Top insurance firms see senior execs move

Clockwise from top left: Mr Philip Seah, Mr Glenn Williams, Mr Khor Hock Seng, Mr Sebastian Tan and Mr James Tan.
Clockwise from top left: Mr Philip Seah, Mr Glenn Williams, Mr Khor Hock Seng, Mr Sebastian Tan and Mr James Tan. PHOTOS: PRUDENTIAL , AXA LIFE SINGAPORE, GREAT EASTERN HOLDINGS, TOKIO MARINE LIFE SINGAPORE

GE and Tokio Marine join major insurers going through management changes recently as key execs switch camps

As the year draws to a close, the insurance industry is seeing more than the usual round of musical chairs.

The inducements might be a bit tighter this year given a tougher economic environment that is putting pressure on margins in Singapore, one of the more mature insurance markets in South-east Asia, but changes are still afoot.

There have already been new chief executives installed at AIA, Great Eastern Holdings (GE) and Prudential over the past 18 months but they were just a curtain-raiser for more recent movements.

There were major staff changes last week at GE, Singapore's oldest insurance group, and Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore, which set up here in 1948.

At GE, which welcomed new group chief executive Khor Hock Seng last November after a search of nearly 12 months, acting group chief risk officer Koo Chung Chang has resigned after being in the role for a few months.

While "such movements are part and parcel of the corporate world", according to one insurer's spokesman, the nature of the industry seems to lend itself to such high-level musical chairs. Surveys show that insurers have to stay ahead in the talent game as regulation intensifies and competition stiffens with new names entering the fray.

He was appointed after his predecessor, Mr Ronnie Tan, was named group chief financial officer in July.

Mr Koo, who was previously the chief financial officer for Singapore, had undertaken the insurer's management associate programme that grooms leaders. He joined GE, a unit of OCBC Bank, in 2000.

Sources said Mr Koo is serving notice and moving to rival AIA, which has attracted a number of former GE senior executives over the years. These include Mr Tony Cheong, who left in May and was recently appointed AIA's group chief risk officer.

Mr Michael Tan, who was chief executive of GE's Vietnam business, which it sold in June, has also resigned.

He joins Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore on Nov 14 as chief distribution officer.

A GE spokesman said: "We are in the process of identifying a successor for Koo Chung Chang. We have a strong internal bench strength and second liners for the smooth day-to-day running of operations."

At Tokio Marine, Mr Michael Tan will report directly to Mr James Tan, who became chief executive on June 1.

In a memo obtained by The Straits Times, Mr James Tan said Mr Michael Tan would work with him "to meet our overall business transformation goal to rebalance our product mix".

The memo also said Mr Sebastian Tan, formerly the chief distribution officer, was redesignated chief corporate solutions officer with immediate effect, overseeing the group insurance and new opportunities and worksite teams.

The insurer's head of agency distribution, Mr Ronald Tan, has resigned and leaves today. He joined in May 2012 and "set new records in agency performance for that year". The Straits Times understands he is moving to NTUC Income.

Tokio Marine confirmed the movements within the company, but was unable to give more details.

They are not the only insurers that have had key management changes this year.

AXA Life Insurance Singapore chief executive Glenn Williams resigned at the end of June, "for an opportunity outside of the insurance industry", while chief marketing officer Kwek-Perroy Li Choo left in August.

These came before AXA stated on Oct 21 that it would merge its life and general insurance entities .

Prudential Singapore named Mr Wilfred Blackburn as its second new chief executive in just under 12 months on Oct 4. Mr Blackburn joined the company in 2012 and is a veteran with more than 26 years of experience in life insurance.

He replaced Mr Philip Seah, who took on an executive role as senior adviser. Mr Seah joined the insurer as a part-time agent in 1978 and became chief executive of Prudential Malaysia in 2012.

While "such movements are part and parcel of the corporate world", according to one insurer's spokesman, the nature of the industry seems to lend itself to such high-level musical chairs.

Surveys show that insurers have to stay ahead in the talent game as regulation intensifies and competition stiffens with new names entering the fray.

FWD Insurance Singapore - part of FWD Group, the insurance arm of investment group Pacific Century Group chaired by Hong Kong businessman Richard Li - opened its direct-to-consumer business here in September.

Malaysian lender Maybank's insurance arm, Etiqa, is another. It has been selling life insurance products at its bank branches in Singapore since 2014.

Last year, a PwC report had found that regulations and talent were the top concern of insurers here. PwC Singapore's then insurance leader Mr Billy Bennett had been quoted as saying: "While financial services as a sector faces a war for talent globally, the situation has become more acute in the insurance sector in Singapore."

This is probably why management figures have been able to move around, said an observer, who added that when the top person moves, the situation at a firm could be unstable for a while and people follow their boss to the next place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Top insurance firms see senior execs move'. Print Edition | Subscribe