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Get To Know Ho Lee Yen, AIA Singapore’s Chief Customer & Marketing Officer

AIA Singapore remains committed to building on our 100-year journey to touch and protect lives for many more generations to come.

Lee Yen, AIA is the largest public listed pan-Asian life insurance group.  For the sake of some of our readers who are not too familiar with the history of AIA, can you please walk us through the background of the organisation.

2019 is a special year for AIA, as we’re celebrating 100 years in Asia. Since the start of our business in Shanghai in 1919, AIA has expanded footprint across 18 markets1 in Asia, including Singapore which was established in 1931. At the time of AIA Group’s debut on the Main Board of The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong on 29 October 2010, it was the world’s third-largest IPO in history. Having served millions of individuals and generations of families for the past century, we understand how best to support them in ensuring good health and financial security for every stage in life.

We place our customers at the heart of everything we do, to go beyond the traditional insurance model to meet the health and financial needs of our customers. As their needs and demands evolve, we continuously transform ourselves to adapt to meet these needs. We help them plan ahead to ensure that they are protected financially while empowering them to lead healthier, longer, better lives so that they can celebrate more moments of joy with their family.

This promise drives our team of staff and financial services consultants/ insurance representatives to deliver our best every day in our attempt to put our customers first so that we can be Singapore’s pre-eminent life insurer, recognised for our personalised service and best practices.

AIA Singapore has been around for as long as I can remember.  It is no doubt that times have changed and people are much more aware of the importance of insurance policies in their lives.  My question is, how has this perception changed over the years?  Also in your opinion, what triggers this change?

The life insurance industry has evolved tremendously, and consumers’ perception has changed from viewing insurance policies as a luxury to a necessity in order to protect their livelihoods. Life insurers play a more integral role in customers’ life today, from supporting children education to planning for their retirement, allowing us to develop stronger relationships with them along the way. It’s not just about selling insurance; it’s about journeying with our customers through good and bad times, so we can give them peace of mind and protecting their future.

Here are the key factors that contributed to this shift in perception:

The global economy is growing, but so are the uncertainties. Health issues are on the rise, and so are the costs of healthcare. Consumers today live more comfortable lives than our ancestors, but we’re also feeling greater pressure from the rising cost of living and economic volatility. Singapore, in particular, is facing added pressure when it comes to supporting the ageing population. All key stakeholders of the insurance industry, including governmental bodies, have been working tirelessly to help Singaporeans improve their financial literacy, from insurance and investing to retirement planning, so they can better guard themselves against life’s uncertainties.

Rising affluence and the growing middle-class population also necessitates the need for insurance. As income rises, financial liabilities also add up. This trend drives the demand for financial services that can grow and protect consumers’ wealth and lifestyle.

Additionally, the digital revolution has also dramatically changed the way insurers do business. Customers, today, expect information right at their fingertips, from researching products to inform purchasing decisions or getting access to services 24/7. The business environment is also evolving rapidly, becoming more advanced and competitive with a digitally inclined community. As technology continues to accelerate, insurers need to shift towards developing more tailored policies and solutions to remain competitive.

In anticipation of these challenges, AIA Singapore took a long view to go beyond the transactional business model in order to provide more customer-centric products and services.

To illustrate, our comprehensive healthcare proposition places a strong emphasis on encouraging healthier lifestyles and preventive care, as it is in our best interest to be there for our customers to make real positive changes to their health, beyond just providing pay-outs in tough times.

  • This is why we introduced initiatives like AIA Vitality – the first-in-market comprehensive wellness programme that incentivises individuals for making healthier lifestyle choices, such as rewarding them with insurance premiums discounts when they improve their Vitality Status. To date, AIA Vitality members in Singapore have taken more than 178 billion steps!
  • We support the AIA Vitality programme with other health-centric activities such as our AIA Vitality Weekly Challenge, as well as lifestyle events like FitnessFest by AIA and the AIA Glow Festival which is taking place this 25 May at Sentosa (https://glowfestival.sg/). These efforts encourage more people to get healthy by making exercising fun and creating occasions for families and friends to get together amid their busy schedules.
  • Making healthy living a culture and lifestyle norm is a win-win situation for all – Singaporeans will be able to enjoy their later years in continued good health without being financially burdened, and this also reduces claims costs for both private and public insurance, ensuring continued affordability and access to medical insurance and quality healthcare.

To cater to the digital community as well as to support AIA’s business transformation, AIA Singapore has been heavily investing in digitalisation to deliver the best customer experiences, such as leveraging technology and big data to make it more convenient and fuss-free for customers to bridge their protection gaps. While we are focused on high tech pursuits, we are equally focused on maintaining high personal touch and care that is crucial to enhancing customer service experience and building long term relationships with our customers.

