An Interview with Colin Chan


FST Media speaks with Great Eastern Life’s Colin Chan about how leveraging digital technology and social media effectively will make a key difference in the insurance industry.

FST Media: What technology will be a game-changer for the insurance industry in the year ahead?

Chan: Leveraging digital technology and social media would be the key areas that we see as game-changers for the insurance industry. For us at Great Eastern, this technology is something which would help us step up significantly in the coming year. There are so many changes coming to Singapore. Insurance companies are trying to reach out to customers, customers who are comfortable on these channels of communication and networks. The way to eventually make them our customers is to engage them where they are active. 

Over the years, we have been building up our digital capabilities. A couple of years ago, we began increasing our presence on the web. We recognised the need to be present on these kinds of spaces and we now have a dedicated YouTube Live Great channel and a presence on other forms of social media. Beyond social media, we have also been upping our game in terms of technology offerings through our distribution representatives. We were the first in Singapore to have an Electronic Mobile Advisory Solution system (EMAS) which is a point of sale system for electronic submission. Last year we had a significant refresh of that with our launch of a new platform called SynerGE. It creates tools for all our collaborators, our distribution representatives, to reach out to our customers and work out their financial needs to offer relevant recommendations. 

To complement this point of sales system, we have also introduced a simple financial planning application which can be easily understood by the customer. This tool is called iDream and it is a simple tool available on tablet which our representatives can use to engage customers and reach out to potential customers. All of this is important for us because insurance is a fundamentally complicated subject for many people. We must make it as easy as possible for us to reach out to them.

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

Chan: This year is our jubilee year; it is Singapore’s 50th anniversary. What we are communicating to the public is all of our different initiatives surrounding the 50th year and we call it SG50. Great Eastern is a home-grown company and we have been in Singapore since 1908. There are two big initiatives that we are focussing on this year to mark the event. The first one is the Great Eastern SG50 Baby initiative. For all parents who are going to have children this year, the program offers free health insurance for the first year. The second priority for us is the Great Eastern SG50 Wishes campaign. We are trying to get people to tell us their aspirations, their wishes, and by the end of the year we are aiming to have 50 wishes fulfilled. We have delivered a lot of our key incentives on social media and we have used our social channels to spread the message as well. By the nature of insurance as a business, we have huge partnerships with our distributors who are our agents. We have over 3000 agents and collaboration is key. The power of that collective voice is going to be so much more multiplied than what we have now. The huge prevalence of social media and digital channels has led to a higher customer engagement and a higher number of customers for us. For existing customers, we will focus on strengthening the bond we have with them and increasing the safeness of their investments. 

FST Media: How has ‘Live Great’ delivered value to the business, and how will you measure its success?

Chan: In October 2013, we were named Asia Life Insurance Company of the year. In the Live Great program, we celebrate our corporate purpose of being a life company and the strong vibrancy of that award. In 2012, we refreshed and revitalised our brand and we said that we are not going to be just a life insurance company, we are going to be a life company. It is not a campaign, it is a whole entrenchment and clarity in terms of company purpose. It is about what do we want to do to make people’s lives great, to give them a life that has great moments by helping them live healthier and longer. We want to encourage everyone to be better for themselves and for the people around them. Encouraging people to ‘Live Great’ is our entire platform. The Live Great program has 5 key pillars: apps, events, workshops, health and wellness tools, and exclusive privileges. Last year, we introduced ‘Run to Live Great’ for customers who have joined us recently. They were encouraged to bring a friend or family member to come and join us as well. What we did was to encourage that participation and this was in line with our Live Great program and our company purpose. We want to encourage people to start their journey to wellness.

Our revitalised life company purpose and the Live Great program is entrenching our engagement and programs with our customer, together with our overall community. All of this will definitely help people understand our purpose in addition to our greater affiliation and association with the communities here. 

FST Media: What do you foresee as being the main trends in insurance that will shape Asia Pacific over the next 12 months? 

Chan: For Great Eastern Life, the trends which we are focused on and which we are going to try to leverage is how digital social media has added a whole new dimension to how things work. Collective collaboration through these digital platforms and channels is a key trend and is going to make a significant difference for us in the year ahead. It has leapt from the community and the way we leverage these platforms and channels to facilitate greater interaction is where there is great opportunity for Great Eastern Life and that is what we are working towards.

We partner with our marketing and IT teams significantly to develop many programs. Even with the Live Great program and our Life company vision, all of these initiatives were developed together with our Imagenation Lab. They are actually our partners in getting focus groups done, reaching out to consumers and getting the necessary research so that we can keep abreast of changing trends and keep ahead of coming trends in the marketplace so that these can be offered as comprehensive solutions.

FST Media: Can you outline how your marketing team will continue to work with the Great Eastern Life’s Imagenation Lab to deliver higher customer engagement and what are the benefits of this collaboration?

