One of the myriad of changes the COVID-19 outbreak has influenced is a shift in the insurance industry to become more customer-centric, according to a senior leader in the health insurance sector.
Dr Hak Hong Soo (pictured), regional head of health at Generali Asia, said that COVID-19 has caused three significant changes in the way consumers think about health and wellness, namely: transition in focus from treatment to prevention; personal lifestyle changes; and the increase in demand for healthcare products and services.
“The first shift is the transition from treatment to prevention,” he said. “We are seeing this in the priority being given to practical prevention methods like handwashing, mask wearing, and social distancing. Without a readily available vaccine, people are being forced to think about their health proactively, in terms of prevention, as opposed to reactively, in terms of treatment.”
The second shift he noted has been in consumer lifestyle changes. Increases in healthy eating, home cooking, online wellness coaching, e-commerce, and the delivery of pharmaceuticals have been seen.
“Additionally, the trend of telehealth is accelerating at a remarkable pace and is on track to permanently change the way doctors and patients interact,” he said. “Although much work is yet to be done to outfit currently offline healthcare facilities with telemedicine capabilities, the promise of increasing access to quality health services through digital means is encouraging.”
Meanwhile, the third shift is in the demand for healthcare products and services, including health insurance, along with healthcare delivery innovations. The pandemic has made a huge impact on people in terms of their financial, physical, and social health – underscoring the importance of having adequate life and health insurance protection.
According to Soo, this can be seen in mainland China, where the first two months of 2020 saw more health insurance policy purchases than the same period in 2019, despite the widespread economic impact of COVID-19.
“Given the resilience in demand for healthcare and insurance protection, insurers are being challenged to adapt their means of outreach to customers,” Soo said. “The transformation of existing sales channels and service support networks is essential, especially during times of crisis. At Generali, being closer to customers means connecting and interacting with them through the channels they are most comfortable with.”
Shift in paradigm
Soo mentioned another notable trend in Asia’s health insurance market, which is a shift from “medi-care” to “well-care”. This shift is driven by the impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
“Customers are interested not only in obtaining adequate health insurance protection for when they are sick, but also in support for living a healthier lifestyle through the development of good habits,” he said. “This is being reflected in insurance products that incentivise healthy living. One example of this is Generali’s Vitality program, which we have rolled out in Europe.”
Related to this is the increase in cross-industry collaboration. According to Soo, the establishment of ecosystems that create shared value is helping insurers do more for their customers. This, in turn, allows industry players to be more proactive in designing personalised products and bundling them with relevant healthcare support services to better meet customers’ needs.
In parallel, there is also an increase in customer touchpoints. Soo mentioned that insurers are developing more ways to connect with their customers. These, as part of the “well-care” trend, increase insurers’ abilities to listen to their customers and come to a better understanding of their needs throughout the healthcare journey.
“This can be seen in the variety of digital means being adopted for this purpose, especially mobile applications,” he said. “Net promoter score (NPS) metrics are also on the rise among insurance companies to assess customer satisfaction and loyalty.”
Soo summarised these trends as health insurance transitioning from a single product to a holistic solution. Insurers are changing their mindsets and approach, seeing their customers’ health and wellness as a journey that covers everything from prevention and diagnosis to treatment and post-recovery.
According to Soo, Generali has responded to these trends by embracing them and embedding health service offerings into its strategic planning.
“We believe strongly in being health partners for our customers and providing them with tailored services across each stage of their healthcare journey,” he said. “Generali Asia has established a supportive regional roadmap that aligns all our Asia business units toward offering health and wellness services to our customers.”
These partnerships include a regional deal with Tictrac, a health and wellness platform service provider. It will be first launched in the Philippines before being rolled out to other markets in the region.
“The outlook for the industry in Asia is dynamic,” Soo said. “Although COVID-19 has ushered in unprecedented uncertainty, it hasn’t removed the need for innovations in the provision of health insurance. In many ways, it has accelerated the development of new solutions and challenged insurers to be ever more customer-centric.
“For Generali, being customer-centric means providing generous support throughout its distribution channels. Generali has also been proactively reaching out to customers to ensure their coverage is adequate and appropriate, and to offer extended free COVID-19 benefits during the crisis.
“Our commitment to providing innovative health solutions, supported by robust technology and a dynamic ecosystem, is key for Generali Asia to continue journeying as a lifetime partner to our customers.”