AIA has done amazing branding and marketing campaigns over the years.  In your opinion, which is more crucial – marketing, branding or both?  Why?

Both branding and marketing are crucial, and it’s important that both work hand in hand in order to succeed.

Branding helps to shape how our customers and the community think of the company; how they can best relate to a brand they want to be associated with. Consistently delivering a clear brand promise is essential to creating a successful and memorable brand. Customers would prefer to associate with brands that they can relate to in terms of their shared purpose and values, as well as a brand they can trust.

On the other hand, marketing is all about taking that brand promise to our customers. The marketing process involves identifying and understanding the target customer, all the way to conceptualising a product/solution that truly meets their needs. This is then followed by launching the product/solution to customers and the community by tapping onto below-the-line and above-the-line promotional efforts. The role of marketing is especially important in the insurance industry, as there’s a lot of potential for confusion when it comes to understanding insurance products that are available in the market. Hence, marketing plays a crucial role in helping customers choose policies that best suit their needs and financial goals.

I remember reading an article in the Financial Times some time ago about how insurers want to tap into the mass appeal of sports, which I think is brilliant and I also heard through the grapevine, you are the person responsible for AIA / Sports initiatives.  Can tell us when the idea first started?

AIA has been Tottenham Hotspur official shirt partner since 2013 and the contract has since been extended through to the 2021 – 2022 Premier League season.  Firstly, why Tottenham Hotspur and how has the sponsorship help raise awareness on the importance of insurance for the last six years?

Active participation in sport plays a vital role in promoting a healthy lifestyle. More than a game, our shared love for sports is an incredibly powerful platform that connects people from all walks of life and conveys the positive values of teamwork, discipline, and sportsmanship to positively impact people’s lives.

AIA is proud to be the Global Principal Partner of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (Spurs) since 2013. Supporting the beloved Club is a natural choice for us, as Tottenham Hotspur is one of the top-ranked teams in the English Premier League with millions of fans in Asia.

Our shared values of empowering the lives of the communities we’re engaged in making our sponsorship with Spurs even more meaningful. To illustrate, we recently worked together with Spurs as well as our very own football legend Nazri Nasir from Singapore to launch AIA Mission: Spurs – Celebrating Courage Over Adversity, a campaign to inspire Singaporeans to overcome adversity and take charge of their health and future. As part of the campaign, we launched a social media contest to search for passionate Spurs fans in Singapore who overcame life’s challenges and have since adopted a healthy and active lifestyle.

On a local level, AIA Singapore also partnered the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) this year to be the new title sponsor of Singapore’s only professional sports league, which is now known as the AIA Singapore Premier League (SPL).

Through these partnerships, we hope to connect with Singaporeans and encourage them to stay active and healthy; and advocate the importance of financial and retirement planning.

Talking about Tottenham Hotspur, one of their legends, Teddy Sheringham made an appearance on AIA’s recent video, which we will be featuring at the end of this interview.  Can you tell us a little bit about this campaign with Sheringham?

We recently got football legend Teddy Sheringham to answer 10 quick questions about Spurs, football, and Singapore while showing off his renowned football skills around Sentosa – when he was in Singapore in March for the launch of the 2019 International Champions Cup (ICC) Singapore presented by AIA.

We’re excited to be the first and only presenting sponsor of the ICC throughout its history, and more so this year as it’s our Centennial year where the 2019 edition will return to Singapore in July. Two teams from each of England and Italy’s top leagues – the Premier League and the Serie A – will square off at the National Stadium, promising local football fans a truly exciting and spectacular treat!

Teddy Sheringham is a club legend with Tottenham Hotspur with a 24-year professional career in football. The veteran footballer is known for proving that age is no obstacle to achieving your hopes and dreams. Today, Teddy remains the oldest Premier League goalscorer of all time. His tireless commitment and unwavering love for the game won the hearts of millions throughout his career.

These initiatives provide us with opportunities to connect with Singaporeans on a more relatable level so we can encourage them to stay active and healthy, and advocate the importance of being financially prepared against unfortunate and unpredictable events. We also hope to inspire more young talents with a passion for sports and build a legacy for Singapore football through these partnerships and initiatives. More importantly, we want to encourage more people – young or old – to get active and live healthier, longer, better lives.

In conjunction with AIA’s 100 years anniversary in Asia, there will be a couple more pretty exciting football-related and health and wellness initiatives in Singapore. Perhaps you want to share with Marketing In Asia readers what they are, Lee Yen.

Absolutely! There’s going to be a lot of initiatives and events to look forward to this Centennial year.

AIA Football Kids Camp

Earlier I mentioned the 2019 ICC Singapore presented by AIA, which will be taking place this July 20 and 21, 2019. Ahead of the ICC, Spurs legend Teddy Sheringham, together with Spurs’ Global Development coaches will be back in Singapore for the AIA Football Kids Camp 2019 happening from June 11 – 12, 2019.

