New insurer FWD Insurance to sell policies directly to consumers

Mr Bhatia says FWD Insurance's focus will be on customer experience, "from product features to how policies will be bought online".
Mr Bhatia says FWD Insurance's focus will be on customer experience, "from product features to how policies will be bought online".PHOTO: FWD

There is a new life and general insurer in town hoping to transform the insurance business by simplifying the process of buying policies.

FWD Insurance opened its direct- to-consumer business last Friday, starting with travel and car insurance products.

There are plans to introduce direct purchase insurance soon, perhaps in the next few weeks, beginning with term policies.

FWD Singapore chief executive Abhishek Bhatia told The Straits Times: "The model we've chosen is not to recruit tied agents, which is what most of the players in the industry do."

The firm, which is investing $500 million in Singapore over the next five years, is directly selling travel and car insurance online, without the need for an agent to call back with a quote.

It has replaced lengthy forms with a simple website application where people can get a quote for car insurance in under 60 seconds and one for travel insurance in 10 seconds - the fastest in Singapore, said FWD.

The firm is also introducing a term in its motor insurance policies, where drivers who have a 50 per cent no-claim discount will have the discount protected for life, even if they have multiple accidents in the same year.

Mr Bhatia said: "As soon as you make the payment, you get an e-mail with the policy, and you get an SMS reminding you that you've got the e-mail. The customer experience is at the centre of the whole thing, from product features to how policies will be bought online."

He acknowledged that when it comes to travel insurance, other firms do provide a good buying experience but noted that the process of making a claim is still not ideal.

That has led FWD Insurance to give its travel insurance policyholders the option of submitting claims using WhatsApp.

"If your flight's delayed, you can take a photo of your boarding pass and send it to us on WhatsApp, and we'll process your claim," said Mr Bhatia. "In any area, unless we need the information from the customer, we're not going to ask for it. There will be no needless information just because it's good to have."

The aim is to minimise the effort for customers and hopefully change how they feel about insurance.

FWD Insurance Singapore is part of FWD Group, the insurance arm of investment group Pacific Century Group chaired by Hong Kong businessman Richard Li. The Hong Kong-based insurer acquired a 90 per cent stake in Shenton Insurance in April, and has 120 staff here, with plans to grow headcount by 50 per cent over the next five years.

Mr Bhatia, who moved to FWD from insurance giant Prudential, said: "At the macro level, Singapore is the gateway to South-east Asia. The Singapore business is about making a sustainable and feasible business here."

There are also plans for the prototypes of products to be produced and approved here, and then get accepted by other markets in the group, including Macau and Thailand, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline 'New insurer to sell policies directly to consumers'. Print Edition | Subscribe