Life at the Helm – Ng Kok Kheng
GREAT EASTERN GENERAL INSURANCE (MALAYSIA) BERHAD CEO NG KOK KHENG ON HIS COMPANY'S NATIONWIDE REBRANDING EXERCISE, AND THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY AHEAD.
Ng Kok Kheng Life at the Helm
QPlease share with us the impetus to rebrand Overseas Assurance Corporation to Great Eastern General Insurance. Overseas Assurance Corporation (Malaysia) Berhad (OACM) underwent the rebranding exercise to become Great Eastern General Insurance (Malaysia) Berhad (GEGM) in August 2017. It is part of our strategy to strengthen focus to build our general insurance business into a significant pillar of growth for the Great Eastern Group. Great Eastern has had a long and proud history of more than 100 years in Singapore and Malaysia and is a brand customers know and trust. With the consolidation of GEGM into the Great Eastern brand, there will be greater brand unity across our business lines that will enable us to leverage on our established brand to offer more compelling propositions to our customers. This consolidation also means that GEGM customers can now enjoy broader product offerings in the life, family takaful and general insurance under one Great Eastern brand.
QWith this rebranding exercise, what is the current direction of development for Great Eastern General now? OACM merged with Great Eastern in 2000 and had its life insurance book transferred to GELM a year later. From being a composite to a pure general insurer, our general insurance business has been growing steadily from a small base to what we are today, achieving a gross written premium of RM430 million last year. Therefore, we are going to quicken the momentum for growth with a focus on enhancing our penetration of the formidable Great Eastern life and takaful distribution force and its large customer base. Whilst the business working with our bancassurance partner and ultimate holding company, OCBC has been growing very strongly over the past few years, we intend to intensify our focus on providing better and stronger products and services that is suited and complimentary to our partners’ customer requirements. To drive the above growth, it will have to be facilitated by technology, product, process and people. Great Eastern and GEGM have invested significantly to build our technological and digitalisation capabilities, Improvement in product offerings and innovation in features will become part of our customerproduct life cycle approach. We have also implemented measures to improve our fulfilment processes, ranging from sales and delivery to policy and claim servicing.
QHow have you reached out to customers to inform them of the rebranding? In conjunction with our official rebrand launch on 21st August, we placed full-page advertisements in three major local language newspapers, followed by a series of similar advertisements in the weeks after. We also arranged for media interviews in these newspapers. The work to educate our customers and consumers has only just started and will be a continuous exercise. Apart from notification through all forms of our correspondences and policy documents, we will also be embarking on above and below the line advertisement, as well as moving into digital and social media.
QHow can your customers benefit from this exercise and what can they expect? We already have suits of products that are comprehensive and can serve customers who are risk averse and would not want to worry about the lack of cover, and also moving towards products which our customers may wish to pick and choose due to their specific lifestyles. Improvements in service delivery are important through not only our people but also our partners and intermediaries. Competency and knowledge programmes will be enhanced and imparted to our people and intermediaries to increase their standard of professionalism and advisory. The Great Eastern brand allows us to leverage on the Live Great Programme, the first of its kind in the industry. Our customers can now sign up for this programme and enjoy the benefits such as merchant discounts and events such as the Live Great Run
QYou mentioned products and service innovations will become a core delivery to your customers and intermediaries. Can you describe more to provide a better insight? Great Eastern as a group has embarked on the CX Project, or customer experience journey. What this means is that we do not design products and services through our own views or perception as to what the customers want. We need to look at the customer purchase and claims experience from their perspective. This applies similarly when we deal with our partners and intermediaries and to facilitate them in delivering similar experiences to our customers. As part of this rebranding exercise, we launched two products that are meant to impart some of these experience ideas to our customers through our intermediaries. Our GreatShield Active personal accident insurance, great for people with an active lifestyle, does not require any underwriting proposal. This simple qualification-based sign-up process helps our agents to experience seamless and effortless sales through our agency transaction portal called GIX (GI eXchange). Customers get their cover immediately via a straight-through process. Payment and automated renewal is also part of its feature. There is some product life cycle and lifestyle feature built into this product as well that varies according to their requirements over the period from 30 days to 100 years old. In addition to the normal public conveyance
The Great Eastern brand allows us to leverage on the Live Great Programme, the first of its kind in the industry.
cover that most other products in the market has, the double and triple indemnity pay-out for death and total permanent disablement respectively is also extended to public sports events, which we believe is the first in this market. The other product is EasiMed Major, a hospitalisation top-up plan that can be taken to make up for their inadequate insurance cover or even on a stand alone basis. The deductible plans allow our customers the option to keep some of their premiums as savings for the rare eventuality that they require a major hospitalisation, instead of paying for the continuously increasing medical premium that seems to be unavoidable today as a result of the increases in the cost of medical treatment.
