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August 16, 2016

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Insurer taps digitalization to engage customers

THE connecting power of the Internet is adding a human touch to the policy of life insurers, making it no longer just about numbers but also personal engagement with customers.

Manulife-Sinochem, as a customer-focused company, finds itself at the forefront of this digitalization campaign sweeping the whole insurance sector. And it views this movement as critical as a “corner overtaking.”

“In a traditional insurance industry, a customer needs to answer dozens of questions and sign a number of documents before purchase. The process is tedious and, undoubtedly, needs to be streamlined,” said Zhang Kai, President and CEO of Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance, a joint venture between Canada-based Manulife and Sinochem since 1996.

The company has recently upgraded its digital tools to further streamline its operation with an online channel it built in 2012.

Back then, most of the well established insurers still held a wait-and-see approach toward digitalization. Because of a steady market demand for risk management, they had very little motivation to initiate a change. But soon, how an insurance product is offered may become as important as the product itself, especially for an increasingly digitally active group of potential customers in China.

According to China Internet Network Information Center, there were 688 million netizens in the country by the end of last year, equivalent to more than half of its population, and 200 to 300 million of them had tried online financial services. And this permeating Internet culture is what new generations will be born into and grow up with.

“Our strategy is to innovate at every customer touch point, and keep improving and optimizing our processes,” Zhang said. “Every strategy starts from our customers. When purchase decisions are not only made on product options, but also with a deep and profound recognition of our brand, our strategic transformation is completed.”

To streamline procedures and enhance customer experience, Manulife-Sinochem has been stepping up its online presence in both insurance purchase and claim over the past two years.

In April, its self-service platform for insurance claim was set up on China’s popular social media WeChat, where the company has long been running a service for customers to check their accounts anytime, anywhere. And last month, a customer mail and document platform was launched to reinforce efficient and paperless communications.

Insurance agents, the foot soldiers of any insurance business expansion in the physical world, are not bearing the brunt of this digital storm, but becoming its beneficiaries.

Over the past two years, Manulife-Sinochem came up with new plans every quarter for agents to digitalize their business development, making the two working forces highly complementary.

E-POS, a one-stop sales and service platform running on iPad, relieves the pressure of endless paperwork and makes it easier to access all the customer data.

“Through advanced data analytics of customers and listening carefully to their needs, the company can provide truly individualized and tailored services,” said Zhang.

Digitalization is also part of the green operation as the company is conscious of reducing papers, printing and energy in a bid to improve work effectiveness and efficiency.

It started to offer e-contract, e-welcome letter, e-statement and WeChat claims as alternatives to customers.

The company runs the “We” winter clothes donation program to promote a green sharing economy in local communities. The practice was nominated for Shanghai Daily’s CSR Excellence Award 2016.

In 50 cities where the company is present, 4,394 employees, agents, and partners gathered 40,000 clothes and raised 620,000 yuan (US$98,410) for 20,000 unprivileged kids in remote mountainous areas. The campaign has drawn attention from 20 million people both online and offline.

No matter how digitalized an insurance company becomes, it is still looking forward to making a real-world impact.


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