Manulife Vietnam ramps up digital and customer focus approach

August 04, 2021 | 14:00
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Manulife Vietnam has announced the appointment of Naren Baliga as its new chief operating officer, ramping up the company’s digital and customer focus as they enter their next phase of transformation and growth. COO Naren Baliga shares some insights from his 21-year career, discuss the insurance industry in the “age of digital change”, and share what makes Manulife Vietnam a customer-centric digital leader.
Manulife Vietnam ramps up digital and customer focus approach
Naren Baliga, new COO of Manulife Vietnam

You have seen the growth in the life insurance space in the last 10 years and the unprecedented growth in digital technology and automation. Where does Vietnam stand in terms of digital technology and automation in the life insurance industry and what challenges is the industry facing going forward?

Having recently arrived in Vietnam, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of technology and digital integration that already exists in the community. While some people express excitement about Vietnam’s culture, food, and history when they land, I was also thrilled to explore the digital economy that is flourishing here and now. From the government’s digitally-driven solutions to help manage COVID-19 to the thriving e-commerce industry, Vietnam’s digital development is among the fastest in the world and the country has a lot to be proud of.

There has also been significant investment in technology at the insurance companies in Vietnam, which explains why Vietnam’s life insurance market has experienced double-digit growth over the past few years. The race for digitisation and operational efficiency is well and truly started. The launch of the government’s National Digital Transformation Programme to 2025, with orientation to 2030 will only accelerate the life insurance industry, which is already a highly innovative and charged segment.

There has also been significant investment in technology at the insurance companies in Vietnam, which explains why Vietnam’s life insurance market has experienced double-digit growth over the past few years.

For the insurance sector, significant spend will be diverted towards digital transformation with a focus on high-impact customer servicing tools and operation technologies. You can see that insurers with more mature technology capabilities are using new technologies for information gathering and document review, allowing customers to serve themselves during the underwriting, servicing, and claims processes. These tools will fundamentally alter the way insurers work, including reducing manual interventions in claims and pricing as well as automating some traditional, complicated tasks such as addressing customer inquiries.

I see two key challenges moving forward. First is security. The digital era and advent of social media has amplified the issues around data breaches, fraudulent activities, and identity theft. Insurance companies must work towards building trust with their customers and the regulations should support the digital acceleration. At Manulife Vietnam, we place a strong focus on protecting our customer’s data and privacy, ensuring information is kept safe and secure with the highest standards and technology applied.

Second, a great deal of disruption is brought in by new entrants such as non-insurers, insurtech, and startups who blur the line between protection and technology. We are already seeing trends in digital distribution with players like Shopee or Tiki providing a wider reach to the customers. Vietnam has a young population, with a large number of people using the internet and devices such as smartphones, and this by default presents significant opportunities.

How are digitalisation and big data changing your role as COO?

The advent of digitisation and big data has allowed most executives to view information differently, and in most cases, in real time. The key focus is to make big data analytics consistent and accessible to provide insight for the relevant areas.

In my role, we have started to use big data in our underwriting processes to challenge the traditional heuristic model and move towards predictive models along with data collected across the various customer touch points. We can start to see trends that allow us to make better-informed risk decisions.

In addition to this, we can start to amplify the use of big data in other areas of the business. For example, a better understanding of our big data will allow us to build better products based on customer segmentation and predict key servicing needs in order to proactively reach out to customers. We are already doing this with the development of new health focused-solutions such as Max-Health, an exclusive stand-alone healthcare product launched via our new direct-to-customer website Manulife Shop. Max-Health provides customers with excellent coverage and a straight-through processing experience, and was developed based on customer data and insights.

Manulife Vietnam ramps up digital and customer focus approach
Manulife Vietnam's new MaxX D is an all-in-one digital solution for insurance agents

Manulife Vietnam seems to have cultivated an especially impressive digital presence. What initiatives has Manulife Vietnam taken to propel the company to such a market-leading position?

The success of digital transformation requires sustainable investments and commitment at all levels of the organisation, starting from the leadership team.

Manulife Vietnam begun our digital transformation journey five years ago, with a very humble, yet important servicing solution for our customers, which is the claims solution. Ultimately, digital transformation is just the tool to fulfill and build better customer experience.

In 2019, Manulife Vietnam launched our Customer Experience Transformation (CXT) programme to empower our employees to think, act, and work differently, while at the same time reorganising our operations around the customer experience. This change has helped us to ensure our work fits perfectly into the customer's journey with us.

