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The way FWD

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Dec 2014

Being relatively new and smaller compared to some of its industry peers, FWD has the advantage of charting its path without the burden of legacy processes or systems. Mr Huynh Thanh Phong, FWD Group CEO, shares the insurer’s quest for innovation and breaking new grounds in the industry.
By Benjamin Ang
The current regulatory environment means that the industry needs to be more transparent, compliant, and customer-friendly. Coupled with the tremendous pace of technology advancement – especially in emerging markets which are experiencing the “leapfrogging effect” of moving directly from low technology to tapping the latest available technology – it provides FWD, which has no legacy systems, the stage to clearly differentiate itself. 
Being relatively new, it needs to “make consumers feel different about FWD in order to succeed”. 
“We have a fresh brand. We want to be seen as a challenger, reinforcing the idea that FWD will do things differently,” Mr Phong said. 
Enhancing customer experience
While it is easy to “talk the talk”, FWD has used technology to “walk the talk” with proof points to show. 
In Indonesia and Philippines, it has implemented a system that can provide 100% paperless sales process for customers and achieve immediate underwriting. “In this day and age, clients demand services when and where they need them, with convenience and speed. Why wait for a week or two before the underwriting is processed?” he said. “Immediate underwriting is difficult for the more established players because of their legacy systems.”
In Thailand, where Thai Military Bank (TMB) is a partner, the policy can be ready by the time a customer in the bank branch finishes his coffee. And in Hong Kong, for example, there are 24/7 customer service hotlines. 
He said: “A customer can call or communicate online with FWD. Customers’ expectations and demands have been influenced by retail and online giants such as Amazon. Why should insurance be any different and why should consumers accept any less?”
Still on underwriting, he said: “Why should a policyholder have to worry about the small print on exclusions?” FWD believes that policyholders should be able to enjoy their lifestyles without worry, and it is developing policies with no – or at least, minimal – exclusions.
Building a community
A part of its innovative approach is the development of innovative digital initiatives that plans to employ social media. Without a doubt, social media is “critical”. “It is not just about technology, but how we leverage it to enable interaction between people, particularly our customers. Ultimately, insurance is all about social interaction,” said Mr Phong. 
And it is not just about building a community among customers, it is also about building a community among staff and agents. In Indonesia and the Philippines where the agency force is newer, there are WhatsApp groups created where an agent can ask questions “anytime, anywhere”. There are moderators in the group on hand to answer any “on the spot Q&A” if help is needed, he said. 
Building the company
Being relatively new also allows FWD, the insurance arm of the private investment Pacific Century Group, to build a strong foundation to become “the kind of company we want to build”. 
“We want to change the way people feel about insurance, we want to be different. The challenge is of course to find seasoned talent with the required expertise, but who are also able to embrace our culture of doing things differently,” he said.
The insurance group’s business currently spans Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, the Philippines, and a brand presence in Indonesia. It is looking closely at opportunities in Vietnam, including distribution possibilities, where it is weighing the options to choose the right one. It has also recently opened a representative office in Shanghai which will “pave the way for FWD to establish a life insurance company in China”. 
FWD seeks to be in fast growing markets and has rapid expansion plans. But at the same time there has to be financial discipline and prudence in its strategy. “We are working on a lot of opportunities, but sometimes the key is to know when to say ‘no’,” he concluded.


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