US insurer opens innovation centre

Consumer insights into how people live and care for themselves as they age will determine the new products that American insurer MetLife will develop in the next few years.

Its researchers and entrepreneurs are developing possible projects in three key areas - retirement, health and wealth.

MetLife's president for Asia, Mr Christopher Townsend, said that by next year some projects will be tested in countries including Japan, China and India.

MetLife is looking at these issues in Asia because, by 2025, 30 per cent of the world's gross domestic product will come from the region.

Half of the world's population will also be in Asia, added Mr Townsend, who was speaking at a briefing before the official opening of the firm's innovation centre LumenLab yesterday.

"The conventional way of growing our business won't work any more. We need to transform faster to keep up with consumer issues if we are to keep growing," he said.

LumenLab conducts workshops and boot camps at its office at The Metropolis in the Buona Vista area or at any of its 12 offices in Asia. These workshops allow new ideas to emerge from employees.

Mr Townsend said some projects will fail and a few will succeed.

"We've to be patient and wait for success. Even the failed projects are not wasted because the MetLife executives involved will become innovation evangelists in their own offices," he said.

He did not disclose MetLife's investment in the innovation centre but said that the staff of 12 will double over the next 12 months.

LumenLab chief executive Zia Zaman said: "Only one person on our staff is a life insurance professional. All the rest have skills in investment and entrepreneurship. Others are innovation consultants. We do this because we want fresh pairs of eyes looking at the problems."

LumenLab received financial support from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Economic Development Board, but Mr Townsend did not disclose the figures.

The centre was opened by MAS deputy managing director Jacqueline Loh. She said the insurance industry has to transform itself to remain relevant as there are many young start-ups that are addressing issues that concern consumers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2015, with the headline 'US insurer opens innovation centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe