpose. We need to show them that the insurance industry serves a higher cause because of the positive impact we make on customers' lives during their toughest moments.

A PEOPLE-BUSINESS

The insurance market has always been about people and relationships. To attract and retain agents of the future, we need to commit to transparent practices and ethical codes of conduct.

Being digitally capable is also no longer a "nice-to-have", but a must-have for insurance companies to stay relevant and sustainable in the long run. We need to start investing in digital transformation and talent development today to ensure our success tomorrow.

  • The writer is managing director of regional agency, financial advisers and bancassurance at Great Eastern.