June 19, 2023
Amid a challenging trading environment – worsened by sluggish growth projections and stubbornly elevated inflation – many businesses are battening down the hatches to weather an impending economic storm.
But as fiscal warning signs flash and societal sirens sound, forward-thinking technology executives are doing the opposite – turning on innovator mode to ignite growth plans.
“Be bold, have an open mindset and dare to challenge the status quo,” advised Peter Tay, Chief Digital Officer at Income.
Aligned with an innovator persona – reserved for executives spearheading transformative change as a leading figure of authority – Tay is ripping up the rule book of insurance in the pursuit of developing business models for tomorrow.
Armed with a consumer mandate to evolve, Singapore-based Income is future-proofing operations as the transition to digital-first gathers momentum.
“My top priority in the next couple of years is to continue innovating new business models, launching them and scaling new propositions in regional markets,” Tay said.
Within the space of a few years, Income has rolled out a range of “unique and innovative” propositions, designed to speak to the changing needs of a consumer base seeking “flexibility, control and convenience”.
A key example includes SNACK, the first stackable micro-insurance and investment model linked to lifestyle activities, spanning the core products of Life, Accident, Critical Illness and Investment.
This is in addition to Critical Illness: Pay-Per-Trip – the first micro-insurance plan targeting Grab drivers in Southeast Asia at the time of launch – and Milesurance, a usage-based motor insurance plan based on a pay-as-you-drive model.
Plus Droplet, ‘rainsurance’ designed to protect commuters against unpredictable price hikes on ride-hailing platforms such as Grab when it rains.
“These new insurance models showcase our customer-centricity as we combine agility, technology and customer insights to better meet the needs of today’s digital-first consumers,” Tay added.
“When innovating, we also take on an iterative approach and will sunset models that don’t work to ensure that we maximise resources in the right areas and better tap opportunities to achieve viable growth.”
Shaped by an executive responsibility to innovate – and spearheaded by the launch of the company’s Digital Transformation Office (DTO) in 2017 – Tay is continually embracing a start-up culture to push the boundaries of innovation in the era of lifestyle-driven business models.
Despite such a trailblazing timetable however, Tay advocated the power of occasionally slowing down to speed up. Change is a marathon, not a sprint.
“It’s important to not be afraid to take a step back at times and recalibrate rather than charging ahead,” Tay cautioned. “To be able to take on a holistic view and zoom in and zoom out on both strategy and day-to-day operations is important to achieve balance in what’s feasible and what’s idealistic.”
Given the importance of individuals as key drivers for growth, Tay equally recognised the need to “bring people along change” while extending a “positive influence” for the betterment of the organisation.
Delivering for digital-first consumers
Established in 1970 as the only insurance co-operative to plug a social need for insurance in Singapore, Income – which now operates as a public non-listed company limited by shares – has pioneered a lifestyle-centric and data-driven approach across individual, family and business offerings.
Today, the organisation is committed at a high-level to turbocharging digital transformation plans while continually maintaining relevance with the next-generation of customers.
“Firstly, we are leveraging our on-going digital transformation journey to drive growth and future-proof the business,” Tay outlined. “Our strategic roadmap is underpinned by innovative new business models, which allows us to seize untapped markets, achieve greater speed-to market and expand our footprint overseas.
“Secondly, we are keeping our brand relevant to the next-generation of customers, building affinity with untapped younger segments and achieving lifetime value with customers.”
Realising both ambitions will rely on maximising the potential of technology as insurers rapidly adapt to new solutions and platforms to reshape business strategies.
Whether leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to disrupt conventional claim and underwriting processes or modernising legacy landscapes in the cloud to extract true value from data, this is an industry relying on innovation to overcome competitive pressures.
“As consumers become increasingly digital-first, the technology they use also advances and so must insurance to keep up,” Tay accepted.
While use cases specific to AI, blockchain, Metaverse, Internet of Things (IoT) and ChatGPT remain “currently limited”, such solutions are being explored by insurers to enhance transparency levels while meeting security, trust and traceability requirements of data shared across networks.
