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Great Eastern: Connecting with Customers in the Digital Universe

| 02 Oct 2020

Ryan Cheong, Managing Director, Digital for Business, Great Eastern Life Assurance, shares with Asia Advisers Network, why "doing digital" is not enough, the need to look beyond the obvious in serving customers through a fresh perspective, and the evolving role of financial advisers in a digital universe.

With customers increasingly living their lives digitally, it is no longer about digital versus non-digital in business operations and customer service. Customers need to be viewed from a new perspective, he said. 

It used to be that “digital” and “non-digital” were almost running on parallel tracks. But with the pandemic, it has forced the speed of merger.

Being in the digital universe

On what that means for distribution and, specifically, financial representatives, he said: “From the beginning, it was very clear to us that it is not a case of competing against digital. Rather, it is competing in digital.”

“We are still going to have face-to-face. That is not going to go away as a basic human need to be able to connect,” he said.

The key is to bring financial representatives, services, and advisory into the digital lives of customers. That has set the tone in terms of how Great Eastern invests its resources in the digital space to build a hybrid agency force.

More broadly, he said that there is a difference between “doing digital” and “being digital”. Doing digital, often based on projects and deliverables, is easy. But to be digital, takes more time.

They are related but distinct. As the organisation embarks on the doing with new projects and digital services, hopefully, more people would be brought into the process, thereby creating a cultural shift to be digital, he said.

The engagement challenge

When it comes to engagement, the odds are stacked against the insurance industry. Unlike shopping for tangible products or services that can be utilised immediately, there is no immediate gratification from buying an insurance policy.

For Great Eastern, customer engagement was relooked at from two perspectives – engagement in terms of the services provided to customers, and engagement in terms of designing products that allow customers to engage.

As a result, initiatives launched include GETGREAT, the health and wellness platform, which brings fun and easy in-app activities and guidance to get users started – and committed – to their wellness journey; and UPGREAT, the lifestyle app that is an all-in-one rewards platform that lets users earn points and redeem dining, lifestyle and shopping rewards from their favourite merchants.

Manage your insurance plans in a snap

A vital part of the equation is to make it easy to transact with Great Eastern. To this end, the Great Eastern app was launched for customers as a one-stop policy management app to manage their insurance plans in a snap.

Other than having complete access to the latest details on their policies anytime, anywhere, customers may also update their particulars, policy preferences and make fund transactions securely on-the-go.

Ryan said, “We had a long debate, but eventually, we decided that there is a role for an app.”

Recognising that customers have a need in this digital age for an insurance app for information at their fingertips, Great Eastern App was launched in July to give policyholders an aggregated overview and active management. This is to complement the company’s E-Connect services on

Customers who own Investment-Linked Products would see the benefit of having a way to actively manage their portfolio and underlying funds that they have invested in.

“There is that level of interaction and engagement that we can build on,” he said.

Another key area is to reimagine how the claims process could be like through the Great Eastern app. The claims process is still very much heavily based on forms. “There is so much pain that customers have to go through in the claims process. Even when they ask their financial representatives to facilitate the process, the representatives have got a lot of work to do,” he said. 

“Imagine if we could re-design our claims process to make things as easy for the customer, based on data insights, to delight our customers with the level of service which makes their engagement with us seamless and error-free through the use of digital tools. We would be able to harness operational efficiencies in that process and deliver better customer engagement,” he added.

Looking beyond the obvious

With responsibility for the formulation of business strategy and transformation programmes across all markets in the Group, Ryan and his team work very closely with colleagues from all departments.

An interesting example he cited was customer service in terms of the volume coming through the call centre.

“The natural approach would be, ‘Oh, I’ve got more calls coming through, I need to increase the capacity to answer the calls faster’,” he said.

But that’s not a sustainable approach.

“We need to start analysing the kind of requests that come in and ask ourselves, ‘Could this have been prevented in the first place? Is it because of the way we design our service process or experience that created this problem?’” he said. “If there is a failure point which can be solved, customers do not even need to call in.” 

What does the future hold for financial advisory?

Looking ahead, is there a role still for financial advisers? “The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, the customer engaging in an insurance product is going to be something long term. Being able to have somebody (and a brand) that you can trust in making this long-term commitment is very important.”

Besides, as customers go through different phases of their lives, their financial needs will change. Financial advisers can help customers to manage the risks.

But the role will change. Other than professional advice continuing to become even more critical, the way it is delivered and executed will also change. 

“There will be a greater need for financial advisers to be able to engage customers digitally and also fulfil their requests digitally. And they also need to start looking at what else they are competing with in the digital space, in terms of share of mind and how do they make their presence in the virtual space a lot stronger, so customers know that the advisers know their craft,” said Ryan.


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