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AIA on a purpose-led mission to promote healthier, longer, better lives

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 13 March 2019 00:00


AIA Group Chief Marketing Officer Stuart Spencer – Pic by Sameera Wijesinghe 

Leading insurance company, AIA reiterated on its brand promise to help Sri Lankans live healthier, longer, better lives while also highlighting how its products and exceptional customer experience is making a positive change in the way customers view insurance.

In the larger backdrop of the massive crisis of wellbeing across Asia, AIA Group Chief Marketing Officer Stuart Spencer outlined how AIA is differentiating themselves from the insurance landscape as a ‘purpose-led’ organisation, being a key player that serves the needs of the customer.

AIA’s ‘healthier, longer, better lives brand promise’ is the brainchild of Spencer, who has also recently been named on Campaign Asia Pacific’s power-list. 

During his short visit to Sri Lanka to participate at AIA’s ‘Healthiest Workplace Summit’ in Colombo, Spencer took time off to speak to Daily FT about how AIA meets new trends, challenges while living up to its brand promise through its products and services.

Following are excerpts of the interview:


By Charumini de Silva


Q: Could you elaborate on how AIA’s promise of helping people live ‘Healthier, Longer, Better lives’ manifests this proposition?

At AIA we made the determination that as the leading Pan-Asian life and health insurer with 32 million customers across 18 markets, we really are leading the industry and have an obligation to continue to focus on what is important. We believe health, wellness and wellbeing are fundamentally important to humanity because that’s the business we are in, we are in people’s business. As the leader in life and health insurance, we recognise the need to help people to live healthier longer and better life. We believe that is our brand’s promise and our commitment.

As a leader in the industry it also reflects other commitments to work on contributing to social and economic development in Asia. AIA is celebrating our 100th anniversary in Asia and now we are the largest listed entity in Hong Kong stock exchange and we believe that we have responsibility to help shape behaviour and help consciousness towards wellbeing. The larger backdrop is that there is a race against time, because there is a massive crisis of wellbeing across Asia. 

The proliferation of lifestyle diseases whether it is diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancers, obesity, and chronic lung diseases are now the principal form of the disease diagnose across Asia. Asians have become much wealthier, but they have not become healthier. We see key risk factors that are driving this – firstly you have affluence and that affluence is driving lack of exercise and poor diet, excessive drinking and we still have issues with smoking, beyond that air quality degradation and think about sleep deprivation and think about mental illness and depression.

All of these risk factors conspired to reduce life quality longevity. So imagine if you are the largest health insurer in Asia with 32 million customers against this proliferation of lifestyle disease. You have two choices; you can stand on the side lines hope for the best or in our case we are doing something about it. We are leading through raising awareness consciousness and understanding of these issues. In Sri Lanka alone 75% of diagnosed diseases are lifestyle-related and they are non-communicable diseases (NCDs). 

Sri Lankan are killing themselves. This is a fact; if you look at their diet, if you look at exercise you will see there is an outbreak of obesity type two diabetes. Now it is at alarming levels and at AIA we want to do something about it. Our principal prove point or our principal mechanism help people live healthier, longer and better lives. In our AIA Vitality wellness program, if you take better care of yourself, AIA will take better care of you. We look at body mass index (BMI), we look at bad cholesterol, glucose level, weight. 

So if our customers take better care of themselves and if they reduce their unhealthy lifestyles and really demonstrate that they are living a healthier lifestyle we are going to reduce their premium and increase the amount the insurance we give to them. Healthy people are so tired of subsidising unhealthy people in overall risk pool and at AIA we call it shared value. It is the best interest of AIA, the customer and the society; because ultimately we want our customers to live longer and claim less.

Given that backdrop we had to do something in getting people to change their behaviour and we did it through rewards and incentives —that’s the beauty of the Vitality program. Every day, every week, every month our customers are able to receive rewards for taking better care of themselves. Know your health, improve your health and get rewarded — three steps. We found out that the amount of engagement of our customers is what drives our customers transform themselves to live healthier, longer and better. Just think of life insurance of old days; you die we pay — that’s very transactional there is no relationship. It is very distance, not loving, not caring and it is not customer centred. Many think our obligation is to write a cheque, no it is not. Our obligation is to help our customers to live healthier, longer and better lives. We engage with our customers through rewards, navigating through nutrition, through exercise, and navigating on having better mental health. 

