Asia has become a hotbed of innovation. Technology is continually promoting a new dynamic between companies and clients, and the insurance industry is no exception to this significant shift.
New digital tools such as artificial intelligence, automation and IoT are disrupting outdated business models. The entrance of non-traditional players like Alibaba and Tencent are further amplifying competition.
Providing an array of tailored life and health insurance products and services, Sun Life has grown exponentially across the US, Canada and Asia, expanding its reach in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as housing joint ventures in India and China.
With two distinct lines, life and health, and wealth and pensions under its umbrella, Chief Information Officer Ritesh Sarda has been at the forefront of the company’s digital transformation and has streamlined the business’s dual programmes across Sun Life’s Hong Kong division.
“We have a bimodal team, where one half of my team works for the transformation programmes in legacy and digital, and the other runs our daily product launches, IT operations, data centre, information security etc.,” he says.
“I see the ‘C’ in CIO as a change agent. The ‘I’ stands for somebody who is bringing real technology innovation solutions to solve real business problems, and the ‘O’ is to enable and improve operational efficiency.”
Distinctive client experience
With this in mind, the company has looked to transform its operations from the view of its three key stakeholders: financial advisors, policyholders and its internal operations.
The introduction of an iPad-based point of sales system, for example, has sought to enable financial advisors to support clients across their entire sales journey. An app for financial advisors also allows them to view the portfolio of clients, and where they are at each stage of the application process.
“This tool also enables financial advisors to track all their new business, commission, their sales target and so on,” adds Sarda.
“For our second key stakeholder, the policyholder or client, we have launched our new mobile app. This has provided a simpler, more holistic view for clients and shows their overall portfolio with Sun Life, spanning their coverage and assets. It also gives clients a breakdown of what they have really bought for themselves, their beneficiaries etc. In coming times, They can also do a lot of self-servicing, such as funds switching and withdrawing funds, submitting e-claims,” he continues.
Becoming fully committed to delivering a unique and distinctive client experience, Sun Life has also partnered with banks to provide faster payments and deliver a complete, frictionless experience.
By placing significant investment in automating repetitive tasks, Sun Life has also sought to boost efficiencies across its operations.
“All of these things are tied with our philosophy, which is essentially around ease of doing business with clients, proactive problem resolution and establishing proactive contacts with clients as well,” says Sarda.
“We are ensuring that we capture interactions across all channels; from a client interacting with advisors, call centres and our mobile app to guarantee these functions are all in sync.
“Data is therefore a glue which is bringing holistic synergies between all these digital assets and physical channels to make it a very streamlined experience, and filters into our overall data strategy,” he adds.
By ensuring that all decisions are based on authentic data, Sarda notes the importance of focusing on each source of data and, most importantly, to further understand the data. This has led the business to leverage the power of predictive analytics.
“Data is the bond between digital assets and physical channels, and the other is purely data-driven decision making, getting insight and having the right level of analytics.”
Promoting innovation across its entire portfolio of services, Sun Life’s accelerator programme, has led the company to collaborate with new age startups across a number of digital divisions, ranging from artificial intelligence and blockchain, to insur-tech and fintech. Providing a real business problem to the selected startups, the company then tasks them with developing a solution.
However, whilst the number of partnerships at Sun Life is growing, such relationships remain complex.
“There are three levels of vendor partnership. The first is purely infrastructure demand. When it comes to running a rock solid stable infrastructure, we have a partnership with a tier one vendor who essentially manages our overall data centres and all the associated infrastructure,” explains Sarda.
“The second is with multiple vendors, where we essentially use them for business platforms; whether it is wealth management systems, insurance administration, CRM systems or databases etc.
“The third is around laudable innovative solutions around legacy, chatbots, artificial intelligence, point of sale and mobility.
“There are very niche solution providers, who have a very, very niche solution to solve a particular business problem and we partner with them to basically bring in both utilities in our ecosystem.”
“It's about combining the right client experience with a frictionless business.,” adds Sarda.
“It’s pulling that business growth in a non-linear manner, which means that our operating expenses don't necessarily grow in the same tandem as the growth content.”
Such growth is, of course, in the face of growing competition. Whilst traditional businesses in banking and insurance previously held sway, preventing non-traditional players from entering this market, the walls are being broken down. Such shifts have led to the growth of digital banks and insurers which house an entirely alternate business model.
“These startups don't have much legacy or baggage, so their ability to ramp up is pretty quick. Non-traditional players, such as Amazon and Alibaba have shown immense interest in insurance through their recent partnerships,” he says.
“With the amount of customer data they have, the agility they have and the digital platforms they have, clearly it's massive competition knocking at our doors to disrupt our own market.
“Nonetheless, there is a lot of potential for growth and I think there are essentially three areas where I think we see the growth. Firstly, we still see a lot of growth in a high network business. Secondly, we see growth on the health insurance side, where governments have taken initiatives about enforcing mandatory health insurance. Thirdly, we see a lot of potential in digital insurance for simple products,” concludes Sarda.
“At the same time, we continue to see that our existing channels of advisors will continue to exist in the ecosystem for us to be able to sell more complicated and more financially advanced products to their clients. Both will therefore coexist.”