Partnership Tour - Interview with Lee Wood – MetLife Hong Kong CEO
March 26, 2018 | Hong Kong. We are now kicking off our new “Partnership Tour” with MetLife Hong Kong CEO, Lee Wood. Sia Partners had the pleasure to discuss MetLife Hong Kong’s vision of the future:
- Using new technology to provide customers favorable rates on medical insurance
- Creating an innovative culture within the company
- Changing the way people understand insurance in Hong Kong, including through its recent innovation, MetLife Discovery
1] Sia Partners (S.P.): Can you share your background and your responsibilities within MetLife Hong Kong?
Lee Wood (L.W.): I joined the insurance industry straight out of college in 1985. I have been fortunate to be able to work in almost all aspects of the business – from operations and underwriting to pricing and marketing. I was even an Agent at one point. I think this breadth of experience has helped me to be able to understand the business in a broad sense and has allowed me to lead several startups and turn around opportunities since I arrived in Asia almost 20 years ago. At MetLife Hong Kong, we are really focusing on transforming the organization to become a highly customer-centric company looking to leverage innovation – specifically technology – to really deliver better value and customer experiences to the Hong Kong society.
Based on this strategy, we are looking for both growth and efficiency to really deliver good value to our customers — growth will build critical scale and efficiency will be achieved through leveraging technology – whether our own or from strategic partnerships.
2] (S.P.): Do you have any specific framework to identify partnerships?
(L.W.): With the pace of technology it is very difficult to be able to build everything ourselves – so we believe it is critical to find partners who can help us to quickly and dynamically adjust to meet ever-changing customer expectations. So we are looking to build a platform – a resource where customers can come to fully explore and fulfill their insurance questions and solutions. A platform would allow us to be much more agile in providing services and solutions for the community we serve. At MetLife, we are very fortunate in Asia to have Zia Zaman1and LumenLab2 (cf. Sia Partners Interview with Zia Zaman) to help us with innovation.
We have leveraged companies like Health2Sync, whose leading app helps people better understand and manage their diabetes, as well as some less visible, but highly critical, reinsurance partners who help us to provide the best pricing possible.
3] (S.P.): Specifically with regard to Health2Sync, how does this partnership bring value to your customers?
(L.W.): Health2Sync3 has developed a tool targeted for diabetics to self-manage their health condition. And, with our reinsurance partners, we believe that people who can manage their diabetes well should have access to more favorable, perhaps even standard, insurance rates. In other words, just like we give non-smokers a better rate for insurance than smokers – which was a radical innovation many years ago – we think many diabetics who manage their health within certain parameters should get a break.
It is about using services made more affordable by technology to deliver better value to consumers. Initially, Health2Sync was not focused on insurance, but on helping diabetics proactively self-manage their diabetes and live a healthier life. Ed Deng, the cofounder and CEO, agreed to integrate other functions such as clinical data upload, giving us a strong foundation to calculate risk and premiums so that we are able to provide better rates.
An overview of the Health2Sync app4
Diabetes is very prevalent and seems to be a growing issue in Asia; with approximately 10% of the population suffering from this disease, it is a big market for us. We are looking for more ways to get the word out that MetLife Hong Kong is a leader in giving access to its standard products to those who are managing their condition well.
4] (S.P.): How did you manage expectations between the two cultures: a large insurance company and a startup?
(L.W.): In 2014, a couple of years before I arrived, MetLife initiated a shift from a primarily bancassurance platform to a multi-channel distribution system, which now includes one of the industry’s fastest growing and most professional Agency forces, the fourth largest brokerage channel and a rapidly expanding direct marketing team in Hong Kong. With this shift, we have had to build a lot of infrastructure and products to support this multi-channel strategy. But, with some creativity and the innovative spirit of our great staff, we have increasingly used technology to help us achieve both growth and improved productivity. Sometimes this takes some outside-of-the-box thinking, and we have introduced some programs like the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to help challenge old patterns and discover new paradigm. In this way, we have been able to combine local knowledge and partner with many of the great strengths of a leading global brand like MetLife.
5] (S.P.): Do the group guidelines sometimes come in contradiction with regional ambitions?
(L.W.): There are always specific local initiatives, but in general we are fully aligned with the group and regional focus on protection – particularly in the area of healthcare, which is also developing some strong value proposition throughout the region in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia, etc.
6] (S.P.): About healthcare, what is your customer promise?
(L.W.): Our main objective is to help our customers for the entire healthcare pathway, from remaining healthy, maintaining good self-care and behavior, getting treatment if something happens, and then dealing with post-claims/post-incident support to ensure a faster recovery.
We are also really focused on product innovation. We are the first in Hong Kong to propose the Critical Illness Annuity. If you have a critical illness, it doesn't just give you a lump sum — it pays you out up to age 100 as well to ensure you can sustain. Another area where MetLife Hong Kong has the lead is in product innovation.
7] (S.P.): Are you planning on creating more tech-related partnerships in the future?
(L.W.): We do have other partnerships such as VSP Vision Care, Best Doctors and SOS Services. Most of these are service-based at this time. But the answer is yes — if the partnership will add value and provide data.
Not all our use of technology is external or through partnerships. We are very proud of the new digital platform we created to help people better understand and assess what products might work for them. So, in addition to our partnerships, MetLife Hong Kong has recently launched a brand new digital tool, MetLife Discovery, with a simple interface to streamline the customer journey.
Using MetLife Discovery, anyone can discover for themselves what they may need and what is available by answering simple questions through a single screen – probably it takes less than 30 seconds, and it does not require any personal contact data. The interface makes it really easy to get a holistic view of what people like themselves may consider when buying insurance, including life, critical illness, hospital & medical, accident protection and savings.
The front screen is designed to save your time as it can prefill some of the fields based on just a few of your initial replies. For example, if you enter your age and your profession, it will suggest an income level based on Hong Kong data. Again, it is just a service to help you explore the range of products and services.
Based on the consumers’ responses, the tool provides a holistic view of what people like themselves may consider when buying insurance, including the cost. The consumer can customize the coverage amount and explore the different product options based on his or her individual family needs and understand the premium breakdown.
At MetLife Hong Kong, we think one of the biggest pain points for customers is understanding the insurance contracts they are buying, which are often quite complicated. If people do not understand the benefits or our products, they will certainly not buy them.
Therefore, MetLife Discovery is trying to ease the customer journey. Products are explained in simple sentences and short bullet points, summarizing the main features. If needed, the user can access simple videos explaining the coverage of our insurance products.
The final screen provides a summary of the total package. We intend to use technology as a facilitator rather than completely replacing human interaction. In other words, we still think speaking to an insurance specialist – an Agent or broker you trust – is a great way to make sure you are getting the coverage you need. But it is good to be able to explore a little bit before you go.
We think this is going to be great differentiator in our value proposition to customers!
(S.P.): Thank you Lee, we hope MetLife Discovery will be a great success in Hong Kong!
1Zia Zaman is the Chief Innovation Officer for MetLife Asia and CEO of LumenLab
2LumenLab is MetLife’s disruptive innovation center in Singapore
3Health2Sync develops systems that transform smartphones into medical devices and smart health monitoring machines