We have partners that help us in rewarding our customers. As the largest provider of healthcare products in Asia, we want to go beyond diagnosing our customers and pay lump-sum benefits. One of the findings in our researches was that customers actually want us to help prevent disease, provide them tools. No more writing cheques and saying goodbye, instead partnering with our customers in a customer-led way to make sure they get best possible diagnostics no matter where they are. You get equal treatments whether you be in Sri Lanka or in China, Thailand or in Hong Kong. 

With AIA, we basically flatten the curve so it doesn’t matter where you are you are, you will still get the best in class assessment of diagnostics and treatments. Our brand’s promise is not a tag line, it is designed to substantiate our brand’s promise. We have really mobilised and galvanised our agents, our employees and our customers because we sell with a purpose. We are on a mission, we are driving a movement and we want to make a sustainable change because that’s what we believe is our responsibility as the leader in the industry.


Q: As you mentioned AIA’s model is beyond conventional insurance business, so what are the key challenges in convincing people and getting the right partners?

 We believe that our brand promise resonates with everybody. We have done extensive research and what we know is that every single human being is looking for comfort and progress in their lives on a very humanitarian level. Although AIA is present in 18 markets, we have only one brand promise, so it doesn’t matter where we are because we stand for the same assurance. However, we know that each culture though, is different and therefore our promotions are done using local imagery, local narratives without changing the idea from market to market. As a result, the challenges have been way less than we anticipated because people understand it. Everyone wants to live healthier, longer and better lives. The people are intelligent and what they require from us are the tools and for us to help them on how to do it. I fully expect our competitors to look at what we are doing and do their best version of what it is we are doing, but we are the originals and the leaders.


Q: In terms of the success of this initiative, how would you describe it?

 I am very pleased by how well it is resonating across multiple jurisdictions and across markets because it is tapping in to the human core.


Q: How has this initiative helped you to attract new insurance policy holders?

 Yes, definitely. You can see from our results how our business has grown since the IPO. It has helped frame why we do what we do. We also understand that people are much more motivated to do business with an organisation that is ‘purpose-led’ than an organisation that is just trying to sell products. We are not trying to sell stuff. We are leading a movement to change behaviour. We believe in humanity. We are a people’s business. We are not just a life and health business. There are things happening out there hurting people’s ability to live healthy and to live long; thereby we have a responsibility to fix them and that is what we do.


Q: Given the low life insurance penetration in Sri Lanka, what are you planning to do considering AIA’s success in the region?

 We are trying to substantiate the need and try to highlight the protection gap in Sri Lanka, while building awareness as well as greater demand. We are also working with the employers in workplaces to broaden our distribution, awareness and coalition to help drive greater levels of demand for life and health. It is a slow burn, but we are here and fully committed to the Sri Lankan market. We want to make a difference here and I am confident because we have the team to be able to achieve that here.


Q: Could you also outline on David Beckham’s role as an ambassador in pushing AIA’s brand promise?

A: We were looking to partner with somebody who embodies what we stand for. Somebody who is a humanitarian, tremendously humble and highly influential and somebody who people listen to. I am trying to create a movement to drive behavioural change with the right messages about health, wellness and wellbeing. David is an incredible proponent of health and wellbeing given his illustrious career in football. He is also a tremendous humanitarian with the work he does with the UNICEF. David really embodies our values. We initiated a campaign with David in 2017 called ‘What’s your why?’ designed to help us understand what are people’s underlined motivation for taking better care of themselves. We wanted to provoke the marketplace, so that it pays attention to our efforts to drive behavioural change. But here is the incredible thing we learned, we understood that ‘what’s in your why’ wasn’t a why after all but was actually who? We learned that people are much motivated to take better care of themselves if they are influenced by people around them who love them. If your child wants to stop smoking or eat better which parent isn’t going to give that a try? So what we have tapped into is very fundamental about life, love and living. Our second campaign was built on what’s your why to who’s your why? We wanted to use kids as a vehicle to influence and the campaign has been hugely successful.