“The use of new technology can also help derive more meaningful data to create a hyper-personalised insurance experience, from product and services to the entire customer journey,” Tay explained. “This is where insurance is customised right down to the individual’s needs, behaviour and desires, rather than targeting based on customer segments.”
Yet the industry-wide issue of recruiting talent with the “right skill sets and mindset” who understand the innovation space remains an ongoing challenge for Tay. Given Income’s ambition to drive growth in lifestyle-embedded insurance, synergising knowledge from different industries is crucial.
“In the past, the focus is very much on depth of knowledge of a particular area of expertise but today, we are looking at the breadth of knowledge and experience,” he explained. “Within our innovation team, we have employees with diverse experiences and backgrounds from food and beverage [F&B], property, law as well as researchers.”
Another challenge hindering innovation efforts is ecosystem integration, added Tay.
“Every organisation has their own way of running their technology architecture and strategy, hence, coming to a common ground on API communication, data integrity and customer privacy is important,” he said.
Accelerating expansion plans
By adhering to strong innovation principles – despite a range of industry roadblocks – Income has launched and scaled a range of digital propositions across usage-based, lifestyle-based, subscription-based and parametric-based insurance offerings.
Through HIVE by Income – an insurance-as-a-service platform – Income is now setting the market pace in Singapore and Southeast Asia – including Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia.
The platform welcomes collaborations via two business models. The first is through ecosystem partnerships that enable partners to embed Income’s lifestyle-based insurance propositions within their digital ecosystems. The second approach is via franchise offerings designed to extend Income’s insurance innovations, insurtech capabilities and go-to-market expertise overseas.
“These includes first-in-market innovations such as Droplet, which is currently available across 14 states in Indonesia,” Tay added.
“Also, a novel ‘pay-as-you-earn’ micro-insurance on a housekeeping service app in Vietnam, JupViec, to enable domestic helpers to stack personal accident insurance with micro-premiums from as low as S$0.11 every time they complete a work shift.”
Keeping an open mind
Despite such a pioneering approach to overhauling traditional practices at Income, insurance as a sector remains hampered by the aftershocks of such seismic shifts in business models and technology offerings.
According to Accenture’s Global Disruption Index, levels of disruption in insurance increased by 200% from 2017 to 2022. Previously, the Index rose by a mere 4% from 2011 to 2016.
While 61% of insurance executives acknowledged that shifting consumer preferences have accelerated reinvention strategies, key industry roadblocks remain.
“A key challenge has been educating partners and customers on new innovative ways to engage with insurance,” Tay highlighted.
For example, Income’s lifestyle insurance approach is starting to be recognised as a proven model but at the same time, the framework is relatively novel and requires a change in mindset from stakeholders to understand the true value.
“When it comes to embedded insurance, often times, it’s contextualised,” Tay added.
For example, embedding travel insurance into the customer journey only when buying air tickets limits the many other possibilities on how Income can embed differ types of insurance.
“Could we embed Critical Illness, Term Life and Personal Accident insurance every time a customer performs a lifestyle activity such as taking public transport?” Tay asked. “Or can we embed complimentary insurance as part of a partners’ loyalty program without paying for premiums?
“We have done that with SNACK, and today, we are working with more than 100 lifestyle partners which would traditionally not work with insurers. The next big step for us is scaling overseas and helping partners in the region see the value, while balancing with customer readiness in the local markets.”
In co-creating an innovative proposition with partners, Tay also stressed the need for “clear alignment” on where the value lies.
If the priority in value lies with partners, this may result in a more expensive and less accessible product for customers. But if the value is to benefit customers at large, this can result in more accessible offerings for users and in turn, allow insurers to build more meaningful and longer-term relationships.
For example, when Income embarked on designing Critical Illness: Pay-Per-Trip in partnership with GrabInsure, the key insight received was that getting insurance protection – particularly Critical Illness – was challenging for gig economy workers due to variable income streams and hence many were unable to take up insurance to stay protected.
“This helped to shape and sharpen our innovation from a customer centric lens and Grab drivers could access affordable coverage from as low as $0.30 per completed trip, which is able to meet their needs,” Tay explained.
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