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Etiqa shares how its small beginnings can create a name in the insurance industry

Customer centricity, modern capabilities, and humanising the insurance offerings can make a difference, says the CEO.

Singapore's hands-on regulation in the financial sector has been instrumental in keeping the industry safe and competitive, whilst Etiqa Insurance Singapore seeks to differentiate itself from the big players by adopting a prudent approach towards investment and risk-taking.

Speaking to Insurance Asia, Chief Executive Officer, Raymond Ong said that is the true promise of Etiqa which it aims to uphold through compliant, tailor-fit, digitalised, and customer-centric insurance.

Etiqa Insurance Singapore is a joint venture between Maybank, Southeast Asia’s fourth-largest banking group with over 22 million global customers, and Ageas, a renowned international insurance group serving 33 million customers across 16 countries and boasting a remarkable 190-year heritage.

It strategically embraced digitalisation and innovation as key drivers of success, whilst incorporating human needs in its products – making it an outlier amongst bigger players.

From this perspective, Ong talked about Singapore’s insurance industry, and its set of challenges, including changing customer preferences, an ageing population, and the need for technological adaptation and strong compliance.

 

Can you please explain Etiqa’s digital strategies and how they helped you stay ahead in the evolving insurance industry?

One of the examples is our partnership with Singtel. Looking back, Singtel Dash signed up with Etiqa because of our Application Programming Interface (API) capability. Through APIs, we are able to allow a seamless interface between our systems and the customer — enabling a more seamless customer experience.

The continued investment in technology will be something we can do that will differentiate us from the more traditional companies that either cannot or are not willing to change. So, companies that are bogged down by maybe a very dominant agency channel, for example, will be constrained in how fast they can go digital and sell directly. Even though the market preference may be on paper, and they want something online, this cuts out the middle person a lot more. The bigger players are often unable to meet those customer demands in real life because of the need to ensure their key distribution — which provides the bulk of their business.

Etiqa doesn’t have the legacy of a big distribution channel. As I said, we are a new player, effectively in the Singapore market, we have very little in the way of legacy and we’re willing to try whatever is just best for us and the stakeholders.


What top issues in the insurance industry should Singapore insurers address first?

I think common to all insurance we have is the impending global recession that everyone is talking about. In order to get past that, I think insurance needs to adopt a prudent approach towards investment and risk-taking, and this is what I’ve always been doing. Fundamentally, we believe that if we take a long-term view, the future looks bright for us.

Other challenges would be talent management, future-proofing skills, also artificial intelligence (AI). So, with all the technological advancements and evolving customer expectations, I think training and upskilling of people and employees are necessary. We need to stay ahead and people need to be taught new skills in order to try new technology.

In Singapore, particularly, the changing demographics are a big challenge for insurers. We have the fastest, if not one of the [fastest], ageing populations in the world. So, we need to prepare for that very different demographic which will require different insurance solutions. And together with the changing demographic, young people want to buy things differently.

So maybe the traditional ways of selling insurance are not going to give us as good a reception as it has in the past where the agents go to customers, and they sell something and the customer buys because of the friendship or they’re part of the family.

So, Gen Z and the millennials tend to want to do things themselves. But very often, they have no clue how to do it. The education of the public is also a big challenge. But then together with these challenges, there are obviously opportunities. We need to leverage new technologies, new, new ways of reaching out to people which has not been done before in the past. And we need to expand insurance into new areas.
As you see, Etiqa is trying to do things differently. Because we don’t have the traditional way of doing things, we don't have a huge agency for like the Giants. But what we have is, you know, a digital and API-type approach that is attractive to new partners and new customers. That’s what we’ve been doing well.


How does Etiqa navigate the regulatory environment while ensuring customer satisfaction and maintaining a competitive edge?

As a former regulator myself, compliance is a big part of — what I think should be part of — the DNA of any financial institution.

We maintain a zero-tolerance approach and 100% compliance. I think zero tolerance means that we act on every non-compliance that we uncover. What we do is operationalise it by ensuring that we have and continue to have robust internal control. And we have a process to make sure that we are able to comply with all new regulations as they arrive.

We also embed in our products the regulations, tailor-fitting and dealing with customers. This is to make sure we humanise insurance.

We want to make sure that all terms and conditions are clearly explained and settled explicitly. Because insurance is about being in a long-term contractual relationship with customers, it’s important that customers know what they’re getting into. Any exclusions, for example, any terms and conditions are very clear.

Last but not least, we need to make sure that we continue to monitor the customer satisfaction level through all customer touchpoints. We have multiple touchpoints with our customers. Whether it’s claims, new business, or customer queries (call centre, WhatsApp, chatbot, etc.,). In all these interactions we make sure we monitor customer satisfaction and we continually incorporate customer feedback to improve when necessary. We believe that as we go along, we get more feedback and we continue to improve. One day our customer experience is what will differentiate us from others.

 

As a joint venture, how does Etiqa leverage its partnership with Maybank and Ageas to improve its market position and customer offerings?

Being part of the Maybank group, which is an established name in Malaysia and Singapore, helps our brand. Maybank is a ready-made distribution channel for us. The bulk of our business is through Maybank bancassurance, which provides the basic business-as-usual (BAU) level of business that we do. This also allows us to reach the Maybank customer base.

Ageas, on the other hand, brings insurance expertise and know-how. They are also one of the oldest insurance companies in the world with a very rich history. We are able to bring the best with Ageas worldwide to the Singapore market and experiment where it is necessary. Ageas, also being an insurer, would be very familiar with the governance and the controls that are needed for a successful insurance business. Surviving for such a long period, Ageas know what they’re doing. It’s a combination of financial strength, insurance expertise, and a brand.

 

As an insurance leader, can you share with us the key achievements you are most proud of?

If you look at our progress, since we started effectively in 2014, to be able to reach a mid-market position in the span of 10 years, I think it’s something which is quite an achievement.
We have also, through our digital agility, managed a partnership with Singtel. We were chosen as their exclusive life insurance partner over the established market players. We pride ourselves on our digital capability and our agility in being able to do much to achieve.

We will continue to build on our knack for a legacy process, which is really our key differentiating factor.

Also, Etiqa Insurance Singapore is the only other insurer that is bank-owned. So, we have a ready-made bank distribution. So, we have a source of “business-as-usual” type business and a more transformational ecosystem-type play that will drive the next phase of our growth.

 

 

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