At Manulife, we organise our digital innovation around our customer experience journey, or value streams – Search, Buy, Manage and Review, and Claims. We utilise technology to develop a seamless experience for our customers.

With “Search”, prospects are able to, according to their needs, search for suitable products, make enquiries, or request to meet an advisor. At Manulife, our enquiry response time is within 24 hours and we can also set up your first consultation with a suitable advisor.

For “Buy”, we leverage technology to boost access, affordability, awareness, and the appeal of life insurance. This includes increasing the distribution reach through online products and channels, along with offering more cost-effective and personalised digital insurance solutions.

“Manage and Review” is how as a life insurer we leverage numerous touchpoints for servicing. Throughout a policy lifecycle, which can run for decades, customers may need to add a beneficiary, change an address, make a payment, and so on. Each of these interactions, no matter how simple, is an opportunity to engage and further strengthen relationships with customers.

And finally with “Claims”, we are defying expectations for the insurance claims journey – including assessment, handling, and settlement – which in the past has been complex, cumbersome, and confusing to customers, who are often at a very low point when they make that claim. They want reassurance and simplicity during that moment of truth. Manulife leverages technology such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so that we can automatically “understand” customers’ medical documents and get to a claims decision quicker.

At Manulife Vietnam we have developed straight-through processing, something now available with the introduction of eClaims – the first end-to-end digital claims solutions in the market. Since launching eClaims in 2018, we have improved the turnaround time significantly for customer.

People has been talking a lot about end-to-end solutions as a new trend in the life insurance sector. How has Manulife been applying this concept to transform the customer experience journey?

At Manulife Vietnam, no project is launched without careful attention to the end-to-end customer journey. From our perspective, end-to-end comprises the digital submission of the claim, internal review and processing, and transfer of payment to the customer.

Customers can submit a claim entirely online. Using OCR technology, Manulife can automatically verify the information in the customer’s submitted medical documents. Through an auto-adjudication process, Manulife can process the claims decision without manual intervention and through a newly launched automatic payment feature, a customer can instantly receive the payment into their account, once the claim has been settled.

CXT incorporates our end-to-end journey. The philosophy around this has been that even though we have different departments and teams internally, the experience for the customer needs to be seamless. We are still in the middle of this transformation and are constantly validating our findings with customers. We track Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a measure to see how the changes are working – we seek significant customer insights via surveys and third party findings to improve our experiences.

If we look at a sales journey, for example right from the time a potential customer is sourced to the time the potential customer becomes a customer of Manulife, the entire journey is managed by one value stream owner. They are empowered to make decisions fast, pivot if things need a change, and most importantly, adapt to the fail fast and recover fast mindset. The change required a significant reshaping of mindsets at not just one department but the entire organisation and needs C-level sponsorship to make this effective.

Serving the customer is important, but in order to address the needs of customers, you need to address the needs of business and the employees internally. What has Manulife Vietnam been doing to continuously create operational efficiencies for its employees? How important is the culture in driving your customer experience transformation?

Culture is at the centre of our transformation agenda. Without addressing this, one would only be delusional about the success of any transformation. Our values at Manulife drive a significant part of our culture.

Our first value is to “Obsess about customers”: making things simple for them is what we do. Next, we act with integrity and are proud that we always “Do the right thing”. Third, we are bold and “Think big”, believing that anything is possible. We also collaborate and “Get it done together”, helping us achieve more and do it better. We have an “Own it” mentality, empowering people to make decisions and take action. We “Share our humanity” to build a supportive, diverse, and thriving workplace. Finally, our Vietnamese employees inherit a culture of growth mindset, ready to adopt change and positive attitude.

Together, these values serve to unite our people internally as we drive the transformation of our business into a digital, customer-centric market leader.

I always ask myself : If we can’t keep our employees happy, how can they make our customers happy? It is important that we motivate them, listen to them, and engage them constantly.

Our executive leadership teams walk the floors often, we have informal sessions with the teams, have lunch in the common areas to have casual talks with the teams. We are moving away from a top-down leadership style to that of a servant leader.

Before coming to Vietnam, Naren Baliga – the new chief operating officer of Manulife Vietnam – spent five years at Manulife Regional Office supporting the Asia markets, delivering digital applications and platforms. He also played a key role in shaping the strategy and providing leadership in the delivery of key initiatives across digital distribution for agency and bancassurance, furthering the ManulifeMOVE health platform capabilities and delivering a simplified claims experience for customers.

By Ha Thuy

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