Banker to insurer: Great Eastern’s Jimmy Tong recalls his journey
The two roles overlap when it comes to protecting clients’ assets
Before Great Eastern’s Managing Director for General and Group Insurance Jimmy Tong became part of the insurance industry, he was working in a local bank in Singapore. In his 20 years of handling corporate loans and related products and services, he realised there are many similarities between banking and insurance.
So when an opportunity came, he took the leap and landed a job in Great Eastern. In an interview with Insurance Asia, Jimmy discusses this career change.
With 20 years in banking, why did you leave it for the insurance industry?
When the opportunity came up that Great Eastern was looking for someone to head the general and group insurance, I thought why not? My role in corporate banking dealt with corporate loans and related products and services and general and life insurance too, so joining Great Eastern was a logical extension of my banking career. I still get to help companies and individuals to protect their assets and their lives.
Great Eastern is also part of a banking group so there is always cross-selling or cross referrals from our parent OCBC. I thought this was a very good way to help customers because it’s comprehensive for being within the same shop.
Out of all the insurers in Singapore, why did you choose Great Eastern to switch industries?
It’s because Great Eastern is a composite insurer meaning they both have general and life insurance. They also operate in high-growth countries aside from Singapore like Malaysia and Indonesia. This is an advantage for me because in my previous banking job we also cover the same markets.
But what made me choose Great Eastern is that its core is all about helping people whether commercial or individual customers and that resonates with me.
What are the difference and similarities between being a banker and an insurer?
Corporate banking entails working through people and with people, similar to the insurance business. A lot of the industry rules and regulations are also similar, so it was quite a seamless transition for me. Similarly, both banking and insurance are very dynamic industries, especially with more digitalisation, automation, competition, and other challenges.
What are the biggest challenges you feel the industry is facing?
The first challenge is that the general insurance industry is extremely competitive, there are many companies that offer almost similar products. The second challenge is getting consumers to buy insurance products at an early stage because most consumers are often not in a hurry to buy insurance. They only think about it when something happens.
For example, when I asked my family if they have insurance like home insurance more often they say they don’t buy home insurance. So I tell them the importance of insurance. The awareness is there however the urge to buy is missing.
Another is that consumers are demanding a lot more digitalisation. And they want it fast. So the challenge is to enable digital platforms without losing the human touch.
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Let’s talk about consumers not typically having the urge to buy insurance. What do you think insurers should do?
It is universally acknowledged that insurance is sold rather than bought. Perhaps less sold for general insurance than for life insurance. What really matters is the presence of regular and more personalised engagements with customers, and making it easier for them to secure the protection solutions they need. Over the past few years, we expanded our distribution channels beyond the traditional routes of the networks of financial representatives and bancassurance distribution to our Great Eastern app and digital platform partnerships with companies that have significant active user bases. This helped us reach more consumers via more touchpoints, educate them on the importance of protecting themselves well, and provide convenience and accessibility to relevant solutions when customers want to purchase insurance from us.
For example, we work with OCBC and Singtel in Singapore so customers can make direct online purchases of their home, travel, motor, health, or maid insurance plans more conveniently and easily. In Malaysia, we partner BJAK, an online aggregator platform, to offer comprehensive Third Party Fire and Theft, and Third Party Car Insurance and Axiata Digital Capital and Flexi Parking to allow customers to make direct purchases of motor insurance online. We also partnered insurtech companies in Indonesia such as Qoala and Gojek to launch a Gadget Protection plan on their e-commerce and e-wallet platforms.
What’s your biggest contribution during your leadership for the general and group insurance division of Great Eastern?
We have made many achievements since I assumed this role almost six years now. Most recently we achieved progress in digitalisation with over 85% of the travel & lifestyle insurance plans processed digitally with minimal human intervention. We have also expanded our distribution network through our affinity partners and will continue to work with them to reach out to new customer segments and grow our market share through innovative and personalised solutions that meet the customers’ unique and evolving needs.
What are some of Great Eastern’s plans for the future?
Digitalisation is now regarded as a “must-have” – especially as technology is becoming more pervasive and consumer behaviour habits have also evolved. We will accelerate our digital transformation journey to further enhance the end-to-end customer experience and improve our engagement with our customers to deepen our footprint across the markets.
We will also expand our network of leading digital platform partnerships with companies that have significant active user bases to capture new customer segments through our personalised, innovative solutions to drive growth across the key markets.
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