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However, to ensure sustainable growth, insurance companies must build a workforce that is not only sufficient in number and well qualified, but also understands the local insurance market. VIR’s Hoang Anh talks about these issues with AIA Vietnam’s CEO Stephen Clark.
The insurance industry in Vietnam lacks a professional workforce. Therefore, it seems that the fastest way to develop an insurance company is to recruit competitors’ personnel, both employees and agents. What do you think about this practice?
Vietnam’s insurance industry was only established around 12 years ago. This is a relatively short time for insurance companies to build up the range of skills needed to be successful. As a result, many multinational insurers such as AIA have developed their human resource capabilities by using a combination of foreign talent as well as bright and enthusiastic local talent. Its entirely normal in a developing industry to see this talent moving from company to company. This is sometimes driven by an employee or sales person looking to enhance their skills, or more often than not, driven by insurers themselves pursuing experienced talent from a relatively small pool of people.
Underwriters, claims experts, IT practitioners, actuaries and finance experts, to name just a few of the specialist roles, are always in short supply in our industry. There is always a need for good people who can undertake this work. Similarly, skilled and professional sales staff, including agents, are likewise in short supply. At AIA we look to attract agents from all walks of life, with or without previous experience or qualifications. Subject to passing our assessment and recruitment process, we have a comprehensive training programme that is aimed at equipping our agents with all the skills and tools necessary to become career-focused insurance sales professionals.
As our industry matures, I think we will see fewer staff and agents moving around regularly. We have been fortunate at AIA Vietnam as we have many loyal staff. In fact, some have been with us since our entry into Vietnam 12 years ago. Provided we remain competitive, in terms of compensation and career progression, I feel confident that our staff and agents will seek to remain with the company for many years to come.
There is talk about unhealthy competition between some insurance companies when developing general agency offices. What is AIA Vietnam’s point of view in building this model?
I haven’t seen any evidence of unhealthy competition so far. As a company we try to stay focused on our goals and objectives, so I don’t have too much time to speculate about things like this. I myself always support healthy competition. Our primary focus is to become the preferred insurer in Vietnam. From a sales perspective this translates into growing our professional sales force, or as we refer to them, our premier agents. These agents are our full-time career agents.
At AIA Vietnam we have very clear principles, rules and regulations and all of us have very little tolerance for anyone acting in a way that is contrary our principles. All our staff and agents, including general agency’s agents, represent AIA Vietnam and are expected to adopt the same ethical approach in business.
With a sales force in excess of 14,000 people this is an ongoing challenge. However, we work tirelessly on providing training to all our agents, including those agents working in our general agency offices. We cover all their training needs, including compliance and good business ethics.
Additionally, we regularly monitor all of our agents including those in our general agency offices.This is totally aligned with our premier agent focus, where we constantly look to improve agent quality. Premier agents come from all parts of our sales force, including our general agency offices. Ultimately, we want all our agents to move up to premier status.
The benefit to AIA of our general agency model is that this allows us to provide a seamless service to our customers in the provincial areas of Vietnam. We think it is an efficient and effective way of reaching those customers who are unable to transact in bigger cities.
What will be AIA’s future distribution strategy?
Our goal is to become the preferred insurance company in Vietnam. To do that, we have to provide a customer-oriented service, with competitive products being promoted through professional sales channels. Although we continue to explore a range of sales channels, our primary channel remains our agency sales force. As mentioned earlier, developing premier agents is our key ongoing strategy. Happily we have seen many positive results so far. A sizable proportion of our new premiums are generated by our premier agents and as more of our agents move into premier status, I see this percentage increasing even further.
Our next series of events will be organised at Caravelle Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and Daewoo Hotel in Hanoi, on June 16, 2012. We also run ad-hoc recruitment events throughout the country. Those who want to become our agents can send emails to the address firstname.lastname@example.org to register for these events or to get full details of our recruitment programs
Policy owners in Vietnam often complain that they are ignored after getting the policies. Can AIA Vietnam’s premier agency force help improve this perception?
It’s not just Vietnamese customers, but many insurance customers around the world share the same view. Therefore, we are very focused on the way we interact with our policy owners. Whether it is mail, telephone, or face-to-face interactions, we strive to improve the way we communicate with our policy owners. We have customer care centres, staffed by professional representatives in many of our offices throughout the country, including in all our general agency offices.
We aim to open more of these centres to serve our customers better. In addition, we will soon be rolling out a digital strategy aimed at improving online and digital communication with our customers. We continue to improve our existing communications such help-lines and our call centre. Ultimately we want to ensure that our customers have every opportunity to easily communicate with us and to stay in touch with what we are doing as a company.
The biggest goal is to keep our customers satisfied so that they maintain their policies current and are able to reap their due benefits accordingly. It’s rarely in any policyholders interests to stop paying policy premiums before their policy matures, or until the benefits of the policy are paid out.n