Financial technology, or fintech, is not just the domain of start-ups trying to disrupt the payments and lending functions of banks.
Insurers have also been digitalising in a bid to make it more convenient for customers to access and purchase insurance and make claims.
To serve its traditional and millennial customers better, NTUC Income, Singapore's largest composite insurer, has embarked on a three-pronged approach.
Mr Peter Tay, Income's chief operating officer, said: "It is important for Income to strategically partner start-ups to leverage their innovations to serve our customers better."
Added Mr Tay, who also helms the company's Digital Transformation Office: "Such partnerships are often win-win as Income can bring new offerings to the market faster, while start-ups are able to scale up their business innovations through us."
For example, Income, through its inaugural insurtech accelerator programme, Income Future Starter, has launched two offerings so far within six months of the accelerator's Demo Day in March this year.
The first is the mobile application Accident Reporting By Income. Featuring the innovation of Thai start-up Claim Di, the app offers Income motor policyholders a unique platform to file accident reports remotely within 24 hours of the incident as required under the Motor Claims Framework.
The app complements Income's existing customer-focused touch-points for motor insurance policyholders such as the 24/7 accident-response team Orange Force, and the Income Motor Service Centre as well as its partner workshops.
With a click of a button via the app, for example, motorists can connect with Orange Force to seek assistance from the accident scene.
In August, Income launched the first travel insurance chatbot Jiffy Jane in collaboration with local start-up Zumata.
Available on mobile messaging application Facebook Messenger, it offers travellers a seamless, one-stop customer experience - from inquiring about to purchasing their preferred travel insurance - on the go.
The success of the accelerator programme is very encouraging, said Mr Tay, who let on that there will be a new accelerator programme to be launched in 2018 that will allow Income to continue to co-innovate with the start-up community.
MEETING DIVERSE NEEDS
To ensure that the company reaches out effectively to today's mobile-first consumers, Mr Tay said Income must first ensure that consumers have easy access to the insurer's offerings digitally, and to complement the journey with a good user experience.
Income currently offers 16 products online, spanning travel, motor, foreign maid, home, golfer's and term life insurance.
The latest additions to this suite of offerings are Purchase Guard, which offers insurance for electronic gadgets, and Start.Sure, the first self-service digital platform designed for new start-ups to purchase and manage employee benefit insurance easily.
"As consumers engage with information largely online these days, it is essential that we give them the access to the appropriate insurance product any time, anywhere," said Mr Tay.
To this end, Income became the first in the industry to introduce Adviser Connect in 2015 to enable consumers to chat online anonymously with Income financial advisers at their convenience.
The platform steadily converts 30 per cent of these conversations into business leads for Income agents.
Similarly, the RevoRetire chatbot has facilitated 2,500 conversations and over 300 business leads for retirement planning, since its launch on Facebook Messenger in August.
Yet, Income is not resting on its laurels. "We are committed to drive customer-centricity through digitalisation. This means our customers can expect more digital innovations from us to better their experience with insurance," Mr Tay revealed.
Income is also focused on enhancing operational processes with technology.
In June this year, it became the first insurer to adopt IBM's Watson Explorer to automate and enhance the process of manually reviewing, assessing and approving hospitalisation claims it receives each month.
The technology employs advanced imaging, business rules, natural language and machine learning technologies to classify and extract information in real time from a variety of media types.
It also leverages a cognitive search and content analysis platform that analyses structured and unstructured data, such as medical certificates and bills, as it considers factors such as length of hospital stays, medical histories, and surgical procedures before it makes claims recommendations to policyholders.
"Watson is uniquely differentiated in being able to help insurers improve their claims experience without compromising the industry's high risk-management standards," said Mr DJ de Villiers, Insurance Industry Director, IBM Asia Pacific.
Mr Tay added that the use of cognitive technology improves staff satisfaction level. "Our skilled claims assessors can now leverage their experience and judgment for assessing complex claims, which is a more strategic application of their skill-set as we can expect more hospitalisation claims due to our ageing population," he added.
Income also funded the development of the Integrated Financial Advisory Marketplace (IFAM) platform to offer the financial advisory (FA) sector an end-to-end digital platform that empowers the FA sector to enhance its operational and cost efficiency, professionalism and customer service, with features that help FA firms fulfil regulatory requirements and e-submissions to insurers.
A DIGITAL MINDSET
"To succeed as a digital insurer, building an environment where we challenge ourselves, harness agile thinking and a digital mindset, is essential," Mr Tay explained.
In this regard, Income recognises that its employees are the biggest asset to maintaining the momentum for digital transformation and innovation in the company.
Through various initiatives, Income offers diverse opportunities for its staff to work closely with start-ups and experience the agile way of working.
Income's first-ever 36-hour idea Hackathon, IdeaSmash, for example, brought 54 colleagues across different business functions through the process of building a product, validating assumptions, and using data to make decisions.
At the inaugural Income Innovation Festival, or InnovFest, in September, over 800 employees viewed showcases led by start-up founders, including Bambu, Asia's leading robo wealth advisory firm.
"We are already planning future editions of such initiatives to entrench a digital mindset among our staff," said Mr Tay.
"While we ensure that Income is no laggard in the digital race, it is just as important to bring our employees, advisers and partners along with us on the journey."
•Brought to you by NTUC Income