QYou have been the CEO for a number of years. What are the challenges you faced? I am very grateful to my immediate predecessor Mr AK Wong who had the confidence and courage to recommend me as his potential successor. My Group CEO at the time, Mr Tan, had this piece of advice for me when I took over this role; “KK, there is no such thing as a honeymoon period for this job!”, and I knew that I had to immediately get down to running the business and learning the ropes at the same time at a relatively young age of 43. I have to thank my senior management team and staff for their full support given to me from the beginning and together we were able to navigate through various challenges. We did score various successes, such as in transforming the contribution from our life agency force from a small portfolio into the biggest contributor to our portfolio today at about 40%, intensify our collaboration with OCBC to expand our business aggressively into their commercial and industrial segment customers, working closely with our broking partners to provide solutions to their customers, and overall achieving a compounded annual growth of 10%.
QWhat is your vision for GEGM? Our vision, “To be the leading financial service provider in Asia, recognised for our excellence” is to empower all our customers to make the right choices in their protection needs and enable them a great customer experience through our innovative products and services. We will be embracing technology and digitalisation that will allow us to expand our services to more customers for this is one of the ways to achieve scale and economy. We will continue to provide value and advice to our customers, continue to develop our people and agency force and continue to be relevant in this age of digital disruption.
QYou are a graduate of the Fellowship of The Malaysian Insurance Institute (FMII) in addition to obtaining the Associateship. Share with us how you would encourage others to achieve similar qualifications. First of all, the FMII was an express route specially developed by MII for busy senior executives like me who hold the position of chief executive officer in the insurance industry. We are expected by virtue of our position to have in-depth knowledge on the subject of insurance and the insurance industry. Therefore, the documentation of the experience drawn from these industry seniors was one of the key objectives of this award.
I have always been a strong advocate of professional qualification pursuit. When I first joined the insurance industry as a risk engineer with the intention of moving back into the civil engineering sector, I still pursued the AMII and the Associate of Risk Management. I felt that this was a needed competency to fulfil my role even when I thought it might just be temporary. Insurance is fairly technical and general insurance has many different branches that require certain minimum level of competency to enable one to discuss and provide advice to our customers. It is critical for our distribution, underwriting and claims teams to equip themselves with the adequate skills and knowledge.
QHow does your company encourage the continuous professional development amongst your employees (and agency force)? Great Eastern is a great advocate in investing in our people as we encourage our employees to stay and develop with the company. Our AAA (Annual Appreciation Award) event not only recognises our long service employees but also those who have successfully completed their industry qualifications in the life, takaful, general insurance and actuarial disciplines. Our senior management team is expected to set the example and encourage their staff to sign up for their respective examinations. We have both a fully upfront sponsored scheme for candidates who have met certain criteria and a full reimbursement scheme that is applicable to all employees. For our technical teams from actuarial, underwriting and claims, employees are provided with monetary increments or allowance for completing certain qualification papers deemed critical for their functions. As MII is the only recognised local and accredited insurance education institution, we work closely with them in organising group or weekend classes for our staff. As an example, we have a total of 12 graduates of the first batch of the Certificate of General Insurance Underwriting, the first of such specific certification targeted at the underwriting staff. This was fully sponsored by the company.
QThe Malaysian insurance industry, particularly the motor and fire insurance segment, has recently been liberalised. What can you share with us your thoughts on this development? Detariffication, or liberalisation, saw some changes in the way general insurance business is being carried out. It has allowed insurers to freely design their products and price them according to the customers risk profiles. Strategic planning plays an important role and there must be focus on sustainable growth and at the same time ensure profitability. It is also important that insurers pay attention to the importance of improving the overall quality of their book of business and the risk profiles of their customers. We will see an increased sophistication in the manner insurers underwrite their business by introducing various rating factors that reflect the risk profile of the customer. There will be an increased level of competition and pressure on premium rates, whilst insurers will continue to look out for profitable segments until such a time that these segments become competitive as well. Competition may increase acquisition and marketing costs, thus negating the drop in expense ratio from increased volume.
QThere are ongoing discussions on insurtech and the digital transformation that is going to change consumer habits. What are your views on this? Insurtech or digital distribution portals will become more significant as it increases the accessibility and reduces the cost of acquisition. However, it is possible that some insurers may take the direct route, cutting out the intermediary if acquisition costs could not be controlled and unable to be offset by price competition. There is a changing customer preference and profile, with the younger generation empowered by the digital economy and they are coming into the workforce and taking over their predecessors businesses. They are highly mobile in their purchases and will have no objections if they find purchasing over self-serving portal platforms is as good as being served by an advisor. We need to start engaging them early and as they move on to take on more responsibility in their personal lives, their insurance purchasing requirement will become more significant.
Insurance is fairly technical and general insurance has many different branches that require certain minimum level of competency to enable one to discuss and provide advice to our customers.