In the era of digital insurance, the key is to be customer-centric, said experts at the TechNode Global ORIGIN 2020 conference Wednesday. To build products which are affordable, accessible, and relevant to consumers, new insurance players must leverage data. 

Traditional products are designed to be sold directly to customers, but being digital allows digital insurance players to question some of the first principles of the industry, said Max Tiong, head of transformation at Singapore composite insurer NTUC Income. 

“Customers in Singapore are seeking new ways to engage insurance, but they have no idea how and what to do. The ball is in our court to experiment and pull certain levers to create new concepts and products,” he said in a panel discussion moderated by Kayvon Deldar, program director, insurtech and fintech (Singapore), at Plug & Play Tech Centre.

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Incumbents are seeking partnerships with insurtech startups and other digital insurance providers for a variety of reasons. Typically, they want to identify customers’ pain points and overcome a vexing problem. “Partnerships accelerate problem solving,” said Cleosent Randing, founder and CEO of Indonesia-based insurtech startup PasarPolis. Partners can tap into each other’s expertise to identify customers’ needs and build relevant products, he added.

Chinese phone and gadget giant Xiaomi is part of PasarPolis’ $54 million series B round announced in September. The insurtech startup is used to pulling in big-name investors after luring Tokopedia, Traveloka, and Gojek’s VC arm into its 2018 series A investment.

“When it comes to choosing a partner, we love to work with one who possesses high agility and the ability to turn around products quickly. We need to partner with the right digital platform and not get too caught up with long conversations,” said Tiong. He cited a partnership example with Southeast Asia used car marketplace Carro, which took just three to four months to launch a usage-based motor insurance policy under which customers will benefit from insurance savings via subscription credits based on how much they drive.

Randing said the pandemic has quickened the pace of digital transformation. “Covid-19 is the chief digital officer of Indonesia, driving increased usage of smartphones and wider access to fast speed internet across the country.”

With the proliferation of remote work and distance education driving new internet users, Randing said the phenomenon presents a great opportunity for improved financial inclusivity. “We can now leverage this opportunity to drive micro insurance offerings to the financially underserved groups who need that the most,” he said. 

Beyond digitization, the pandemic has also fuelled demands for some insurance products. “The purchases of insurance products have significantly increased due to the pandemic. Healthcare-related insurance products have gained considerable traction compared to pre-pandemic times,” said Randing, noting that customers do not need to be educated to appreciate its value. 

Due to social distancing and contactless delivery measures, last mile delivery insurance has also seen a twelvefold increase during this period, he said. 

Traditionally, insurance has always used a high touch distribution model, and customers still favour human advisors, said Tiong. Although customers are growing increasingly receptive to self-serve options or purchasing on a digital platform, the convergence of insurtech and traditional insurance will take time.

Tiong said that staying at the forefront of digital transformation requires one to react swiftly and create suitable tools when the time calls for it. “It is also important to think several steps ahead, grapple with customers’ changing expectations, and the nature of risks,” he added.