Q: What are the new trends you can see in the life insurance?

 I think the industry is trying to take a more holistic view with the customer. I believe the whole industry has woken up and recognised that we need to be more customer-led as an industry. Too many insurers tend to view intermediation as an excuse for have nothing to do with their customers. To be divorced from customer understanding, insights and need. At AIA, we don’t think like that at all. We want to get as close as possible to our customer and partner with our distribution through our agents. I think providing holistic solutions in health, medical, protection, savings, and investment in one bundle is catching on. So, more insights, better relationships, experience for the customer, more customer-led, more holistic propositions. 


Q: Could you elaborate on the importance of customer and related initiatives as well as the importance of agents and their role? 

 Our customers really do compare us to anyone else that they do business with. So as an industry we tended to have less intimacy with our customers than other industries. I think in financial services, the banking sector really took the lead to get closer to the customer. I believe the insurance sector is now catching up. We at AIA are leading that catch up. Not only are we fully committed to Sri Lanka, we are completely committed to our agency model and our partnership model. 

No robot, no website, no app is going to displace a compassionate, caring, experience agent because we know after being in the business for over 100 years, that across the region people prefer to sit down face to face and talk about life and health insurance as they are complex products, where many of them are lifetime products. It’s not something you can buy on an app. 

There are other types of insurance that lend themselves in a much commodified way to be transacted on an app, but we are going back from transactional to relational. We want to deepen and strengthen the relationship. So we are harnessing technology for our agents to make the more effective, efficient, productive and ultimately more customer centric – that’s where we are investing and guiding because we want our agents to have relevant conversations with our customers. We want to ensure that we are making products we can sell versus selling products we can make. We want to make sure that they make sense to the customer. We are doing a lot at AIA to deepen and strengthen our data collection, driving more insight, getting greater understanding, having more discreet segments, having better propositioned aligned so, we can arm our agents with the right propositions, messages to right customers that makes sense.


Q: How has the technology advancements impacted the insurance business of AIA over the past decade?

 AIA is on our way to becoming a paper-less business. We are using tablet technology and hand-held technology to empower our agents and our customers, which can improve not only the customer outcomes, but customer experience. We reduce administrative burden and use of paper by digitisation. We want to drive higher levels of productivity and customer centricity. We have had great success with propensity models that allow us to reach out to the right customers. We believe our investments in technology will enable us to be much more customer centric and customer caring. Customers want to be nurtured, loved, understood, valued, and treated like individuals on a much personalised way. We are people business and we recognise that.


Q: Will there be new investments on health and wellness space from AIA in the near future?

 Of course. We are constantly looking at how we can better help customers with experience and outcomes in the health and wellness journey. We want to help our customers in investing on prevention and prediction through all kinds of work like screening, health check while rewarding them for taking better care of themselves. We are working with our customers on diagnosis, treatment, recovery and back to work.


Q: How do you see the competition and what’s the game plan for AIA in the next five years?

 I see the competition waking up, recognising the fear in consequences is a dead-end street in our industry. I see them waking up to recognising that helping customers live healthier, longer, better lives is the way to go. Hence, I see them following us and I see us doing everything we can to widen that gap. I also recognise on one hand saying that we can help people live healthier, longer, better lives; has a high burden of proof. It is not a tagline and something you could make it happen in a jiffy. It is a lot to invest in, being able to do that and because of that I feel we will make it more difficult for our competition to be able to truly replicate what we do. 

It is not easy to deliver on that brand promise and that’s why we are doing it. We will continue to grow and expand our quality and reach of our life plan. We will continue to diversify our products, customer base, invest on building our brand and demonstrate to the people of Sri Lanka that not only are we committed to the country indefinitely, but fully committed to help Sri Lankans live healthier, longer and better lives. 

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