Rise of the "ROBO": Research Online, Buy Offline - Great Eastern MD Ben Tan

| 18 Feb 2019

There has been an emergence of 'ROBO' but it's not all artificial intelligence and robots. "Yes, we have seen an emergence of 'ROBO' but it's more of 'research online, buy offline'," said Ben Tan, Great Eastern Managing Director of Regional Agency, FA and Bancassurance.

With the prevalent use of mobile devices and digital technology, consumer behaviours have changed. Customers are now more well-informed and educated, and they will do their own research before a decision is made. This is ultimately a good move for the industry as the market has moved from being more product- and sales-driven in the past to advisory-focussed now.

“Don’t get me wrong, the agency, FA and Banca channels will still remain dominant. It’s no longer presenting a product to a customer today. It is about how this product or solution fits into the overall plan of the client and advisory journey depending on his or her needs,” he said.

Customers today have more avenues to find out about products offered by different companies to the extent of comparing product features and premium differences through aggregators.

The risk today for customers has changed to avoid mis-buying. Hence, the role of an adviser will become more important to help customers plan over their life journeys to make sure that the solutions and products fit their needs, budgets, life stages and long-term goals such as retirement, he said.

Traits of success

With over 20 years of industry experience, he said that while hard skills such as product knowledge, financial planning expertise, the ability to utilise the latest digital tools in the financial advisory journey are important, soft skills are equally key to an adviser’s success.

Mr Tan said, “As the saying goes, insurance is ‘bought and not sold’. It is still a very relational, relationship-based process, where people sit down with someone they trust to talk about their aspirations, dreams, life goals and priorities. These needs tend to be uncovered through face-to-face conversations that today even the AI or robotics are not able to achieve the desired results.”

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However, with technology changing rapidly, advisers must continue to embrace changes and use technology to be more productive and effective in serving customers, he added.

In this regard, Mr Tan shared, “Late last year, we piloted GreatAdvice, a highly interactive financial planning tool where the customer co-creates a Life Storyboard digitally, guided by our financial representatives. With this, customers enjoy a more seamless and engaging experience, replacing laborious form-filling which we recognise is a pain point for many. Following the success, we have rolled it out to our agency force.”

As for agency leaders, he has observed that successful leaders are those who have the ability to attract talent to the team, groom these rookie advisers to be successful and for those advisers who wish to pursue the management path, the agency leaders are able to provide the necessary platform, and training and development to replicate the success cycle.

The talent challenge

The challenge in attracting talent is a common bugbear in the insurance industry, but he highlighted that it is an issue facing “every other industry” because of the lowering birth rates and declining number of graduates entering the workforce. “So the fight for talent is there but not just in the insurance industry.”

In fact, the image of insurance has improved over the years, he said. “The industry as a whole has done a lot in terms of making sure that our advisers in the field are professional and competent. There are also professional courses and accreditations such as through working with IBF (Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore) and Life Insurance Associations to make sure that our advisers are kept up to date in terms of regulations, industry developments as well as market trends.”

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The industry must also demonstrate that it is at the forefront of technology. While Great Eastern may be the oldest and most established life insurance group in Singapore and Malaysia at 111 years old, it continues to keep itself top of mind as a company of choice.

He said, “For example, last year we launched two exciting digital platforms with industry-first features – GETGREAT and UPGREAT. UPGREAT provides a single mobile platform where customers can seamlessly enjoy all their loyalty benefits anywhere, any time. And GETGREAT is the first-of-its-kind wellness platform with a wellness coach, GERI, powered by artificial intelligence to offer personalised coaching 24/7. This year we will be launching even more initiatives for our customers and advisers.”

But it is not just about recruiting in numbers. “The focus is on introducing Great Eastern careers to fresh graduates, such as through organising internships for university undergrads. We believe in attracting young talent to the company because we believe in organic growth. We prefer to bring in someone who is fresh to the industry and inculcate the Great Eastern way of doing things,” he said.

Mr Ben Tan is on the judging panel of the 4th Asia Trusted Life Agents & Advisers Awards.
Submit your entries today!