Healthier living at the core of ESG strategy

AIA Singapore's chief customer officer on why personal wellbeing is integral to the framework

Healthier living at the core of ESG strategy

Life & Health

By Kenneth Araullo

“It all begins with you.” A sentence that has long been associated with how the change we desire to see in the world often begins in each person. It can also relate to our personal wellbeing, and often how well we feel in terms of health reflects on the things we do that affect the world around us.

It is a sentiment held by AIA Singapore, a company built on the wellbeing of its policyholders and an insurer whose environmental, social, and governance (ESG) values centre on healthier and better lives. In conversation with Insurance Business Asia, chief customer and digital officer Melita Teo (pictured above) said that it is easy enough to link holistic wellness to the core of the company’s ESG considerations.

“For AIA, our ESG mandate is about driving positive change for sustainable outcomes to build a healthier future for the communities we serve,” Teo said. “Our ESG strategy gives us a clear roadmap to maximise the value we bring to all stakeholders, in line with our purpose of enabling healthier, longer, better lives for all.”

The company’s ESG strategy is made up of five pillars, with a particular focus on championing health for the masses. Health and wellness, Teo said, focuses on engaging, inspiring, and delivering better health outcomes, striving for financial inclusion, and expanding access to quality care in order to produce a wider positive impact on society.

“The second is sustainable operations, which just means improving the environmental performance of AIA’s operations as well as to incorporate ESG factors in sourcing considerations,” she said. “This is followed by sustainable investment, which means delivering long-term value by allocating capital to companies that commit to sustainable outcomes, investing for the future, and lowering our exposure to risk of stranded assets in a future low-carbon economy.”

The wellbeing journey should also be an equal one, with Teo citing people and culture as another AIA ESG pillar. Through it, she said that the company aims to empower AIA’s people to succeed and ensure a diverse, inclusive, and supportive culture.

“Finally, there’s effective governance, which ensures that AIA continues to operate in the highest standards of business practices, both in terms of its engagement with stakeholders, and how it manages risks,” Teo said.

Shifting perspectives post-pandemic

Just like everywhere else in the world, COVID introduced a paradigm shift to Singapore, especially in the wellbeing of its rapidly ageing citizens. Teo said that the pandemic has generally led Singaporeans to become more aware of protecting themselves and their family, with consumers realizing how unsettling it is to be under-protected in times of uncertainty.

“Additionally, the pandemic has driven a stronger emphasis on mental health protection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%. The AIA Health Matters Survey 2021 also revealed that fears over income loss and job instability caused 91% of respondents to report declines in their mental health,” she said.

Caring for one’s health is also not sufficient on its own anymore, Teo said, as many people have started to look for and gravitate towards personal and convenient solutions for their and their family’s wellbeing.

“In addition to AIA Singapore’s comprehensive insurance solutions, which includes being the first insurer to offer insurance solutions for mental health conditions, we are also taking an active approach via AIA Health360 to encourage customers to Live Well and Be Well through partnerships and collaborations with healthcare partners to enable greater accessibility to quality and affordable healthcare services,” Teo said.

These services are also built on numerous partnerships with other reliable names in the space, such as Whitecoat and Teladoc Health to provide personalized care. Recently, the insurer also unveiled its AIA Centurion PA plan, a proposition meant to tackle the country’s growing elder care needs and concerns about dementia.

“As the largest employee benefits insurer in Singapore, insuring one in three companies in Singapore, we also sought out ways to raise awareness about mental health issues and increase accessibility to mental wellness support,” Teo said. “Earlier this year, we launched the Think Well programme, the region’s first end-to-end digital mental healthcare solutions covering mental wellbeing through to mental health therapy. This initiative is embedded within all of AIA’s corporate outpatient plans.

“By taking these first steps to provide coverage for mental health, we hope to encourage more members of our society to acknowledge these conditions as legitimate health conditions that require treatment and support,” she said.

Insuring Singaporeans amidst issues, current and future

Before the current geopolitical tensions that sprawled from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the pandemic had already left its impact on both the physical and mental health of Asians. Teo cited insights from its 2023 study that revealed that one in two Singaporeans are far from achieving their goal of holistic wellness, a framework that includes five key aspects: financial, physical, mental, spiritual, and socio-economical.

“When it comes to physical wellness, respondents between the ages of 35-55 make up the most worrying age segment, with one in two suffering from poor physical wellness,” Teo said. “Concurrently, when looking at Singaporeans’ top concerns for the future, 63% are most concerned with critical illnesses such as cancer, while more than three in five Singaporean consumers surveyed also expressed concern over mental health issues. These figures starkly contrast the 83% of survey respondents who believe that holistic wellness is the key to help them achieve healthier, longer, better lives.”

