A look back at 2021

QBE Singapore CEO Ronak Shah shares the lessons learned from the pandemic's sophomore year

A look back at 2021

Insurance News

By Gabriel Olano

Like the year before it, 2021 has been a turbulent year, and the insurance industry has not been spared by the ups and downs. The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines spurred hope in the global economy, but the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants have introduced a huge dose of uncertainty.

Insurance Business caught up with Ronak Shah (pictured above), CEO of QBE Insurance Singapore, to discuss how the Singapore insurance industry and QBE have fared over the past year, as well as his expectations and predictions for the near future.

Insurance Business: 2021 is the second year we’ve been dealing with the pandemic. How has it changed for the insurance industry compared to the previous year?

Ronak Shah: The past year has reemphasised the need for investments in digital technologies. We have pushed for a stronger focus on flexible work systems and enhanced our online touchpoints with clients and partners to ensure swift and accurate provision of insurance to our insureds. We have begun to see more confidence return to businesses and the economy in general.

Logistical delays brought on by the pandemic and ongoing climate change issues have also affected the construction, financial and professional lines, marine hull, and large, complex property accounts and markets – particularly those with material exposure to natural catastrophe events and have seen a contraction of available capacity.

With the pandemic stretching into the second year, we have been seeing more complex risks emerge, and demand for more dedicated risk management solutions required across product lines such as the above. In the coming year, we will continue to orientate our business towards meeting these risks with more tailored solutions.

IB: What initiatives has QBE launched to support its employees and customers in the past year?

RS: Across the board, we have had to navigate new expectations and grapple with the work-from-home (WFH) paradigm. It was no different for us as we began transitioning our places of work to the home and taking a deeper look into the nuances of what our employees needed to adjust to remote working arrangements for the long-term, such as more flexible work policies.

This year, we launched a hybrid WFH model which gives our people the option to telecommute up to two days in a week, because we wanted to create an environment where they could comfortably balance working arrangements between the office and home without compromising on their health and work commitments.

On the customer side, strengthening our digital strategy and improving service delivery has been our main focus. This is part of our firm’s digitalisation roadmap that we outlined from 2020 and entailed building a seamless partner and customer portal to facilitate end-to-end transactions and simplify claims services.

We have been dedicating efforts around strengthening our key business lines across various markets, such as marine, liability, property, workers compensation and extended warranty insurance and applying a digital lens across these sectors. Going into 2022, we will continue to build on our digital capabilities and strengthen trust among our clients and partners. We will also continue to be in the negotiated specialty business which has served our clients and business partners for decades. We will channel our efforts towards improving our touchpoints with our clients, showcasing our thought leadership and driving the right value proposition in this complex space.

IB: Aside from COVID-19, what will be the main topics of interest for the insurance industry for 2022?

RS: One major topic would undoubtedly be sustainable investments/ESG investments and initiatives, particularly with rising attention on climate change issues in recent times. This is an area we are keen to focus our efforts on, particularly in identifying risks and devising solutions to help businesses implement more eco-friendly operations and technologies, invest in more carbon-neutral or zero-carbon assets, and advising them in climate-friendly business decisions.

As businesses take on more digital investments, we see a continued strong push in bolstering digital innovation and analytics and adopting AI and machine learning technologies across our underwriting and products and services to provide more customer-centric product solutions and delivery in a time when face-to-face communications is reduced. The continued push for improvements in digital capability, efficiency and a ramp up of value adds to accommodate customers’ increasing demands and requirements will remain key in 2022.

IB: Looking back at the past two years, what do you think QBE and the rest of the industry should have done differently?

RS: It may be easy to point out what industries should have done in hindsight, but realistically speaking, it would have been difficult for the industry to take similar steps without the context of the past two years. However, the past two years have indeed shown that business protection should not be put on the back burner and that there’s still more we need to do to drive this message.

We’ve come to realise that more awareness around risk mitigation and the various types of comprehensive coverage is needed as risks grow more complex and specific. For insurers, this means changing the way we assess risks and refining and personalising products and solutions according to what best meets our customers’ needs. This also means having a dedicated and connected network where everything sits on a single platform to make it simple and convenient for customers to access our products and complete the claims process digitally. This is something we are actively building up through our online insurance platform, Qnect, that enables agents and brokers to transact insurance directly with us, and more importantly, allows intermediaries to address customers’ insurance needs effectively.

Businesses were already on track to digitalise, which the pandemic helped accelerate. The pandemic did expose businesses to the fragility of the economy and debilitating effects on long-term sustainability, especially when tacked with ongoing challenges such as climate change. With the context of the pandemic and its resulting effects in mind, we need to show customers and clients why and how digitalisation and protection go hand-in-hand, and for action to be taken proactively, rather than reactively.

IB: What changes do you predict insurers will make in their business in the near future?

RS: We expect to see an agile, customer-focused, efficiency-driven, solution-oriented industry going forward as a result of the pandemic.

With more complex and specific risks emerging, we have seen customers shifting away from choosing policies and insurers based on the brand name, to more on the types of products and services they can deliver. This means insurers will need to work harder to tailor their solutions based on evolving customer needs.

In addition, the pandemic has led to a growing preference by customers to look to more local and regionally-based insurers over international markets for various solutions – whether for property and casualty risks, financial lines, or natural catastrophes. Hence, we do see the industry ramping up expertise in and knowledge of local markets to better understand their customers’ pain points and underwrite risks more accurately. We also see a drive towards truly offering industry specific end-to-end solutions to address a client’s overall risk and insurance needs. Insurers will need to drive innovation, engage customers better and be creative enough to focus on bespoke solutions for various industries.

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