Coronavirus: Local insurers paid out at least $1m in past 3 months

Five firms say claims in March and April were not significantly higher than in previous years

A Covid-19 patient at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital on April 21. Under measures announced on March 31, life and health insurance policyholders in Singapore can defer premium payments for up to six months.
A Covid-19 patient at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital on April 21. Under measures announced on March 31, life and health insurance policyholders in Singapore can defer premium payments for up to six months. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Local insurers have paid out at least $1 million to policyholders for Covid-19-related claims and benefits over the past three months.

Five insurance firms said claims in March and last month were not significantly higher than in previous years, although they added that it is hard to estimate the exact impact of the outbreak on operations.

Prudential has paid out more than $800,000 in cash benefits to over 1,000 people since the launch of its $1.5 million package for small and medium-sized enterprises and individuals on Feb 19.

AIA disbursed close to $100,000 in 54 separate claims as of last Monday, while Great Eastern received 85 applications for coronavirus-related medical claims.

Tokio Marine gave out $5,000 each to 21 life policyholders as part of its assistance scheme, which ended last Thursday, to customers who had contracted the virus.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) last Tuesday said services such as insurance were affected by the slowdown in global economic activity in the first three months of the year and faced a bleak outlook in the coming months.

Its biannual macroeconomic review noted that the insurance segment will continue to face rising medical and commercial claims, and that reinsurers stand to lose the most from extreme mortality events like pandemics. Premiums received from existing policyholders are also expected to decline, it added.

Customers with life and health policies can defer premium payments for up to six months, while maintaining their insurance coverage under measures announced by MAS on March 31.

Insurers have since received thousands of applications for deferment.

AIA received 4,153 applications as of last Thursday, while more than 300 applications were submitted to Tokio Marine. About 1,600 Great Eastern policyholders have applied for deferred payments.

NTUC Income fielded more than 3,000 applications for its seven support schemes for policyholders as of April 17. Of these, 1,150 are for premium deferments on life and health insurance plans.

The outbreak is also forcing agents to find other ways to engage potential clients, given that circuit breaker measures have meant the suspension of face-to-face opportunities such as roadshows.

Several insurance agents said that while it is harder to establish relationships with new clients amid containment measures, being forced to connect with existing customers virtually has been a more efficient process than meeting in person.

Tokio Marine senior financial planning consultant Catherine Lee noted: "Some customers are more comfortable sharing their personal details and concerns from their homes as compared with before at meet-ups which would take place in public places like cafes."

Mr Chew Wai Loon, an executive senior manager at Great Eastern's graduate advisory group, has been engaging with potential customers through existing clients.

"For some of my colleagues new to the business, it is more challenging and they may need to refer back to other touch points such as immediate and old friends and social media contacts for leads," he said.

A few agents said some clients have been more cautious about taking out new policies. NTUC Income financial consultant Tan Wan Ling said: "Some customers do require more time to commit to new policies, or are inclined to put financial planning on hold altogether."

A financial adviser, who wanted to be known only as Mr Koh, added: "I don't want a client to buy a policy if they are not able to afford it, so for now it's more about building a relationship with clients. So while I'm not able to earn commissions from new customers now, I'm hoping that down the road when things get better for them, this relationship will mean something to them."

Many agents said customers are more aware of their medical coverage as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak and they are also seeking protection products, such as life insurance and Integrated Shield plans, although this trend has been more evident among customers who are more financially stable and tend to be in their late-30s or older.

Prudential private wealth adviser Jasmine Teo said that before the outbreak, clients' concerns were largely focused on general wealth planning. "Now, people are a lot more concerned about their coverage and some have been thinking about increasing the amount of their term coverage," she added.

Follow ST on LinkedIn and stay updated on the latest career news, insights and more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Local insurers paid out at least $1m in past 3 months. Subscribe