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Stephen Clark – CEO of AIA Vietnam: Support Healthy Competition

20:47 | 10/6/2012 |  0 Feedback
The life insurance industry in Vietnam is developing strongly in terms of quantity and scale of insurers.
However, in order to ensure sustainable growth, insurance companies all know that they have to build a workforce that is not only sufficient in number and well qualified, but also understands the local insurance market. Vietnam News had an interview with Mr. Stephen Clark – CEO of AIA Vietnam – on these issues.

Mr. Stephen Clark – CEO of AIA Vietnam

Q: The insurance industry in Vietnam is facing the lack of professional workforce. Therefore, it seems that the fastest way to develop an insurance company is to recruit competitors’ personnel, both employees and agents. What do you think about this practice?
Answer: The Vietnam insurance industry was only established around 12 years ago. This is a relatively short time for insurance companies to build up the range of skills needed to be successful in this industry. As a result, many multinational insurers such as AIA have developed their human resource capabilities by using a combination of foreign talent as well as bright and enthusiastic local talent. Its entirely normal in a developing industry to see this talent moving from company to company. Sometimes this is driven by an employee or sales person looking to enhance their skills, or more often than not, this is driven by insurers themselves pursuing experienced talent from a relatively small pool of people.

Underwriters, claims experts, IT practitioners, actuaries and finance experts, to name just a few of the specialist roles, are always in short supply in our industry. There is always a need for good people who can undertake this work. Similarly, skilled and professional sales staff, including agents are likewise in short supply. At AIA we look to attract agents from all walks of life, with or without previous experience or qualifications. Subject to passing our assessment and recruitment process, we have a comprehensive training program that is aimed at equipping our agents with all the skills and tools necessary to become career-focused insurance sales professionals.

As our industry matures, I think we will see fewer staff and agents moving around regularly. We have been fortunate at AIA Vietnam as we have many loyal staff, in fact some have been with us since our entry into Vietnam some 12 years ago. Provided we remain competitive, in terms of compensation and career progression, I feel confident that our staff and agents will seek to remain with the company for many years to come.

Q: Recently, people talk about unhealthy competition between some insurance companies when developing general agency offices. What is AIA Vietnam’s point of view in building this model?

Answer: I haven't seen any evidence of unhealthy competition so far. As a company we try to stay focused on our goals and objectives, so I don't have too much time to speculate about things like this. I myself always support healthy competition. Our primary focus is to become the Preferred insurer in Vietnam. From a sales perspective this translates into growing our professional salesforce, or as we refer to them, our Premier Agents. These agents are our full-time career agents.

At AIA Vietnam we have very clear principles, rules and regulations and all of us have very little tolerance for anyone acting in a way that is contrary our principles. All our staff and agents, including GA’s agents represent AIA Vietnam and are expected to adopt the same ethical approach in business.

With a salesforce in excess of 14,000 people this is an ongoing challenge. However, we work tirelessly on providing training to all our agents, including those agents working in our GA offices. We cover all their training needs, including compliance and good business ethics. Additionally, we regularly monitor all of our agents including those in our GA offices.

This is totally aligned with our Premier Agent focus, where we constantly look to improve agent quality. Premier Agents come from all parts of our salesforce, including our GA offices. Ultimately, we want all our agents to move up to Premier status.

The benefit to AIA of our GA model is that this allows us to provide a seamless service to our customers in the provincial areas of Vietnam. We think it is an efficient and effective way of reaching those customers who are unable to transact in bigger cities.

Q: Could you please share AIA’s distribution strategy in the time to come?

Answer: Our goal is to become the preferred insurance company here in Vietnam. To do that, we have to provide a customer-oriented service, with competitive products being promoted through professional sales channels. Although we continue to explore a range of sales channels, our primary channel remains our agency salesforce.

As mentioned earlier, developing Premier Agents is our key ongoing strategy. Happily we have seen many positive results so far. A sizable proportion of our new premiums are generated by our Premier agents and as more of our agents move into Premier status, I see this percentage increasing even further. I would be reasonably satisfied if we could manage to have around 20% of our agency force falling into the Premier agency category with the next 18 to 24 months. This percentage is one you would typically see in more developed markets, but this is something we are striving for in AIA Vietnam.

Our next series of events will be organized at Caravelle Hotel in HCMC and Daewoo Hotel in Hanoi, both on June 16, 2012. We also run ad-hoc recruitment events throughout the country. Those who want to become our agents can send emails to the address: vn.agencycareer@aia.com to register for these events or to get full details of our recruitment programs

Q: Policy owners in Vietnam often complain that they are ignored after getting the policies. Can AIA Vietnam’s Premier Agency force help improve this perception?

Answer: It’s not just Vietnamese customers but many insurance customers around the world who share the same view. Therefore, we are very focused on the way we interact with our policy owners. Whether it is mail, telephone, or face-to-face interactions, we strive to improve the way we communicate with our policy owners.

We have customer care centers, staffed by professional representatives in many of our offices throughout the country, including in all our GA offices. We aim to open more of these centers to serve our customers better. In addition, we will soon be rolling out a digital strategy aimed at improving online and digital communication with our customers. We continue to improve our existing communications such help-lines and our call center. Ultimately we want to ensure that our customers have every opportunity to easily communicate with us and to stay in touch with what we are doing as a Company.  

The biggest goal is to keep our customers satisfied so that they maintain their policies current and are able to reap their due benefits accordingly. Its rarely in any policyholders interests to stop paying policy premiums before their policy matures, or until the benefits of the policy are paid out. However, sometimes a customer will stop paying simply because they are unable to communicate well with their insurance company. This is why is so important to us in AIA to focus on making every interaction with our customers, easy, friendly and successful. A key measure we have in place to track our policies is called persistency ratio. This allows us to track every policy every month to ensure premiums remain paid and up-to-date. Where premiums are unpaid, we can immediately identify the agent, location and amounts due, so that we can contact the policyholder accordingly.

Q: Are upgrading the agency force and improving customer services are ways for AIA Vietnam to realize the objective of becoming the preferred life insurance company in Vietnam?

A: Definitely! For me, being the preferred insurance company means customers prefer to deal with us, employees prefer to work for us, and agents prefer to sell our products. Its a conscious choice that people make. To achieve this is not easy and we must continually seek to improve and refine the way we deal with our customers. We need to always be improving the professionalism of our agents and we must develop compelling products that Vietnamese customers want.
BuildVietInfo from Vietnam News.
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