AIA Football Kids Camp is for children 6 – 12 to go through professional football clinics with Spurs coaches, supported by coaches from Football Association of Singapore. Teddy and the coaches will be on the hunt to select those with potential to:

  • be selected to become kid mascots for the upcoming 2019 ICC Singapore matches, where the kids will be paired up with a football star from one of the four football clubs to walk down the pitch!
  • go for a more rigorous football training programme at an elite training camp in Phuket later in the year to hone their skills

Registration is now open online on AIA100.com.sg until 2 June 2019 (or when all slots are filled, whichever is earlier). Not forgetting doing our part for the community, participation fees for the kids camp will go towards AIA Centennial Fund to support fundraising initiatives for our adopted charity, the Children’s Wishing Well (CWW).

AIA Glow Festival

While the kids have the AIA Football Kids Camp, the adults had AIA Glow Festival which just took place over the weekend, 25 May, 2019 at Sentosa Island. AIA Glow Festival comprised of four main highlights: Run, Yoga, Music and Feast – with the aim of letting one Reset, Refresh and Recharge.
People were unwinding their way from yoga for all levels by international yoga stars Marysia Do and Laura Kasperzak, enjoyed amazing live performances from multi-award-winning music acts – Lost Frequencies, Rudimental and Nina Nesbitt, participated in a 5km charity fun run, watched their favourite chefs and restaurants create wholesome and healthy twists on festival bites. Also for every Glow-getters who completed the 5KM run, AIA donated S$10 to the AIA Centennial Fund, cap at S$100,000! AIA Customers, Staff and representatives of AIA Singapore got to enjoy the festival at an exclusive rate of $64.50 (usual $99) for the All-Day Pass, by redeeming a promo code.

AIA Family Fest

AIA Family Fest is coming up this August during the National Day weekend, which creates more opportunities for our AIA policyholders, their families as well as the community to spend quality time together with their loved ones, through enjoyable and enriching activities. Look out for details of the event which will be announced very soon on AIA website and social media channels.

You are a very seasoned actuary who has successfully achieved significant growth over the years for and with AIA.  I am curious and I am very sure our readers are too; can you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thank you so much for your kind words. I’ve been in the life insurance industry for more than 20 years, with the past 8 years at AIA Singapore. At AIA Singapore, I lead the team in developing innovative solutions, strengthening AIA’s proposition to customers to ensure local relevance, and harmonising customer and marketing initiatives through multiple distribution channels. I also spearhead brand equity building for AIA through PR, Social, CSR and partnerships.

The culture at AIA Singapore played a huge role in driving my personal and my team’s long-term commitment to investing in the health and progress of families and individuals in Singapore. At AIA Singapore, our core values of keeping our customers at the heart of everything we do, and enabling everyone to live healthier, longer, better lives, translates to everything that we do, from the way we work to the way we interact with each other. When work gets too hectic, we always remind ourselves that encouraging healthier, longer, better lives needs to be a priority internally at AIA Singapore first and foremost. It’s not just about taking good care of our customers’ physical and mental well-being, but our teams’ as well.

Our culture is also what’s driving the development of innovative products and services: like the award-winning AIA Vitality, which allowed us to be the first insurer to pay policyholders as they get healthier.

Earlier I also mentioned AIA Singapore’s move to go beyond the traditional insurance model to build long term relationships with customers – we have the same mindset when it comes to strengthening our company culture and nurturing the next generation of talents. I am passionate about pushing the culture of mentorship forward as well, so we can continue to set a strong foundation for growth overall – both on an individual as well as corporate level. 

It has been a real pleasure, Lee Yen.  Any parting words?

Thank you so much for providing us with a platform to share our health and football initiatives with your readers.

At AIA Singapore, our commitment has always been about putting customers at the heart of everything we do. We are in the people business, and we are here for the long term. It is with this commitment that led to our brand promise of enabling healthier, longer, better lives, propelling us to launch innovative solutions that truly supports their physical and financial wellbeing. As the business environment and customers’ needs continue to evolve, AIA Singapore remains committed to building on our 100-year journey to touch and protect lives for many more generations to come.

1  Wholly-owned branches and subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Macau, Brunei, Cambodia, a 97 per cent subsidiary in Sri Lanka, a 49 per cent joint venture in India and a representative office in Myanmar.

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Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen

Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen is the Marketing In Asia's Editor for Singapore. She is also a certified Image Branding & Lifestyle Consultant. Born in Singapore and blessed to have lived in a couple of other amazing cities in the world, Anjalika is currently expatriating in Kuala Lumpur. Follow her on LinkedIn and Instagram. You may also reach her by email at anjalika@marketinginasia.com.

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