An Interview with Cherdchai Virabhak


FST Media: What are your digital priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Virabhak: We will continue to ensure our momentum in engaging our customers via digital. AIG has received industry citations for the most trusted brand in Singapore, best insurer in Indonesia and Malaysia, and has launched a series of corporate social responsibility programmes in road safety awareness in China, Thailand and Singapore.

We are currently pursuing efforts to optimise data harmonisation and customer insights, platform reliability, process standardisation and consistency in customer experience across our digital and other customer touch points. These areas are crucial to our organisation and we believe that digital innovation is one of the key factors to our continued success.

We recognise the increasing opportunities to interact with our customers via the digital channel and we have been successful in exploiting our digital capabilities to engage more effectively with them. Being in the business of the customer, our focus is to deliver products and services which are relevant, engaging and accessible. Our efforts have yielded results for us so far as digital sales in the region have exceeded 150 per cent growth in the last 12 months.

FST Media: What are the challenges facing the financial services industry?

Virabhak: Understanding and adapting to meet the accelerating rate of change in customer digital adoption and behaviour is critical to the success of any financial services firm. This is influenced by two key factors:

Firstly, disintermediation, brought about by new business models via challengers such as technology firms and aggregators. These challengers have some disruptive power as they stem from new business models and are largely free from rigid or legacy operating structures.

Secondly, the growing need to ensure customer personal data privacy and protection is intact, particularly due to the exploding growth of social media. In some markets, customer privacy is enforced through regulation and where regulatory jurisdictions are insufficient; it is the duty of firms to act in the best interest of the customer. I believe financial services firms who strive to instil this discipline into their business practices will stand to gain in the long-run.

FST Media: How will emerging digital innovations impact the way financial services organisations engage directly with customers?

Virabhak: There are a number of developments that will impact the way we engage our customers. The ability to glean permission-based information through mobility, NFC, wearable and telematics technologies will be the next frontier for financial services organisations.

We have also seen advancements in security and authentication mechanisms delivered on personal devices. These developments, combined with more expanded means of information intake, will assist financial services organisations to engage and deliver tailored financial solutions to their customers.

FST Media: How will emerging digital innovations differ in the context of engaging customers via assisted interactions such as relationship managers or agents?

Virabhak: These innovations will enhance the role of the financial services sales force. A key factor would be the ability to harness information and insights to heighten sales force productivity to better fulfil our customer needs. In practice, this means availing the necessary data and toolkits to enable our sales force to engage and serve our customers more efficiently.

This effort requires enabling a combination of mobility, access, content tailoring and transactional capabilities on-demand, which have to be fit-for-purpose depending on the nature of the interaction.

FST Media: How can financial services organisations compete more effectively in the digital domain?

Virabhak: The financial services industry has always been a complex business. At its core, it is about understanding our customer lifecycle. In the digital domain, this requires the study and understanding of customer needs and behaviour, which is constantly changing. Personification drives customer interaction patterns and behaviours in this inter-connected world. Today, we know that these behaviours are very much influenced by technology advancements. Firms need to take these insights and apply them across product constructs, platform and process design and ultimately ensure that these are mapped against firm-wide customer experience principles to engage effectively with their customers. It is really about fulfilling customer needs and trust, amid all the clutter and noise, through simplification.

FST Media: What tools or references keep you abreast of emerging digital trends?

Virabhak: There are a number of sources we rely on to do our work better. Understanding customer needs through data-driven insights helps us to appreciate the conduct of communication and commerce happening around us, and these need to be considered in tandem with business performance indicators. These continuous pulse-checks are necessary to carry out our responsibilities. In addition, monitoring developments in the financial services industry and other industries complements our ability to move our business forward.

FST Media: If you were not working in financial services, what would you be doing?

Virabhak: I have always been curious about the way the world works and how much more efficient it can be as it evolves. If I was not working in financial services, I would likely be active in a start-up environment.

FST Media: What do you think are the most important personal characteristics you bring to your role as a digital leader?

Virabhak: I personally strive to ensure that I provide thought leadership in carrying out my responsibilities. This involves projecting ahead and recognising true business value in everything that we do. I believe this awareness influences our ability to focus and deliver. In action, it is necessary to empower others and collaborate with various partners to realise successful outcomes.

FST Media: Which business leaders inspire you the most, and why?

Virabhak: I do not subscribe to any particular business leader’s style. I adopt learnings from people and personalities I read about, as well as individuals whom I had the fortune to work with. I am with the view that there are always take-aways from any form of engagement with seniors, colleagues, customers, partners, individuals and the environment we operate in.

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Virabhak: As a digital practitioner, I believe the recipe for success is about keeping up with our customers who are becoming more reliant on digital channels to communicate and conduct commerce. As a business leader, I believe fostering a high performance culture through collaboration is crucial in order to succeed as professionals. I hope to leave a legacy of bringing the digital practice to a whole new level in AIG and the financial services industry.