Aviva Singapore chief executive officer Nishit Majmudar has a pared-down strategy to keep the insurer at the forefront of the increasingly competitive market - going digital and keeping the customer in mind.
He also attributes the company's growth to the booming financial advisory sector that Aviva has been focusing on since 2015. "Consumers want choices. If we look at more developed markets, such as those in the United Kingdom, Australia and the US, they are dominated by the financial advisory channel, where consumers have the choice. That will be a long-term sustainable strategy in the industry," he added.
The firm's strategy certainly seems to be paying off. Aviva Singapore recorded operating profit of $225.6 million in the 2018 financial year, up 18 per cent from the $191.9 million reported a year earlier. Its value of new business came in at $273.6 million, up 25 per cent from $218.7 million, with strong sales from the financial advisory channel and improved mix towards protection. Aviva expanded its distribution network here by increasing its number of advisers from 1,266 in 2017 to 1,540 last year. They include 816 Aviva Financial Advisers representatives, up from the previous year's 673.
The insurer had been a partner with DBS Bank since 2001 but lost out to rival Manulife when the position was up for grabs in 2015, an outcome that forced a rethink at the company. Mr Majmudar noted: "It was a complete shift in strategy. There is a big difference between having an exclusive partner and going out to win businesses in the financial advisory sector.
Customer-centricity became the key for us. This means offering a broad range of products and benefits and also providing competitive pricing.Mr. Nishit Majmudar, CEO, Aviva Singapore
"Customer-centricity became the key for us. This means offering a broad range of products and benefits and also providing competitive pricing." Mr Majmudar, who has been with the company for seven years, has seen an increase in the number of customers wanting more choices. "Information is much easier to get and customers want options when they meet an adviser. About 20 years ago, if you wanted information on an endowment product, you would not know where to get it. Now, you can just go online.
"So when an adviser goes to a customer, the person is more informed now. We are well placed to jump on that trend and offer the choices in our service," he said. Mr Majmudar also sees a trend in customers wanting shorter plans. "In the last decade, people have become less certain about long-term employment. Now, they prefer to pay higher premiums for a shorter period because they don't want the commitment. It has to do with jobs disappearing and more uncertainty. I find it hard to tell my son what he can study that will still be relevant in the next five to seven years. People now do not want to commit for long periods," he said.
But customers are also more aware that they need protection, as they get more educated and understand the benefits of covering medical care, for instance. Retirement is also a big issue in Singapore, Mr Majmudar noted, adding: "People are actually thinking and planning at an earlier age, so they are able to build up whatever funds they have. They are better educated and informed."
In the last decade, people have become less certain about long-term employment. Now, they prefer to pay higher premiums for a shorter period because they don't want the commitment.Mr. Nishit Majmudar, CEO, Aviva Singapore
Aviva is also looking to innovate its protection products, such as covering more illnesses under critical illness plans, to meet customer demand. It launched a protection policy called the MyCoreCI Plan, tailored for people with type 2 diabetes, last year, although it is also relevant to pre-diabetics and those with a high body mass index, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Part of the strategy in catering to customers' evolving needs is also going digital. Aviva has a mobile application and Web portal, called ClaimConnect, where policyholders can submit employee insurance claims electronically. Customers no longer need to go through the hassle of filing medical claims and doing paperwork.
"They can just scan a medical bill using the app and get payment in a few hours. It used to take a few days," Mr Majmudar said. The challenge is to get customers to change their behaviour and adapt to these new technologies, he added.
"Initially, customer behaviour did not change overnight, but then we saw the difference after some time. We need to incentivise customers to change their behaviour by helping them to understand the benefits. Now, they have an app where they can also see their policy documents online and edit their addresses as well, for instance.
"We are in a smart nation now. Advisers and customers might not be totally there, but we are getting to that point. Technology makes things faster, cuts down on a lot of paperwork and reduces the time spent on processes as well," he said.
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