Agents will continue to lead even in digital age - industry leaders

| 22 Aug 2017

Agents will continue to be the main driving force behind insurance sales, even in this digital age, said senior industry leaders at a Life Regional Roundtable in Hong Kong organised by Asia Insurance Review.

Nowhere is the importance of the human touch more evident than the continued effectiveness of life insurance agents in Asia, even with all the technological disruptions that have allowed insurers to connect directly to the customer.

“Even now, most customers know who their agent is, but not their insurance provider,” said Mr Mark Saunders, Group Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, AIA Group Limited.

This is evidenced by the fact that agency sales still lead the distribution channels, despite the rise of bancassurance and digital tools.

However, public perception of agents is still not as high as they could be. 

“Agents do a lot for the industry, but they’re underappreciated by the public,” said Mr Mark Greenwood, International Director, The Chartered Insurance Institute. Unsurprisingly, most people are not very welcoming to persistent salespeople, especially for a product with a poor public perception such as insurance.

In addition, Mr Lennard Yong, Regional CEO, FTLife Insurance Company Limited reports a worryingly high turnover rate for agents. “The turnover rate for agents is over 10%, so how do you maintain the strength of the agency force?”

Improving public perception 
Given the continued relevance and importance of face-to-face advisory, especially in Asia, how then should companies continue to help to improve agents and advisers effectiveness, to integrate the digital approach, and improve public perception?

Mr Binayak Dutta, Group Chief Distribution Officer, FWD Group Management Holdings Limited, pointed out that most agents in Asia work on a part-time basis, juggling insurance sales with another job (most often a full-time occupation). “We need to adjust our expectations and our employment structures. If you change the way you measure an agent’s performance based on their work lifestyle, you’ll provide a fairer compensation structure. Which, in turn, will reward agents fairly and improve customer experience.”

As for FWD, he said: “We’re trying to improve productivity by maximising social media presence and simplifying the selling process. We’re asking questions like ‘how to connect the right agents with the right kind of clients’ or how to make it easier for our agents to sell. We have tools working, some pilots, we’re seeing some promising results.”

He also pointed out that as a younger company, FWD had an easier time at it. “We are unencumbered by legacy, so it’s easier for us to employ a digital strategy. But we’re still careful about balancing all of our distribution channels.”

The human touch
As more back-end operations – such as claims management and processing – are becoming automated, there is also a need to repurpose existing staff. “We’re getting our human staff to do human stuff,” said Mr Saunders. “We’re getting them to call clients to check up on them, we’re improving our customer call centres, we’re letting them know that there is a human face behind the organisation.”

The general agreement was that even though AI and automation did wonders to improve the efficiency of the day-to-day processes of an insurer, the human element was still vital to ensuring the longevity of a company. “At the end of the day, life insurance is about people, and insurers need to remember they’re talking to people,” said Mr Dutta.

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