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How Singapore insurer Great Eastern is embracing digitalisation

From a traditionally face-to-face business, insurance players improve their digital capabilities to better reach their hyper-digital customers and to support their distributed workforce with their remote working arrangements.


singapore GE Photo Source: iTNews Asia


By Siti Bahari

The insurance industry is known for being behind on its digital transformation within the finance sector. However, COVID-19 triggered a shift in how insurers conducted their traditionally face-to-face business.

Similar to how businesses across the different sectors had to accelerate their digital capabilities to support their workforce and operations, the insurance industry too pursued a digital transformation to ensure its survival.

To find out how players in the insurance industry have transformed, iTNews Asia speaks to Gary Teh, Managing Director, Group IT at Great Eastern.

iTNews Asia: How is Great Eastern leveraging the growing digitalisation of the industry? What business processes are being transformed?

Digitalisation is a tremendous enabler to business transformation, and provides many opportunities for greater customer engagement, product innovation and operational transformation. Our digitalisation strategy has always been about our customers and how we engage them and make things easier and better for them.

Our customer-first approach has been applied to all aspects of our business – from how we engage our customers to how we design products and streamline processes.

To facilitate better operational efficiency, we have made strides in terms of our operations by applying:

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – RPA solutions were implemented to streamline processes to enable straight-through processing for policy application, servicing and claims fulfilment.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – We have implemented Predictive Underwriting for selected life and critical illness products which enabled us to serve our customers with greater speed and efficiency. We are also in the process to introduce AI in areas such as medical claims to expedite claims payout and fraud detection to enable our business to accept more good orders.

Looking ahead, we expect AI to continue to play a big role in transforming our business by speeding up processes through automation and providing valuable customer insights through data analytics to help us better understand our customers and design more relevant products and services.

Combining digital solutions with process improvement, automation and data analytics, we will work towards creating more superior customer experiences, to ensure that we are always one step ahead in anticipating and delivering to their future needs.

iTNews Asia: How has the digitalisation of the insurance industry changed compared to before the pandemic and now? What were the challenges that Great Eastern faced and how were they overcome?

COVID-19 has really accelerated digital transformation across many business sectors. For Great Eastern, the pandemic brought greater focus and immediacy to our transformation plans, which were already in the pipeline even before the pandemic. Thus, we were well-positioned to embrace new opportunities.

Before the Circuit Breaker in Singapore last year, we had readied our digital platforms so that our customers could purchase selected insurance products conveniently. At the same time, they had full access to advisory from their existing financial representatives and to post-purchase servicing.

Customers also had uninterrupted access to financial advisory through remote channels from the comfort of their own homes with the entire sales journey fulfilled on tele-or video-conference calls.

Our sales force was able to adapt quickly with the support of our digital tools and continued to service our customers well even with the restrictions/physical limitations brought about by the pandemic. Sales momentum was not sacrificed, and the positive results and feedback from our financial reps and customers tell us that we are on the right track.

We also made significant investment in our IT infrastructure to support remote working capabilities to enable our employees and financial representatives to deliver their best at work, be it from office or at home, across the Group’s operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

With the increased pace of digital transformation and proliferation of remote working, we are cognisant that security threats will continue to rise. This is evident from the surge of cyber-attacks and ransomware incidents worldwide during the pandemic. Therefore, protection of our systems and customer data remain our top priority.

We continue to refresh our cyber defences and invest in leading-edge technology to enable us to stay ahead of these threats, and to provide a safe remote working environment for our staff.

For example:

  • We deploy advanced threat defence solution for our endpoints and servers, and maintain round-the-clock security surveillance of our network to detect and respond to intrusion attempts quickly.
  • Multi-factor authentication and encrypted virtual desktop infrastructure were rolled out to our staff to protect their system accounts as they perform their work remotely.
  • Emails and web surfing, two common sources of malware infection, are screened with threat isolation technology to sanitise content even before they reach our staff.

iTNews Asia: How was Great Eastern able to introduce their digitalisation strategies seamlessly within the organisation? What solutions have been especially helpful to propel Great Eastern forward?

Building a digital mindset among our people is pivotal to getting alignment and support throughout the organisation in our digital transformation journey.

We believe that it is not enough to equip our employees and financial representatives with the tools to thrive in the digital era, but to help them to embrace change amidst our transformation.

While technology is a great enabler, our employee development journeys must be designed hand-in-hand to support our digitalisation strategy. In addition to having the right technology and infrastructure, we identify skills and capabilities ahead of time and provide the necessary training so as to pro-actively prepare our people to be future-ready.

The implementation of our own Private Cloud is also an important enabler in our digitalisation effort. The Cloud infrastructure provides Great Eastern with elastic and scalable infrastructure capabilities to respond quickly to our business.

Through DevOps, we can now set up the required infrastructure in real-time and deploy codes to production faster, thus enabling us to launch or modify services rapidly. It also enables us to be “future-ready” as we stand to benefit from advancements in Cloud technology.

iTNews Asia: What are the safeguards that Great Eastern has taken to ensure their customers’ data are protected?

In terms of building education and awareness, we provide onboarding training for all new joiners. Annual refresher training on PDPA is mandatory for all staff and financial representatives. We also send out regular communications on data protection topics to our staff and financial representatives, to reinforce the importance of safeguarding our customers’ personal data.

In addition, we connect with industry threat intelligence sources to obtain up-to-date information on cyber threats and take pre-emptive measures against them. We continuously stress-test our cyber defence by engaging in bug bounty programme and adversarial red/purple team exercises. Great Eastern is the first insurer to embark on bug bounty programme where we invited white-hat “hackers” globally to probe our defence for continuous improvement.

As a cyber-safe insurance sector requires industry-wide collaboration, we started the first-ever insurance sector standing committee for cyber security, where we continue to be an active member. Together with our fellow insurers and regulators, we share best practices and strengthen the cyber-resilience of our sector.

iTNews Asia: How are you supporting your organisation with the remote working arrangements? How digital is the workforce?

Our remote working solutions are rolled out across the entire organisation. As the pandemic resets major work trends, we believe that remote working will likely continue to some degree post-pandemic. As such, we have started the migration to Microsoft Teams to further improve the employee experience.

Moving to Microsoft Teams will allow us to deliver a fully integrated video and audio system, bringing full telephony to each of our staff when they work remotely. We have also transformed our physical meeting rooms with MS Teams-supported equipment in an effort to enable seamless collaboration and transition between online and physical meetings.

As for our financial representatives, we have already progressively rolled out digital tools since 2018 and are continuously providing comprehensive training to equip them for better delivery of financial advisory and customer experience.

To date, all of our financial representatives have fully adopted these digital tools and we have received positive feedback from both our agency force and our customers on the improved financial advisory experience as well as increased productivity.


This article was first published in iTNews Asia on 14 June 2021.