Succeeding with a people-first strategy when it comes to digitalization in the highly regulated insurance industry.

Digitalization has been a difficult process for the insurance industry, with a myriad of manual processes, difficult-to-digitize workflows, and strict government regulations.

According to a recent study by KPMG, 85% of Insurance CEOs say COVID-19 has accelerated the digitization of their operations and the creation of next-generation operating models. 78% say it has turbocharged a seamless digital customer experience, while 79% agree that it has accelerated the creation of new business models and revenue streams.

Etiqa Singapore started its digital transformation journey a few years ago. From its digitalization journey, DigiconAsia sought out some insights into the challenges, strategies, and lessons learnt along the way from Dennis Liu, Chief Digital and Transformation Officer, Etiqa Singapore:

Dennis Liu, Chief Digital and Transformation Officer, Etiqa Singapore

What are some key digital transformation trends in the insurance industry you’ve observed in Asia?

Liu: We have also seen a shift in customer behaviors in these past few years. Customers are highly technology-literate and more well-informed — researching price comparison websites before purchase. As a technology leader, we have to design services that support this “on-demand, click & compare” nature in customers.  

Insurance companies are also challenged to provide easy to use technology that prioritizes customer satisfaction and innovation. We are looking at implementing technology that improves relationships and facilitates openness to enhance the overall customer experience.

However, digitalization is a double-edged sword. I have also seen insurers get caught up in these trends and embark on digital transformation for transformation’s sake. Digitalization should serve a greater purpose in transforming the business to gain operational efficiency, improve the customer experience, reduce silos, rather than adopting technology for its sake.

Why does it seem as if digitalization is more difficult for the insurance industry than other sectors? What are the challenges and opportunities?

Liu: The insurance business is one of the most competitive industries and faces multiple challenges. Aligning to rapidly changing customer expectations and responding to industry disruptions are often crucial.

First, we are seeing a shift in the insurance industry. Insurance is traditional a people’s business – one that used to be mainly driven by face-to-face interactions. However, in today’s pandemic, there’s a significant gap that policyholders expect quick and comprehensive and hyper-personalized service.

Technology-enabled product development lifecycles have already significantly decreased. With changing customer preferences, we see the rise of modular/micro products or innovative shorter-term insurance products. These products need to be developed quickly and fit into existing digital-centric lifestyles. For instance, integrating health plans with fitness wearables (and health profiles) of the policyholder and motor insurance using telematics that monitors drivers’ habits for risk profiles is a case in point.

Another challenge and opportunity for technology leaders are collecting and using data. Data provides real-time insights across all aspects of the insurer’s business value-chain, such as customer management, operations, distribution, investment, risk management, product development and pricing. Insurers have to act quickly on data-driven insights to provide an end-to-end experience for customers and enhance sales and performance capabilities to meet these challenges.

Technology leaders are often challenged to do more with less, experiencing insufficient IT resources, budget, and a talent crunch due to changing customer demands and innovation needs.

How has Etiqa Singapore’s digitalization journey been like, and what are the key areas of transformation recently?

Liu: As a leading online insurer, Etiqa was quick in its digitalization transformation journey, this being in our company’s DNA to humanize insurance. We started our digital transformation journey long before Covid began as we saw a demand for digital services and solutions.

We needed to simplify and improve customer journeys with an always-on mindset. To improve organizational agility, Etiqa invested in technology such as Applications Programming Interfaces, DevOps and Cloud technology to innovate and respond to customers’ needs for different product offerings and capture new market opportunities.

There is also a strong people aspect to digital transformation. On top of technology enhancements, the corporate culture and mindsets in management, employees and financial representatives enhance the end-to-end digitally enabled experience for our customers.

What technologies and strategies has Etiqa employed in its digital transformation journey?

Liu: At the heart of Etiqa Singapore’s digital transformation journey is innovation. I was challenged to roll out innovation projects using artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and robotics process automation (RPA), backed by integration with third-party services such as MyInfo and PayNow.

Etiqa Singapore was also one of the first insurers in Singapore to integrate MyInfo. This online government service offers our customers much convenience since it reduces the need for data verification and, at the same time, helps to save time and reduces the cost of inputting data.

API is used for real-time flight delay tracking and automatic immediate assessment, and instant approval for travel delay claims. This helped improve the customer experience while eliminating time-consuming and costly manual processes from our employees.

Chatbots integrated with Google Assistant and WhatsApp Business has also helped us maintain touchpoints with our customers.

How do you grow your IT talent in your organization, considering the talent crunch and the Great Resignation?

Liu: At Etiqa, we believe that people come first. These attributes are etched into our DNA and offer insights into how we treat our customers and how every employee works in the organization.

As most companies think of cost-cutting measures to improve the organization’s performance and profitability by outsourcing IT resources and pay cuts, Etiqa Singapore places people over policies with a people-first culture.

We believe in developing internal capabilities and focus on in-sourcing as we strive towards a leaner organizational structure. Employees are more broadly skilled and flexible. With a 97% retention rate, our HR strategy is working and we are happy with the results so far.

In a typical organization, developers are overlooked as cogs in a machine. Their most crucial metric is hands-on keyboard time. As a technology leader, it is essential to ensure developers align directly with the business, so they feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. Our developers are involved with planning, training, discussions with product managers and UX to ensure no silos.

As a technology team, our goal is to transform the business. We also look at overall brand health from net promoter score growth, customer retention rates, market share expansion and the acquisition of new users. These are the keys to the success of our organization.