How the insurance industry has leveraged technology and other trends for growth
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Zurich Insurance’s Wilson Varghese on key healthcare trends and how the insurance industry has leveraged technology

Zurich Insurance’s Wilson Varghese on key healthcare trends and how the insurance industry has leveraged technology

Varghese, the company’s general manager and head of operations, shares the importance of consumer awareness and critical illness cover in the light of the pandemic and its impact

Wilson Varghese, GM and head of operations, Zurich insurance

How has the insurance industry performed across the board since the pandemic and post-pandemic? 
The pandemic has transformed the insurance industry with differing impact on the general insurance and life insurance segments. Within life insurance, Covid-19 was the second highest cause for life cover claims in the past year, highlighting another area where the pandemic affected the community.

Covid-19 also brought into sharp focus the importance of our health and immunity, and the need for us to make prudent lifestyle choices and investments to help reduce preventable health risks. Consumer interest in critical illness insurance solutions could potentially be derived from this place of awareness but there is no hard data confirming it.

However, there is a direct correlation between financial preparedness and health risks. Drawing from the YouGov ‘Critical Illness Survey’ that we commissioned earlier this year, we are able to understand in quite some detail how people would cope financially if faced with a severe illness.

More than six out of 10 respondents were very or extremely worried about falling victim to a serious illness in the future. That is not a very positive trend given that each individual is talking about their own health here, which you would expect them to be quite conscious of. More than half of the respondents believed they would only be able to manage financially for up to three months if faced with a serious illness, again this is their response to their own financial circumstances.

How is the insurance industry leveraging technology both in terms of operations as well as customer service?
With the aim of anticipating and meeting customer needs, a strong driver in our customer service success story has been the adoption of human-centered design powering our technology solutions for customers and partners.

Putting the customer at the heart of our design, we have fully enabled an end-to-end digital advice journey, digital onboarding process, and an omni-channel solution to managing their policy changes online through their mobile or connected devices. For instance, we introduced tele-underwriting for mortgage protection policies and a digital solution that underwrites almost half of our new business portfolio. This provides customers with a seamless, engaging and intuitive journey that is also sustainable. Technology is also being leveraged in the flow of information between our partners, providers, and even the regulator.

What are some of the key health trends (telemedicine, increase in preference for holistic medicine, etc.) that have impacted the insurance industry in the UAE?
Technology adoption skyrocketed during the pandemic, delivering not just new models of work, but also changing how we consume information. This also extends to healthcare information. Concepts such as telemedicine that were a novelty pre-pandemic have now become a norm.

Digital transformation across industries has resulted in more information-seeking customers and higher expectations of service. People today are increasingly aware that they can gain more control of their health and well-being, the earlier they take action.  We are seeing more customers keen on improving their quality of life and preventing the onset of lifestyle diseases.

How do you see the insurance industry in the UAE evolving in the coming years particularly with regulations getting more stringent?
The latest developments and initiatives by the government and policymakers are concrete steps toward improving the business potential and overall quality of life for the community. For example, businesses in the UAE are today attracting the world’s best talent due to the new visa measures.

Other steps such as the end-of-service benefits scheme and unemployment benefits for expats will definitely keep the talent here for the long-term, also supporting industries such as the insurance sector.  As the market landscape evolves and new regulation and initiatives are introduced, my belief is that changes will be based on active dialogue and data with the aim to benefit the community which in turn will expand the market as trust and confidence increase.

Where do you see the challenges and opportunities in the critical insurance and life insurance, critical illness and life insurance policies in the UAE?
There continues to be challenges when it comes to awareness and education.  There is a clear distinction between medical insurance and critical illness protection offered by life insurers, but community-wide awareness of associated benefits needs to increase. Commonly, people think that if they have medical insurance then they don’t need critical illness protection – when in fact they serve quite different purposes.  For example, Your medical insurance is often tied to your employment and you may not have appropriate cover if you are between jobs, a critical illness solution pays you the cover amount if you are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness during the term of the policy. This enables you to get the best specialist treatment you need without compromising due to the limitations of your medical insurance.

At an innovation level, there are continued opportunities in the insurance industry to do more to educate, simplify our offerings and to have empathetic and ‘human’ conversations with customers.

Finally, there is more we can do to improve the trust people have in the industry in general. That’s why our annual benefits paid report is important; it serves to share information transparently on how many claims we pay, the quantum, claims payout service levels etc., so that people can act with confidence to protect themselves and their loved ones.

How has Zurich Insurance, particularly your division, performed in 2021 and the Q1 2022?
The year 2021 was one of our strongest financial years ever. Our success can largely be attributed to a clear customer focus, simplification, investment in digitisation and prudent risk management. In the region, we also did exceedingly well, meeting our customer satisfaction, employee experience and financial targets for the year. This trend is continuing into 2022 so far.

Another example of our growing role is in our work as the administrator of the DIFC Employee Workplace Savings (DEWS) scheme, helping reshape the employee benefits landscape for this country.

Since July this year, it has expanded to include the expatriate employees of Dubai government entities.

In terms of challenges, the past two years have also been humbling and provided considerable insights and learning experiences, allowing us to navigate a fast-evolving landscape and turn to innovation to identify new solutions and products to meet our customers’ developing needs.

Any new products that you’ve introduced?
Our Critical Illness Protection offering is a new product to this market, one that was co-created by our community.  It does away with the need to also purchase life insurance as a mandatory benefit and meets the bespoke needs of people with no dependents or life cover needs, but accounts for those who do need a safety net for an unforeseen critical health problem that would impact their income and finances. Other direct-to-consumer products introduced recently includes YourLife that is an instant life insurance solution without the need for a medical.  YourCare is a critical illness insurance solution on the same lines. Fully digitised, these products can be purchased online with coverage starting from just Dhs3 per day, ensuring that critical illness protection and life cover are more accessible than ever.

How is the insurance sector building trust and transparency among customers?
The most fundamental way to ensure trust is by honouring our promise of protecting customers and their loved ones in critical times and paying claims while providing a great experience. Second, as insurers, we must also continue to simplify our offerings and elevate the customer experience.

Financial advisors play a critical role in helping customers identify their protection and investment needs and providing them with the right advice and regular reviews. There’s a critical need for high quality and professional financial advice to build trust.

Finally, part of building trust is also self-reporting and delivering insights that can ensure collaborative builds from other industry participants.  An example is our Customer Benefits Paid Report based on living and life cover benefits recently released in its seventh edition and live on our website.  With this report, we seek to raise awareness about the need for life insurance and critical illness protection to ensure greater financial preparedness and security.

From our experience of supporting more than 230,000 customers across the Middle East region and managing a cover of $58bn, we would like to believe that our reports are a barometer of providing an understanding of health risks faced by the community, supporting governments, healthcare providers and the wider population with rich and tangible insights.

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