Time to modernise how insurance is sold: Aviva CEO

Mr Wilson was in Singapore recently to open his firm's new digital facility.
Mr Wilson was in Singapore recently to open his firm's new digital facility. PHOTO: COURTESY OF AVIVA

Consumers benefit if industry uses financial advisory model and caters to tech-savvy

Having a large number of in-house agents or an exclusive deal with a bank is not always the best thing for insurance consumers, said Mr Mark Wilson, group chief executive of British insurer Aviva.

Mr Wilson told The Straits Times that a model based on those two distribution channels is not only outdated, but also expensive.

"The market here, for many years, has been dominated by two forms of distribution - tied agencies and banks. Both of those channels are expensive for consumers," he said.

"They give less choice to consumers and we think the industry would go towards a more financial advisory model in Singapore, where they have a choice of more than one (insurance) provider."

He added it was also unusual to have banks tied up with only one insurance firm, noting that the time is ripe for change in a market where Aviva is among the top five insurers.

Mr Wilson, who was in Singapore recently for the opening of his company's new digital facility, said: "The market here is ready to be modernised. Being dominated by tied agencies and single-bank distribution is an outdated model.

"I think the Government and regulators recognise that, and we are a key part of that mix for getting a better deal for consumers."

He added that Aviva is poised to be part of that modernisation as it is more focused on growing the financial advisory channel as it keeps its agency force small.

In terms of technology, the insurer is also helping smaller, independent financial advisory firms with infrastructure or compliance.

Aviva does not have any bancassurance tie-ups here after its 15-year distribution partnership with DBS Bank expired on Dec 31.

DBS will now get US$1.2 billion (S$1.7 billion) from Canadian insurer Manulife in a 15-year distribution deal that started on Jan 1.

Mr Wilson said: "We had DBS and the sort of money the deal went for was, in our view, uneconomic and, at the end of the day, you've got to charge the customer. DBS and Manulife are fine companies, but it was the most expensive insurance deal I'd ever seen in Asia."

Aviva is committed to Singapore and the rest of Asia, said Mr Wilson, and its digital facility in Armenian Street is an example of this commitment. The facility, which opened last month, has a team of about 100 people and is supported by 200 Singapore- based technology specialists.

Aviva's first digital set-up was established in London last year, and the global annual investment - including Singapore - is more than US$150 million.

Mr Wilson added that the firm is spending a lot on its digital offerings and technology, something the industry cannot shy away from.

Trends include more direct-to- consumer platforms or products, as the technologically wired generations take turns to reach the age where they require insurance.

Not one to mince his words, Mr Wilson said: "Insurance, when it comes to digital, is in the Stone Age globally, and I think we need to do what it takes to be up to where it should be."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'Time to modernise how insurance is sold: Aviva CEO'. Print Edition | Subscribe