‘We have traditionally made our product too complicated’ – Prudential’s Harish Agarwal

The controversial use of data, customer experience in a low involvement category and whether there was any difference between the different insurance brands – these were just some of the issues discussed through a Q&A session with Prudential Assurance Company head of customer experience and segments for Singapore, Harish Agarwal, at the Mumbrella Asia Finance Marketing Summit last week. Here are some of the questions asked and Agarwal’s answers:

I switched from AXA to Prudential and felt I got the same experience. At the end of the day, it seems to come down to price. How do you make the customer journey different and what are the key elements you bring in as customer experience head that other companies don’t?

Agarwal: “I wish I had an answer for that. (Laughs). 

“The quality of advice differs. A lot of our advisors have been with us for many years. The relationships they form with the client is rock solid. The biggest change you will feel is not when they are trying to sell but during the moment of truth, when you are claiming.

“Will they go the extra mile to smoothen the process? Do they help you understand what you have bought? Do they sit with you every year? Do they say ‘You’ve moved on in life and now your insurance folio is not enough?’ Not every advisor does these things. If your AXA advisor was doing all this – great, kudos to him.

“We spend a lot of time training our consultants so that they can live through the longterm contract that a customer signs with an insurer.”

“But how do you reward loyalty and ongoing engagement? Our relationship with the customers is episodic. They talk to us when there’s a claim or a change to be made in the policy; so what we are trying to do is to move beyond that. 

“We want to give them tangible value. Not just linked to the policy, but recognising the relationship they have with us and helping them live a better life from a health and wealth perspective. Cracking that code is going to be a game changer.”

I’ve heard that there are apps that use phones as a data source. An insurer embeds the app on the phone which tracks my food, exercise schedule and gives me a health score at the end of the day. And that determines my premium. What are your thoughts on something like this?

Agarwal: “We want to get there. There’s a lot of skepticism, that when you share data, you will get penalised for not having the right lifestyle.

“But when you buy insurance, you have to declare your pre-existing conditions. And if you lie at that time, the claim does not get paid out. If you start sharing data, it is no different. The ones who share data are the ones who will live a healthier life because they have nothing to lose. And there’s an opportunity to individualise our premiums for them – rewarding those moving towards a healthier lifestyle. 

“There are regulatory and operational challenges but even in Singapore, some insurers have taken steps in that direction. What we have right now is very gimmicky. But it is what the industry is heading towards because it solves the daily engagement challenge with our customers.”

I’d like to remind everyone that the regulator protects us and not the corporation. I am not comfortable with this constant conversation about it being a ‘challenge’ that you can’t access and use more of my data. Most people who have seen The Great Hack on Netflix say it is awful. Most of my liberal left leaning friends in advertising say: ‘This is awful’. And then go back to their dashboards to work at how they can trick us to look at more ads. How do you square this as a person, a human and a taxpayer that the regulators are looking after, and someone who clearly wants to get more of my data?

Agarwal: “Let me start by saying – when I say its a problem, it is not a problem to get into the market. We are trying to make sure we are compliant before we go into this space. 

“The regulations are there for a good reason. We want to abide by them. Apart from those regulations, we are more stringent on ourselves. We want to use data with your consent and tell you why and what is it being used for. If you will be penalised, I will tell you that upfront. In all fairness, you won’t be. 

“It is to reward people who take health in their own hands and who want to live a better lifestyle because it benefits them and not just for $5 vouchers from an insurer. The amount of scrutiny that every service we launch goes through internally is humongous and it exists so we don’t take a wrong step and to ensure we won’t feature in the second season of The Great Hack. We hold our standards high in terms of how we deal with, collect and what we do with data.” We heard earlier today about the power of human truths – so here’s one for you. Most people don’t want to buy your product, and don’t like your product – we have to buy it. The reality is I don’t want to go to the gym. I’d rather go to the pub to destress. What are you going to do about that human truth in terms of changing your company’s communication strategy?

Agarwal: “You are right: nobody wakes up wanting to buy insurance. But that does not mean we stop having that conversation. You may not like the product – which we will work harder towards – but the fact that you need it does not go away. 

“It solves a fundamental problem for the customer. I was extremely happy when I joined because we take care of your loved ones when you are no longer around. That’s a big responsibility. 

“Insurance does not give you instant gratification and we hear that’s why it does not appeal to millennials. But it’s a mindset that needs to change and is changing. Singapore has the world’s highest life expectancy. We recently worked with The Economist to publish a paper called ‘Ready for 100’. Most people said they are not ready for 100 – nowhere close. 

“And so it is incumbent on us to educate people on why it is important, how they can do it and where we can help. 

“Not liking our product is because we have traditionally made it so complicated. You can’t buy a savings product and completely understand what you buy. I sometimes don’t understand what I am selling. (Laughs) 

“It is incumbent on us to simplify our products so that the millennials don’t detest talking to us. And so that we speak their language and give them what they want: allow them to shape how they want it and for how long. If we are able to do that, will have overcome your dislike and reluctance to talk to us.”


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