Digitalisation seen as key to Great Eastern’s growth

It has invested S$100m since 2018 to strengthen online engagement as well as in data analytics and cybersecurity

By Genevieve Cua


STEADY investment in digital capabilities coupled with a bumper recruitment of financial advisers is helping Great Eastern (GE) to achieve sustained growth despite Covid-19 restrictions.

GE group chief executive Khor Hock Seng said the group has invested over S$100 million since 2018 in digital initiatives to strengthen online engagement, distribution and sales platforms, as well as in data analytics and cybersecurity.

“Digitalisation remains our key focus and we will continue to invest heavily to support growing business needs,’’ he said.

In the first quarter of this year, total weighted new sales rose 28 per cent to S$383 million. Profit attributable to shareholders reached S$437.6 million, compared to S$33.9 million in the same period last year.

Last year, GE recruited around 1,200 advisers, boosting its sales force to a total of 5,100, which Mr Khor described as a “good, big jump”.

“Our whole transformation journey, especially digitalisation, has enabled us to be the first in Singapore to have non-face to face (sales and advisory). Digitalisation started even before the circuit breaker, and allowed us to be ahead of our competitors and created a momentum,” he said.

The group launched its “Great Digital Advantage’’ platform from 2018 with tools for advisers, including GreatAdvice, an interactive financial planning tool; GreatPlanner, to enable advisers to manage and monitor sales; and GreatPortfolio, which gives an overview of clients’ policies.

In April, it rolled out LiveChat, a Whatsapp chat service for policyholders of the Dependants’ Protection Scheme under the Central Provident Fund scheme. A wider rollout is being planned.

For now, selected products such as personal accident plans and term assurance are available via a fully digital process.

It has implemented “predictive underwriting’’ for selected life and critical illness products to enable greater speed and efficiency.

Great Eastern Group Chief Executive Khor Hock Seng Delivering A Speech Group chief executive Khor Hock Seng is seeking to transform GE “inside-out’’ so that even as digital “touchpoints’’ increase, the customer remains at the centre of its proposition. BT PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN

It is also in the process of introducing artificial intelligence in areas such as medical claims to expedite claims payouts and improve fraud detection.

The group has also sought a more widespread implementation of robotic process automation to enable straight-through processing (STP) for policy transactions from application to claims fulfilment.

At the end of 2020, STP was implemented for about 50 per cent of processes and Mr Khor says the aim is to hit 75 per cent this year.

Amid digitalisation, he is seeking to transform GE “inside-out’’ so that even as digital “touchpoints’’ increase, the customer remains at the centre of its proposition.

During the interview, Mr Khor spoke about the three “Cs” at GE.

The first is culture, which he defines as being customer-centric. A buy-in from staff is essential “to support future initiatives and growth’’.

“On the outside-in, we produce many new processes, new technology. But I think it is even more critical to have the whole organisation adapt to this change.’’

Recent customer research showed that the trait most valued by clients was that the company must be caring.

“I have to admit that we may not find a solution to everything the customer wants, but at least we must be caring,” he said. Last week GE announced free post-vaccination cover for Singapore residents. The plan provides cash payout of S$200 per day up to S$2,000 in the event one is hospitalised due to Covid-19 after vaccination.

The second C refers to capability, which is related to the third “C”, which stands for capacity. These two Cs entail re-training staff as well as hiring staff with new skills such as data scientists.

“Internally, we identify areas where staff may be at risk, and we retrain them so that they are able to perform,” said Mr Khor. “But at the same time, there will be new capabilities that we need that we may not have had in the past. While we identify those capabilities, the question is do we have the bench strength? We have to start building capacity.”

GE’s data division has 10 data scientists; it plans to hire five more. “The whole data department reports to me directly, because we see data as our key to the future.’’

Sustainability is also a key commitment. The group has identified three sustainability pillars to work towards, which are linked to seven material ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors.

The pillars are a low-carbon economy; improving people’s lives; and responsible business practices. Under the environmental pillar, for example, it is making efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

It found that the biggest contributor to its operational footprint is electricity usage. Since 2018, it has reduced electricity consumption in its buildings, as well as the use of water and paper.

GE became the sole insurer for DPS earlier this year. DPS is a term life plan which provides cover in the event of death, terminal illness or total and permanent disability.

For members below 60, GE raised the sum assured from S$46,000 to S$70,000. It also raised the maximum age of cover from age 60 to 65.


Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

This article was first published in The Business Times on 28 June 2021.