, Hong Kong

Looking beyond the traditional insurance space

Innovation in the face of the pandemic may drive progress for insurance companies, says PwC Hong Kong Partner. 

With over two decades of experience in the insurance profession, PwC Hong Kong’s Insurance Partner, Chris Hewison has provided auditing, accounting, and consulting services to both life and non-life insurance companies in the UK and Hong Kong, as well as a number of countries in Southeast Asia. He has also worked with the HK government in designing healthcare policy initiatives. 

Hewison's proven track record of building strong relationships with clients and experience are advantages for insurance groups as he brings a proactive and pragmatic approach to assessing challenges brought by changes in the market. As a judge in the upcoming Insurance Asia awards, we sat down with Hewison to trade insights on what insurance companies should expect and what they should do moving forward. 

The Changing Insurance Landscape

Hong Kong’s insurance industry has experienced a lot of change over the past decades, and the industry has set many milestones. 

The extent of change over the past decade has been massive. The separation of AIA from AIG and its subsequent listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Prudential’s listing in Hong Kong and a renewed focus on the Asian region with regional offices in Hong Kong are clear examples of how Hong Kong has continued to maintain its dominance as a risk management hub within Asia. 

Considerable growth in the level of premium written in the life insurance sector has been driven by the likes of AIA, Manulife and Prudential with increasingly more sophisticated sales propositions and enhanced digital customer experiences. This growth has also attracted various market entrants, particularly to the life sector. 

Substantial developments were made in the level of sophistication involved in the sales propositions and integration of wellness initiatives into the sales process, with increasingly digital customer interactions being employed to deepen the relationship between the insurer and the customer. This relationship was previously heavily guarded by the agents. 

Increased collaboration between the Mainland and Hong Kong economies has led to a considerable increase in the purchase of insurance products in Hong Kong by Mainland Chinese visitors. These volumes have become increasingly more apparent during the pandemic when borders have been effectively closed with sales to this market segment slowing considerably. 

Poised for Future Growth

The establishment of the new independent insurance authority in 2017 and the extensive regulatory development agenda with the introduction of Group Wide Supervision, Enterprise Risk Management and future Risk-Based Capital, should support Hong Kong’s continued development and position as a risk management hub. 

A lot of Hewison's insurance consulting experience for the Hong Kong government had an effect on shaping his professional career, with many defining moments. For example, never have people been more focused on personal wellness, well-being and being part of the team. This led to the development of proposals that supported the ultimate design of the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme (VHIS) for Hong Kong.

Working with various stakeholders from the medical profession and insurers enabled Hewison to identify challenges within the existing medical insurance product design, such as those that don’t make sense from a consumer perspective, and those that drive up costs for the insurers. This drove, in some cases, immediate product re-design and improved the outcomes for both consumers and the industry. 

Not only did the product design from the proposals help improve the transparency of cover, it also gave consumers greater confidence in the quality of the health insurance they were purchasing. The tax incentives and marketing also encouraged greater uptake and increased the number of younger people purchasing the plans. 

The successful launch of this new policy in April 2019 was extremely timely in strengthening the quality of medical insurance cover as Hong Kong emerges from the COVID-19 Pandemic, where good quality medical insurance is needed as support to start to live with this and future variants of the virus. 

Currently, Hewison's clients are working on a variety of projects as they continue to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which has accelerated the trend toward automation and digitalisation. The shift to virtual interactions and digital tools as a mechanism for selling insurance products has opened up new opportunities for servicing, selling and building customer relationships where we see continued investment in infrastructure to support this. Many are focusing on how they can better understand their customers' needs by mining and analysing data in ways to help build far deeper relationships with the customers that enable them to target sales in a more effective way. 

For the mid-sized general insurers, the pandemic has represented a significant catalyst for digital transformation in many areas of the business, particularly in the way they automate to drive down costs, improve data analysis and streamline claims and underwriting processes to drive efficiency. 

The Need to Innovate

Challenges arising from talent flight from Hong Kong have been significant. Organisations have seen a greater need for new types of talent in the fields of digital, cyber security and data, thus increasing the need for upskilling teams to become more tech-savvy and work more flexibly. 

Companies can implement certain business practices to increase their Finance Function Effectiveness, but they have to make sure that they are taking the right steps toward achieving their goals. The key areas a company should focus on to improve the effectiveness of its Finance Function are those of transactional efficiency and control, which are necessary to deliver timely and high-quality business insights to optimise business performance and capitalise on growth opportunities whilst managing risk. These objectives are underpinned by the need for an empowered team that is supported by the right investment in lean processes and appropriate technology. 

Innovation in customer engagement and new exciting partnerships beyond the traditional insurance space is needed, and almost expected, from companies, and these are the types of projects and innovations Hewison would look for amongst the entries for the Insurance Asia Awards.

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