Tech, agents to boost the insurance sector

Insurance firms have been more responsive than ever as they try to garner the larger size of the business

By P PREM KUMAR / Pic By AFIF ABD HALIM

In THE last 20 years, the Internet and the digital revolution have changed how people interact, work, live and function. Emails have replaced written letters.

Group messaging applications, like Whatsapp, have more or less buried the once traditional short messaging service, or SMS.

The number of Facebook users worldwide has surpassed two billion, almost a third of the world’s population.

Many people have more friends on their social media networks than in real life. The number of mobile phone users are expected to surpass five billion in 2019. In Malaysia, there are more subscriber identification module cards issued to users compared to the country’s total population, which is inching to 32 million.

The connected world has dawned on us. Ordinary people perform more transactions in the comfort of their bedrooms instead of lining up at bank counters.

Globally, the banking and insurance sectors have been one of the most innovative. Disruptive technologies, digital tokens, blockchain, mobile wallets, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things are forcing the financial services sector to abandon legacy systems, archaic models and less responsive procedures.

Today, anyone can perform almost all financial services on the desktop, touchpad or even on mobile devices. It has opened a new world for the sector, including for insurance companies. Car insurance renewal can be done online.

Requests for quotes can be completed within minutes. Speed and service delivery have improved multi- fold. Even insurance products are sold online.

General insurance companies have been more responsive than ever as they try to garner the larger size of the business. While the digital revolution has opened up new opportunities, worries such as “simple systems driven by AI” will make the insurance agents’ professions obsolete.

Insurance analysts believe the digital revolution has offered opportunities for consumers to reach their insurers directly, receive services and products fast, including enjoying discounts that otherwise would have been earned by the agents as commissions.

But the roles of agents who have been the bedrock of the insurance industry’s existence and success for generations are expected to continue.

Complexity of products, individual needs, comprehensive profiling, sound advice and the personal touch will be the basics that make agents invaluable.

And these agents play a key role in bringing the almost 32 million population of Malaysia up to speed on the importance of insurance.

Educating the public on the importance of protection and security, and taking the country to the level of developed nation in insurance subscription lie with the agents.

We Do Best in Raising Awareness
Ann Choo (picture), an insurance agent from AIG Malaysia Insurance Bhd, said the perception on insurance has evolved positively in the last few years as newer products that are designed to cater to their specific needs start to be available in the market.

“At one time, we had to search for clients, but now, we have clients searching for us. That is how well the perception has recovered since then,” she told The Malaysian Reserve in an exclusive interview.

Choo, who has been in the field for 33 years, said clients today are more educated and aware of insurance, but they still require guidance.

She said agents themselves must be equipped with the knowledge in order to provide consumers with all scenarios for a range of insurance products, from motor to travel insurance and solutions for businesses.

“We have to explain to them all possible scenarios, even if they aren’t purchasing a particular insurance policy. This way has helped raise awareness on insurance and the various products,” she said.

Another AIG agent, Ong Kar Ghee, who joined the insurance industry 21 years ago, said many Malaysians are still not well-covered by insurance.

He said although customer experience and product diversification have improved significantly in recent years, awareness on the need for insurance is still lacking among Malaysians.

The Importance of Agents
In purchasing an insurance policy, one should consider their own needs. Different individuals have different priorities. The selection is also dependent on the individual’s financial circumstances.

Experts say this is where sound advice would greatly help. Professional financial advisors will undertake fact-finding to evaluate a customer’s needs and make the best recommendations.

“For example, one might need 10 policies for a factory, but they might only address the immediate needs, being fire and burglary insurance,” said Choo.

“That is where we come in as agents and advise them that there are other risks, which can be liabilities,” she added. Choo said insurance agents have to evolve from being pure salesmen and with a product-pushing mentality, to become more of the trusted financial consultant for their customers.

“We should understand the needs of the client and the market, and propose policies that are relevant to them. That will benefit both parties,” she said.

Ong, who first ventured into the insurance business in 1996, a time when the Internet and the digital revolution had yet to reach acceptance like current times, said agents have to equip themselves to be a valuable partner to clients.

He said technology is getting easier to use, and so, services are delivered faster. Thus, Ong said insurance agents must strive to provide valueadded services to continue staying relevant with these developments.

“As an agent, you will need something special and different. Either you do that or you make sure you aren’t indispensable,” he said.

For agents like Choo and Ong, they are optimistic that insurance agents like themselves and technological advancements can co-exist and complement each other to take the insurance industry to the next level.