Chan: Our collaboration with the Imagenation Lab goes way beyond the marketing team. The rationale for having this Imagenation Lab is to focus on our customers, trying to understand what it is that consumers really value, what is it that consumers really want and what we can offer. Customer centricity is a key driver for the Imagenation Lab. 

In terms of product development, the Imagenation Lab has been a key partner for us. In terms of consumer research, there have been a number of significant products which have been developed and their propositions were uncovered by virtue of these research activities that have helped to consolidate our understanding of our customers.

The Imagenation Lab has a key aim to develop innovation culture across the whole company. When the Imagenation Lab just started, they were doing annual conceptual work to gain insights and these were shared across the whole region. This has gone on for the conceptual stage, and now it is evolving into much more deliberate and decentralised idea-generation activities across our different operations. In Singapore, we are partnering with them to build our own product development solutions process which incorporates a lot of insights and new ideas.

FST Media: How significant is the role of technology in your everyday life?

Chan: Technology is crucial. In Great Eastern Life, more than 10 years ago we had already started on this track of technological innovation, focusing on electronic submission. For me, this underlines how we have tried to leverage technology to help us with add more value and be more productive in reaching out to our customers more efficiently. Beyond the client facing tools that have been developed, we have established a ‘Data Warehouse’ where if I need to consolidate all of our customer data at one single point, this initiative will help facilitate insights into our customers and understanding our customers on an individual level. It gives us a holistic view of all of these customers. We are leveraging technology to have this information and share it across different groups. We are in the midst of achieving a “360 degree view” of the customer. It will be available not just for our corporate staff but also for our key collaborators in the region, who will act as the primary point of contact for our individual customers.

FST Media: How do you leverage data analytics to deliver targeted and relevant content to customers and a seamless customer journey?

Chan: In the last three years, we have increased our investment in data analytics. We have a team of 15 staff who are entirely dedicated to our customers. This is in line with the Data Warehouse that we have built. Having the data is one thing, however getting insights which are useful and which we can action upon is the key outcome that we are working towards. We have also used the analytics to do some propensity models and reach out to our customers who are insurance policy holders. We have leveraged data analytics to segment these bases into six segments which have targeted propositions shown to them which we believe may be more relevant. This is how we are using analytics to execute something very clearly actionable to create a seamless customer journey. Beyond the focus of revenue generation, I think analytics can be used to increase our insights into our customers and see where the opportunities will be to meet our customers in real-time.  

FST Media: What role will wearable technology and telematics play in shaping the future of the insurance industry?

Chan: Wearable technology and telematics will become key trends in the longer term, maybe at least 5 years from now. In the shorter term, I think we are limited in how we can leverage the potential of wearable technology but all of these technologies could be services which tie in very nicely with the overall medical insurance offering that we have. Ultimately, using these technologies, the ways in which we can deliver services to our customers may be improved. One example is how we can be there for a customer of ours when they are in need of a check-up or even hospitalisation. If this connectivity has been built through wearable devices, then we could definitely enhance the service offering of our insurance proposition for the customer.

Regarding wearable devices which help us differentiate premiums for a customer of life insurance, I think it is still early days for now. What we have focused on at Great Eastern is to encourage all of this innovation. The important aspect of wearable technology is the awareness and consciousness of wellness, the need to live better and take care of yourself. All of this is encouraged by Great Eastern Life and some of our partners in our Live Great program are partners who offer services through wearable technology. Those connections with wearable devices have not been entirely built and I do not see that level of linkage being built in the next 3 years but I think directionally there are possibilities for all of this technology. 

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?

Chan: A key priority for me is to help develop the mindset of the leadership within our team to help encourage innovation. Firstly, I have a focus on why we need to continuously innovate and this direction is established all the way from the top, from our senior management down. It is very clear that we have to innovate, we need to keep up and always stay one step ahead in order to thrive in this industry. The key understanding of why it is important to innovate needs to happen within the culture of an organisation, especially from a leadership perspective. What we need to do is ensure that there is a process in place to facilitate that understanding, and the process includes having a culture where there is enough openness – there are places where we can share our ideas and brainstorm techniques that can make a lot of difference. The underlying driver is to focus back on what the customer needs so customer centricity is a key anchor for us. In terms of how this is executed, we have mapped out a structure and process that needs to be put in place to encourage innovation.

Our product development process involves a detailed approach to generate ideas as well as how we innovate. However, I do not think we are doing this well at the moment. In the division that I oversee, we have had division-wide workshops to discuss this innovation process and from there we have developed a system to organise our teams and help facilitate greater innovation. We aim to have a culture of security where people can throw up ideas and not be afraid of having new ideas. All of this is further driven by our key initiatives and the valuable contributions of our people.

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

Chan: What is very key for me personally and what I find very important is the approach of collaboration across different teams. Collaboration across the whole organisation and the focus on working together to be there for our customers is pivotal and I would say that is something which I wish to be remembered for implementing at Great Eastern Life.