Singapore Life: investing in tech to better serve customers

Dale Benton
|May 18|magazine22 min read

“Born in Singapore, we’re the next generation life insurance.”

So says the mission statement of Singapore Life, the new life insurance provider that everyone is talking about which promises to deliver a better experience to the customer through technology. Following the acquisition of Zurich Life’s Singapore arm in early 2018, the company is expanding its footprint aggressively and growing its customer base significantly.

In the ever-changing world of insurance, one that is being driven increasingly by technology, the promise to deliver value through technology is as important now as it has ever been.

According to Singapore Life CEO Walter de Oude, despite the rise of technology and artificial intelligence across the industry, particularly within Singapore, the old life insurance industry has not kept up with digital innovation.

Singapore Life, founded in 2014, and fully licensed in 2017 was built around such a window of opportunity.

“The insurance industry was fundamentally broken in my view,” says de Oude. “There were significant opportunities for customers to benefit from technology, opportunities that were not being explored.”

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“The way in which we’ve integrated Zurich’s portfolio seamlessly is a testament to how good our technology actually is.” Walter de Oude, CEO, Singapore Life

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“And so that’s what we did. We set up Singapore Life to do just that, to explore the potential for what a new insurance company could do better, with all the power of today’s technological efficiency.”

Over the course of his career, de Oude has lived and breathed this changing financial landscape. Having held executive roles in actuary and banking as well as asset management, de Oude developed an understanding of how larger organisations work and how they can do more for the customer.

“Most big organisations are not always 100% driven by what customers truly want,” he says. “Of course, the customer is important, but many institutions tend to be more focused in serving the needs of the organisation first. If companies are able to find something in the best interest of the customer, then that’s a bonus.”

“At Singapore Life; we are  focusing on where customers have not had the kind of experience they should have had and find ways of providing that through technology.”

de Oude believes that the financial customers have been underserviced, particularly when it comes to life insurance. Customers don’t really want to purchase life insurance, it’s a hassle and time consuming. So, Singapore Life strives to make the process of getting and managing life insurance as simple as possible, using technology as a means of achieving that.

This, de Oude believes, will provide more measurable value for the customer.

“We take the efficiency of technology and we transfer it into better value for our customers,” he says. “It’s all about taking out the hassle of traditional user journeys and providing easy access to the insurance product consumers need without the pain they would have previously experienced.”

Promising to provide ease of access, removing pain points and creating a seamless experience is one thing, but with technology comes its own unique challenges. As industries all around the world are transformed through digitisation, how has the life insurance customer changed with it?

de Oude believes that in this digital age, the customer is more time constrained than ever before and organisations need to be able to respond effectively in order to succeed.

“Providing an easily accessible service in a trustworthy and efficient way is actually what people value, possibly even more so than a good price,” he says. “Customers have previously been put off life insurance because of traditional practices in the industry. At Singapore Life, we have taken steps to empower our clients with enabled artificial intelligence to create an environment of unified ease and transparency.”

de Oude points to the traditional method of obtaining life insurance that required a medical check-up from a pre-assigned list of approved doctors in the first instance – a process that has now been replaced by interactive smart technology that can understand complex medical information.

This, he feels, is turning the tide for life insurance customers. Singapore Life is removing the pain points in order to encourage customers to take the initiative to purchase life insurance.

Singapore Life was registered first and foremost as a technology company, obtaining the necessary licences along the way in order to become a technology focused insurance provider. Now in sixth month of retail operations, de Oude has overseen this technological shift and is the first to admit that with digitisation comes with its share of challenges, especially in an industry that he described as “fundamentally broken”.

“With technology there are risks. The difference in today’s market is that it’s much more bite-sized whereas before, it was mired in paperwork and red tape,” he says.

“With today’s technologies, you have to be nimble. You have to look at it as a continuous optimisation process, and there is always room for evolution and change. At Singapore Life, we are constantly enhancing and improving. It’s all about implementing new user experiences as we need them.”

As technology continues to define the industry, trends begin to emerge from organisation to organisation. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data and automation are just a few of the “buzzword” technologies that continue to dominate the fintech conversation. de Oude recognises that while these technologies are becoming more prominent, it is important to understand and recognise that a company must not fall into a trap of implementing technology for technology’s sake.

For him and Singapore Life, the organisation will always look at how technology can provide true value for the most important stakeholder in the acquisition funnel: The customer.

“While technologies like blockchain do have some really solid solutions for businesses, at the end of the day, the customer doesn’t always see it and it may not provide additional benefit to customer,” he says. “So, our view on technology has been and will always remain, focus on the technology that actually makes a customer’s life simpler. Be that removing filling out traditional brick-and-mortar paperwork, or simply adding in more technology enabled touchpoints.” Blockchain hasn’t yet reached a maturity for demonstrating customer value adding use-cases yet.

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Following the successful acquisition of the business portfolio of Zurich Life Singapore, which has seen Singapore Life become responsible for all of Zurich Life Singapore’s customer policies, totalling SGD$6 billion of coverage for life, critical illness and disability benefits. Singapore Life is now clearly on the map. As a growing company, the opportunity to significantly cement its footprint in Singapore was one that the company could not pass on.

de Oude views the transaction as a true meeting of minds between the two companies, providing Singapore Life with a leap frog opportunity, accelerating the company’s scalability.

From a technology standpoint, de Oude believes that the acquisition will play a key role in expanding Singapore Life’s positioning in the market.

“Having the Zurich portfolio has helped us to accelerate some of the development work we’ve needed to do, which in turn has put us in a better position for the future,” he says. “The way in which we’ve integrated Zurich’s portfolio seamlessly is a testament to how good our technology actually is.”

That statement is  proof that the company has the technology and capability to serve such an expansive portfolio of customers, and  ultimately defining Singapore Life as an insurer of choice across the market.

de Oude believes that an acquisition of this scale in such a highly regulated market represents a level of trust in the organisation that will allow it to “play in the big leagues”.

This, for a company in its first year of operation, is no small feat.

“To me it shows that we are viewed as a solid custodian for the customers,” de Oude says, “and with that comes trust and support from Zurich, from the regulators and from the insurance industry. That trust places Singapore Life as a viable, reputable insurance company, with all of the added benefits of our impeccable technology supporting our services.”

For Singapore Life, it’s been a journey of growth and success. Success, de Oude is keen to stress, defined by the better ways in which it provides insurance products to its ever-growing customer base.

But at what point is Singapore Life at exactly along this growth journey? 2018 represents a year of consolidation as the company continues to bring onboard the Zurich Life customers and develop its product range, which de Oude feels will place Singapore Life in good stead moving well into 2019 and beyond.

What that future holds for Singapore Life, is potential growth opportunities beyond Singapore.

“Singapore Life is able to bring innovation and technology from Singapore’s financial service sector to the globe in an efficient way.”

“We're actually only less than a year old, but we are incredibly ambitious. Because our technology is expandable, there is no reason to suggest we can't take our existing capabilities and expand that to other regions, so that customers in those markets can also benefit from the services that Singapore Life provides.”

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