Singapore is also one of the most rapidly ageing societies in the region, an attribute that comes from a higher life expectancy and lower birth rates. This disparity across age groups has led to concerns among three in 10 Singaporeans about dementia, making it the nation’s top worry. One in two, however, as Teo pointed out, do not own policies that cover neurological diseases.

“And, as Singapore’s cost of living continues to rise and economic uncertainties persist, consumers have become increasingly focused on being financially prepared for the long term and are more actively seeking ways to manage their health and financial plans to achieve their goals,” she said.

“We believe that insurers will play more prominent roles in the health of consumers, by helping them to take a more holistic approach to managing their well-being. Being a leading life insurer, AIA Singapore takes the proactive approach of being lifelong partners to individuals and families, closely supporting them in their journeys to live healthier, longer, better lives,” Teo said.

Strengthening Vitality across 10 markets

Teo also touched on the insurer’s Vitality program, an initiative that spans 10 markets and what can be considered its main conduit for promoting healthier lifestyles. The program marked its 10th year in Singapore this year, with Teo touting that it has since benefited different aspects of health with its many tools and initiatives.

“Since then, we had collectively done close to 4 million health assessments and screenings. With that, we saw significant health improvements among members – 63% improved their Glucose level and 51% improved their blood pressure. Vitality age gap also narrowed to -0.9, which means that AIA Vitality members are almost one year younger than their biological age,” she said.

It is also the only wellness program fully integrated with insurance plans in Singapore, Teo said, with members getting to boost their premium discounts as they level up their AIA Vitality status, in addition to complimentary insurance coverage. Teo said that members also get to enjoy basic health screening at no charge every year depending on their membership status.

“We have been evolving the programme over the years to keep pace with members’ evolving lifestyle including new ways of earning Vitality points and upgrades to program benefits, so that it continues to inspire people to live well with AIA Vitality,” she said.

“Digitalisation should not happen simply for the sake of it”

Just like most other insurers in the region and across the world, Teo believes that new technologies – such as generative AI – will continue to influence the way people live, work, and interact with each other. Insurers, therefore, need to accelerate digital transformation efforts to adapt to these trends.

“Digital transformation is a critical driver of AIA’s success and more importantly, AIA Singapore is focused on providing customers with the best service experiences, making it easy for them to connect with us for their financial and health needs, while also ensuring they have peace of mind. We are mindful that digitalisation should not happen simply for the sake of it, nor should it be done in isolation. In our business, high-tech needs to be combined with high-touch to maintain the high-trust relationship we have with our customers as their partner through life,” she said.

Teo explained that AIA Singapore uses AI technologies not just for business efficiency, but also for analysing consumer segments, driving lead generation, and automating targeted marketing. She also listed some actual use cases for AI that the company has already worked on.

“As early adopters of AI technologies, we have successfully leveraged AI and machine learning to automatically assess claims. Today, AIA’s end-to-end turnaround time for claims processing, from the point of submission to final disbursement of claims payout, has been reduced to one to four working days, compared to the industry average of two weeks minimum,” she said.

AI is also now used for the company’s HealthShield pre-authorisation, where AIA Singapore customers can get their medical bill pre-approved before admission or surgery at private specialist clinics or private hospitals. Teo said that this provides peace of mind for customers as it gives upfront assurance of the amount covered before treatment begins.

“Applying AI in the claims assessment process also facilitates the detection of suspicious and unusual claims in the early stages and identifies possibly fraudulent claims,” Teo said. “In the long run, this helps to keep healthcare financing sustainable for customers as we are able to moderate the rate of health insurance premium increases, while maintaining a healthy claims reserve pool.”

Improving the customer experience front was also an important front to use AI on, and the company did so with its MAIA digital assistance. MAIA has been trained with AI tech to provide 24/7 help and support to customers on their AIA policies. Finally, there is also an acceleration into technology, data, and analytics, Teo said, and this was done to provide deeper customer insights and drive sales through better optimisation, leads matching, and customer propensity modelling.

“By 2030, we can expect AI-related technologies and data to make a seismic impact on all aspects of the insurance value chain, from distribution and pricing to underwriting, claims and risk management, while enabling improvements to office productivity. Deeper customer insights can also be derived from the application of advanced analytics and AI on customer data that we already have but have not been optimised in the past. These insights will be critical to develop and shape business strategies that drive sales and create positive customer experience,” Teo said.

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