When Mr Harold Ng started out in the insurance industry with Great Eastern in 1990, he did not imagine that he would still be working in the same sector - and in the same organisation - after 31 years.
Neither did he know that one day, two of his three daughters would become financial representatives with the company.
But the sisters, who often followed their father on client visits during the school holidays, are certain that they have made the right move. Growing up, they saw how insurance provides a lifeline for customers impacted by death or critical illness, stranded during travel, or those who need assistance in numerous ways.
"The joy on my father's face when he met customers, how he advised them according to their needs and the way they appreciated him - all these made me feel that this job has a meaningful purpose," says Ms Rachel Ng, 24, who has a degree in banking and finance.
Ms Ruth Ng, who is 27 and has a degree in communications and new media, recalls how her father turned an initially sceptical customer into a friend.
Mr Ng had met the customer through a referral and, over time, was able to earn her trust with his advice and assistance. After she was diagnosed with lung cancer, he administered her critical illness claims to defray living expenses, and helped with the nomination of her death benefit to her family. Once a difficult customer, she eventually became friends with Mr Ng and was very appreciative of his dedicated service until she passed away.
The most important lesson the sisters have learnt from their father is empathy: Always listen to the customers and understand their needs, so that you can help them find the right solutions.
"During Covid-19, many customers were concerned about losing income so they mostly talked about cash flow. It's important to help them see that insurance isn't just about protection planning but can help meet their other needs as well," says Mr Ng, a senior director with Great Eastern.
"There are other aspects to it such as having an endowment policy as part of a reserve for rainy days and even investments for wealth accumulation, which the younger customers are savvy about. There's also estate planning to consider down the road."
Just as people have to weather life changes, the insurance industry has not escaped the winds of change, with 113-year-old Great Eastern - the most established life insurance group in Singapore and Malaysia - keeping pace with technological advancements and challenges such as the pandemic to support its customers' needs.
This year, it has rolled out Covid-19-related support initiatives to provide hospital cash benefits for vaccinated Singapore residents who are hospitalised in Singapore or overseas due to the virus, and also for customers and their immediate family members who were hospitalised due to side effects from inoculation.
Great Eastern also donated close to $500,000 to the Community Chest to support the Courage Fund and its beneficiaries last year.
Digital transformation of the insurance sector
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in many sectors, including insurance. Even before Covid-19 struck last year, Great Eastern had already pivoted to digital platforms.
In 2019, it launched GreatAdvice, a first-of-its-kind financial planning tool that allows customers to map out their financial journey with interactive graphics.
Recalls 60-year-old Mr Ng: "In the past, I had to handle a lot of forms, from filling in new applications to changing plans for clients. I had to meet them face to face just to collect one signature. Today, technology has made things easier and more efficient for everyone."
As a result, during the circuit breaker last year from April to June, Great Eastern was not caught out by the movement curbs. From their homes, customers could purchase insurance policies online and opt for tele-advisory services via video conferencing. Customers have 24/7 access to their policy information and can update their particulars and make service requests through an online portal and mobile app.
All these helped to simplify administrative processes and shorten response times, leading to improved customer service.
Says Ms Ruth Ng: "This was all very new to us then, but the company was very prompt in rolling out initiatives to help us to transit into the new normal of working remotely and having online client meetings seamlessly."
A veteran in the industry, Mr Ng is also keeping up with the times. From the old ways of prospecting and recruitment, he has since picked up from his daughters and younger colleagues the new and innovative ways to conduct business, such as through digital marketing.
"There is a DNA of innovation that inspires me to continue growing. The management is consistently open to feedback so there is a culture that encourages sharing, learning and collaboration. I've grown with Great Eastern, and it has become a second family to me."
Specialised training to meet changing consumer needs
Even as the industry has evolved, Ms Ruth Ng is upfront about the old stereotypes she still has to debunk as a financial representative.
"There is still a negative perception about the industry, and insurance agents as being just salespersons. However, the work we do involves a lot more advisory than sales, and customers are at the heart of the business," she says.
In response to this generation's greater awareness of financial planning and the need for holistic insurance solutions, Great Eastern has grown its financial representative network to over 5,000-strong to meet the changing landscape and now serves over two million customers in Singapore.
Mr Patrick Peck, managing director of Regional Agency, Financial Advisory and Bancassurance, explains: "Financial planning should be done holistically and for the long term, taking into account both protection as well as wealth creation and management solutions. While we are fully digitally enabled, we value the personal touch and the trust built between our financial representatives and customers."
Great Eastern empowers its financial representatives by continually coming up with relevant products, and training and development programmes to reskill and upskill. Its structured training roadmap includes virtual classroom training and webinars to cover areas such as product knowledge, systems and process knowledge, as well as soft skills and sales modules.
Helmed by veteran trainers and partners, its in-house training academy Centre for Excellence delivers programmes mapped to the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore's Skills Framework for Financial Services.
"I believe the next generation of insurance is going to be transformative as we welcome more digital ways of prospecting and advisory, and Great Eastern is at the forefront of that with robust resources and support," says Ms Ruth Ng.
She cites new trends in the industry, such as the Great Eastern mobile app and Great Eastern Rewards app - offering dining, shopping and entertainment deals - that are well received by younger customers.
As a Gen Z herself, Ms Rachel Ng also sees the wealth of opportunities that can be tapped in this new digital age: "I hope to leverage these digital means to reach out to more people and help them systematically work towards their financial and life goals."