Banca and agency still forces to be reckoned with: Great Eastern

01 Aug 2017

Bancassurance and the agency force will remain key drivers for Great Eastern's life insurance business in the near future. What will change is the need for these distribution channels to embrace technology to assist their work, said Great Eastern Holdings' Group Chief Executive Officer Khor Hock Seng.

“The digital space is something they cannot avoid, because customers want to have more convenience and services provided 24/7,” he said. “However, these customers will still want face-to-face interaction and some sort of advice. So the future of these channels depends on how well they harness technology.”

Mr Khor, speaking at the insurer’s 1H2017 results briefing in Singapore last week, was discussing the impact of technology on life insurance sales. He noted that direct purchase policies currently still account for only a small portion of Great Eastern’s business, and robo-advice has not taken off in life insurance yet, though it is gaining influence in the wealth management space.

In Singapore and Malaysia, agents and bancassurance continue to dominate the insurer’s distribution. Compared to Singapore where both have a relatively even share, Mr Khor gauged the agency force as accounting for an overwhelming 90% of sales across the Causeway.

Investing in technology

The dominance of traditional channels is not to say that Great Eastern has not been paying attention to technology. Mr Khor shared that while there has been ongoing digitalisation efforts in back-end technology, the front end of the business, such as its “Live Great” wellness programme and onboarding customers, is where the insurer wants the technology to make a difference.

“We’re coming up with a lot of initiatives to further digitalise the programme, so engagement with customers is more convenient and exciting,” Mr Khor said. “The other area we’re looking at is the whole process straight from the time of soliciting business through to contract issuance. It’s ongoing. But we need to move it upwards at a faster pace.”

He cited the insurer’s launch of “CIF” (Customer Information File) two years ago, which provides an integrated “360 degree’ view of life, general and group insurance customer profiles. Customers themselves are also able to access the CIF.

“It links up all our systems back end and it’s very important. From there we can do analytics on the customer,” he said. Great Eastern is the oldest insurance company in Asia and he noted that despite the fact that it has used a range of systems over many years, it has managed to pull all this customer information together.

Mr Khor said that the insurer is working closely with OCBC bank’s FinTech accelerator programme Open Vault, which was launched last year. OCBC owns a majority stake of the insurer.

He added that Great Eastern has a technology transformation workgroup across its different markets to look at digitalisation and a specific budget set aside for new digital-type initiatives such as investing in robotics on the back-end, though he did not divulge figures.

“We are looking not just Insurtech but also what digital platforms to pursue, to support future growth,” he said.