,Hong Kong

Why life insurance agents in Asia are optimistic for 2021

They are expecting to see growth in medical products and critical illness products, says Sun Life.

Despite the challenging economic environment and a rapid shift in the way insurers do business in the past year, the majority of insurance advisors in Asia are optimistic about the outlook for the life insurance industry in 2021.

A study by Sun Life found that 70% of 1,600 advisors working in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam are optimistic about their sales growth chances for the year. This is driven by expectations that medical products and critical illness insurance products will see growth--especially now with health concerns on top of the minds of consumers, a result of the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, almost one in eight advisors (79%) project a growth in sales for medical products, whilst the same ratio (77%) expect growth in critical illness insurance sales.

“The pandemic has raised people’s awareness and interest in the importance of life and health protection solutions, creating demand opportunities,” Shiney Prasad, president of Sun Life Digital Enterprise Asia, told Insurance Asia in an interview. “Social distancing and lockdown measures have also accelerated innovation and transformation in the industry towards a more efficient and simpler sales process using digital platforms.”

That is not to say that the insurance industry had a smooth-sailing journey during the peak of the pandemic. As markets locked down and social distancing measures were implemented, advisors had to adapt to a rapid shift in digital processes in order to continue connecting with their clients.

“Almost overnight, this virtualised our business,” noted Prasad. In Sun Life, one of their immediate priorities was to ensure that they are providing the best platforms for advisors to do business safely and securely. “From prospecting using social media, to engaging virtually and ensuring they understand how client priorities and needs have changed in the pandemic.”
Sun Life's study found that despite a challenging 2020, the majority of life insurance advisors in Asia are optimistic about the outlook of the industry. What’s driving this optimism?

Our survey found that advisors are seeing an increase in awareness in the importance of life and health protection due to the pandemic. They expect this to drive a growth in demand for medical and critical illness insurance. In addition, the introduction of new digital tools like Sun Life’s SunCanvas platform is helping advisors virtually connect with clients and complete the sales process from the safety of their homes. This greatly helps mitigate the impact of social distancing measures.

What opportunities did the pandemic and the past year present to insurers and advisors?
The pandemic has raised people’s awareness and interest in the importance of life and health protection solutions, creating demand opportunities. Social distancing and lockdown measures have also accelerated innovation and transformation in the industry towards a more efficient and simpler sales process using digital platforms.

Sun Life’s study also said that COVID-19 has had a polarising effect in the life insurance industry, with digital becoming a critical tool for sales performance.

Just how has digitisation, particularly in the past 12 months, changed the way insurers approach business or shape their growth plans?
Our survey found COVID-19 is having a polarizing effect in the industry. Equal proportions of advisors report positive and negative impacts of the pandemic on their sales performance. Advisors who typically acquire clients via leads from social media or support from insurance carriers are more likely to report that COVID-19 had a positive impact on their sales. There’s a clear urgency here for insurers to accelerate digitalization to support their advisors and business growth. Having the right digital tools to clearly define, target, and communicate with clients is essential in helping advisors to grow their business in a pandemic, and post-pandemic environment.

Apart from digitisation, have you observed other trends in the life insurance industry in the past 12 months?
Most advisors expect to see an increase in demand for medical and critical illness protection products due to elevated health concerns. According to Sun Life’s “Future of Family Businesses in Asia” survey conducted just as the pandemic emerged, only around half of smaller businesses in Asia purchased health and accident insurance for their employees. Amidst growing health concerns, we expect many businesses will reevaluate their insurance protection for employees, especially for key people running the business, as part of their business continuity planning.

The pandemic has also made people more comfortable searching for information and purchasing online. These new habits are unlikely to switch back, so things like AI-based lead generation efforts for prospecting, alongside targeted value-based offers, present opportunities for future growth.

The study notes that the majority of advisors expect to remain in a “pandemic style” environment for the next 12 months. What is the “pandemic style” environment like for advisors?
As we continue to face varying degrees of social distancing and lockdown restrictions across Asia, advisors will continue to rely on digital platforms and tools to virtually connect with clients. Social media will become increasingly important in generating new leads. Advisors adopting a hybrid approach leveraging the best of both digital and non-digital forms of communication to prospect and serve clients will likely perform best.

In relation to the preceding question: what does the future of insurance advisory look like?
Holistic financial advice will continue to be critical in addressing client expectations and needs. That will not change. But we expect the end-to-end sales process will be completed on digital platforms. We expect more new clients will be acquired through partnership ecosystems, social media and AI targeting. Product information and solutions will become more transparent because of this. We will also see a new breed of professional and tech-savvy advisors with a focus on digital enablement and hybrid online/offline omni-channel experiences.

How can insurers ensure that they are providing sufficient support to their advisors?
This has been a big focus for us at Sun Life and is at the center of our Digital Enterprise strategy: positioning our advisors for long-term success with the best digital tools, data and insights to deliver a market-leading client experience, manage and grow their business, and pursue continuing training to grow their career.

The needs of our advisor force are clearly changing, which is why we are responding with tools, solutions and training to support them. In recent months, we launched our SunCanvas virtual sales tool and the Google Workspace productivity suite. We will continue to build on this as we develop our Digital and Advisor (DnA) platform this year.

To help advisors adjust and maintain sales momentum, we provided concept selling tools to help generate leads on social media. We’ve provided training and tips on how to build human connections via virtual channels. We also enhanced our recruitment development and training programs with digital tools and data.

Sun Life has partnered with Google to offer an integrated productivity solution to its advisors across Asia. How has this partnership enhanced Sun Life’s advisors’ workflow compared to before?
Sun Life has partnered with Google to provide the industry’s only cloud-native communication and collaboration solution for advisors. This is a suite of productivity tools encompassing Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Calendar, Chat and Meet to help our advisors communicate more easily with clients, automate tasks and work from anywhere. The end benefit being that they spend less time managing work and more time listening and caring for their clients.

The tools will be rolled out to advisors in phases across Asia in 2021.  Our goals are to help our advisors be stronger by keeping them on top of the game; faster, by making the workflow more efficient; and brighter, by helping them be the best partner they can be to their clients.  

What is your outlook for Asia’s life insurance industry?
Although the pandemic has created challenges, the underlying outlook for the industry in Asia is very strong.  There is still an enormous insurance protection gap to close in Asia and the pandemic has presented the unique opportunity for insurers to make a leap forward in closing the insurance gap and meeting the fundamental need for financial security of so many people across Asia.

The acceleration of digitalization presents an opportunity to the industry to improve our Client experience. Many of us have commented on making more progress with digital innovation and adoption in the past few months than in the past few years. As insurers accelerate the deployment of digital solutions, our clients will benefit from a seamless experience and more personalized solutions.

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