Hong Kong: Life insurers see strong sales growth as Omicron wave raises health awareness, accelerates digital shift

| 19 May 2022

Despite the fifth wave of Covid-19, some of the city's biggest insurers have enjoyed surging sales thanks to their digital offerings and a heightened public awareness of the need for medical cover.

HSBC Life experienced a 38% year-on-year increase in the value of new business in the first three months of 2022, even though its parent bank had to temporarily close most of its branches in early March as the pandemic peaked. “The fifth wave forced, amongst other things, widespread branch closures across Hong Kong which would normally have hindered our ability to serve our customers,” said Mr Edward Moncreiffe, Chief Executive of HSBC Life in Hong Kong.

“However, in the last two years we have advanced our digital sales capabilities. We have just lived through a once-in-a-century global pandemic. We see significantly higher awareness among our customer base of the need to protect their health and to safeguard their family’s future,” he said.

HSBC Life introduced video meetings between its financial advisers and customers in 2020 when Covid-19 first appeared in the city. Those virtual meetings led to about 40% of new sales in the first quarter, as total sales returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Canadian insurer Manulife, the second-biggest in Hong Kong, saw sales of medical policies rise 16% from a year ago.

“Despite the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic, it is encouraging to see people become more health conscious. We have seen strong demand in health protection products in the first quarter,” said Mr Damien Green, CEO of Manulife Hong Kong and Macau.

The insurer expanded its salesforce by 7% year-on-year in the first quarter, and increased the use of virtual sales platforms among its agents.

“Through this and record-high digital adoption, we managed to serve customers online and achieve an increase in sales in our health protection products,” Green said.

Bowtie Life Insurance, Hong Kong’s first and biggest virtual insurer, sold double the number of policies under the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme (VHIS) – a government-backed initiative launched three years ago – in the first quarter than it did a year earlier.

“The fifth wave of the outbreak in February and March has led more people to shift to buy everything online, including insurance policies,” said Mr Fred Ngan Yiu-fai, the online insurer’s co-founder and co-CEO. “We [believe] online sales of insurance products have become the new normal.”

Mr Derek Yung, chief executive of British insurer Prudential Hong Kong, said his company saw strong growth of new business in the first quarter, but did not provide numbers. The company reported 9% year on year growth in new business in 2021, driven by health and annuity products.

“The fifth wave of Covid-19 impeded people’s [personal] interactions, so we used technology to bridge the gap. Our digital health app, Pulse, recorded over 800,000 downloads in Hong Kong in the last two years, leading to the sale of 61,000 new policies,” Mr Yung said. 

AIA Hong Kong, the biggest insurer in the city, reported an increase in value of new business in the first quarter too.

“We have made remarkable achievements in digitalisation; the digital adoption from our customers has increased by 17 percentage points from 2019 to 2021,” a spokesman for AIA said, according to South China Morning Post.