Life at the Helm – Ng Kok Kheng


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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.

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