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Arming advisers with the right tools for the digital age

Ever since the world was cast into the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in the adoption of digital channels. In light of that, we spoke to Great Eastern managing director, regional agency/ financial advisory and bancassurance Mr Patrick Peck to find out more about the company’s strategy for going digital in its core advisory business.

By AAN team

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the landscape of the insurance industry over the past year and in many ways, that change is still ongoing.

One of the biggest changes we have seen is how the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital channels by both consumers and businesses. Most insurers have now embraced this trend and are working towards a future where digital is one of the key enablers to improve business outcomes, boost higher productivity and engage customers more seamlessly.

Great Eastern was one of the first insurers in the region in 2020, who was quick to launch a fully remote advisory and sales process to enable their financial representatives to provide seamless customer service and address their customers’ insurance needs via multiple virtual touchpoints. Separately, from as early as February last year, Great Eastern’s financial representatives could recommend selected products to their customers via personalised online links to self-purchase at their convenience. This has not only uplifted the productivity of the financial representatives, but also benefitted the insurer’s customers as they could still enjoy the after-sales servicing support from their financial representatives and get the protection they needed on its digital sales platform.

Even before COVID-19 hit home, Great Eastern in 2018 had already pivoted to empowering their financial representatives with digital tools, through Great Digital Advantage platform to deliver seamless financial advisory services to their customers, interactively and dynamically. This early pivot to digitalisation has in addition boosted Great Eastern’s standing as an employer of choice both among existing financial representatives, as well as new potential hires, and positioned it as a forward-looking insurer supporting its large field force to ready them for the digital economy.

Maintaining focus on the advisory business

And Great Eastern is staying true to the core focus and competency of its business, Great Eastern managing director, regional agency/ financial advisory and bancassurance Patrick Peck told Asia Advisers Network.

“As a leading regional insurer, our core is still very much in the advisory business, and we continue to build different enablers through digital and the use of technology, customer insight and manpower growth to support it going forward,” he said. “Our financial representatives have already witnessed the evolution of technology and the digital changes that Great Eastern has deployed over the last few years, and we are still very much in the building process.”

He expects digital communication and the use of digital interfaces to become the new norm in terms of facilitating customer interactions. However, he notes there can be ultimately no replacement for the human-to-human engagement between a financial representative and the customer.

“[Financial advisory] is still very much a relationship-based business where we work with the customers to grow their wealth and find the appropriate solutions to protect their loved ones over a long-term period,” he said.

Mr Peck also emphasised that going digital and harnessing the power of technology is not a goal to be achieved, but a continually ongoing process. “We must embrace new ways of working and thinking, and adapt faster to emerge stronger and more resilient than ever – whether in the current pandemic or post-COVID world.”

Getting a head start

Great Eastern started its preparations for going digital in its advisory business in 2018, long before the world was thrown into the pandemic.

Mr Peck explained that it was already in the company’s strategy to reshape its advisory business before COVID-19 arrived as a catalyst and what gave it a big push forward (just like with other companies) was the acceleration of the next level execution when Singapore was thrown into Circuit Breaker in April last year.

“By then, we had already implemented our non- face-to-face solution for the sales force,” he said. “Our sales force was quick to adjust and adapt to the new norm.” He recalled how at the time, Great Eastern was quick to support its field force to stay connected with its clients by enabling customers’ engagements and activities to be all seamlessly held online.

Within three months from April to June last year, the insurer managed to conduct over 100 webinars and online learning sessions to their financial representatives, which encompassed sales, recruitment, training and upskilling. It also simplified the policy application process to shorten the response time to enable a more pleasant customer onboarding experience.  

Looking ahead

As the world eventually emerges from the pandemic, Great Eastern aims to continue its acceleration of digital adoption while remaining focused on its core advisory business.

“We will continue to empower our financial representatives with training and upskilling as their role will evolve from just selling insurance to becoming a holistic financial educator to help customers understand the whole process of financial planning cycles,” said Mr Peck.

He added that the company has a structured roadmap in place to upskill and future-proof the careers of its financial representatives, and provide them with comprehensive and multi-faceted training programmes at every stage of their career for lifelong learning. Great Eastern’s roadmap for upskilling and training takes a blended learning approach involving e-learning, virtual classrooms and webinars which cover everything from technical product knowledge to systems and process knowledge, soft skills sales modules, digital tools, as well as the onboarding of new recruits.

The insurer is also committed to enhance their financial representatives’ capabilities through professional certifications such as the Institute of Banking & Finance progammes. 

Great Eastern is the only insurer in Singapore that mandates its agency leaders to pass the 23-week Agency Management Training Course (AMTC) by LIMRA as a pre-promotion criterion to be a Director. The AMTC is to help leaders develop and sharpen their supervisory skills in the areas of planning, recruiting, selecting, training and performance management.

Key attributes for financial representatives

Great Eastern’s financial representative manpower strength has grown to over 5,000 at the end of 2020. Its success to attract job seekers to become Great Eastern financial representatives is anchored on several factors – established brand name, strong support given to them in training programmes, digital capabilities and a suite of insurance solutions to enable them to perform well.

Mr Peck also touched on some of the most crucial attributes anyone who might be considering a career as a financial representative should have.

Echoing the insurer’s customer-centric focus, Mr Peck shared that particularly in the area of financial advisory, first and foremost, one must always be customer-focused. In fact, he has always held fast to his personal mantra: “Never end a day without doing one thing right for your customer”, a phrase he is oft-heard expounding to his teams. Being a good financial representative revolves tightly around three E’s, according to Mr Peck. Empathy, Entrepreneurship, and Evergreen – crucial ingredients of all successful financial representatives:

  • Empathy – Delivering service from the heart and being able to understand the customer’s needs. And of course, being ethical in one’s dealings. The quality of having a strong sense of these qualities should be extended to appreciating and collaborating well with co-workers, teams and people around them.
  • Entrepreneurship – Approaching the career as an entrepreneur, being self-motivated and unafraid of failure.
  • Evergreen – Insurance advisory is an evergreen business and in line with that, financial representatives need to have an evergreen attitude towards learning and development, always pushing themselves to level up in competencies and trends to do well. Certainly, as financial advisors and professionals, they will need to be ever upskilling in this digital economy, and stay updated on the latest developments in areas that will help their customers.

Keep pushing forward

With the first half of 2021 almost over, Mr Peck also had words of advice for financial representatives who might be going through a difficult period or who may have had a rough start to the year: Never give up and continue to plan big.

“It is the big dreams that drive the bigger actions that you take. It is also the big dreams that helps provide fuel for you to keep going on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It is not a question of whether a person can achieve [their goals] or not. The first building block of success is to be able to dream big.”

“And with the ability to dream big, other attributes such as discipline, empathy and focus will naturally fall into place,” he added.

Referencing the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), he said that having a rough start to the year does not mean that someone should compromise on their aims of making it to the top and dial back on their targets – there is still time left in the year and they should at least try for Court of the Table.

“With big thinking and big actions [for the customer], you will never fall short of reaching MDRT at the end of the year,” he said.

 

This article was first published in Asia Advisers Network on 28 May 2021.

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Great Eastern Holdings Ltd | Great Eastern Life Assurance Co Ltd | Great Eastern General Insurance Ltd
Great Eastern Holdings Ltd | Great Eastern Life Assurance Co Ltd | Great Eastern General Insurance Ltd