AIA Singapore’s CHRO Aileen Tan explains how they are evolving their workforce and capabilities to transform for the future.
With a history stretching back almost 100 years, AIA has undergone countless transformations and has continued to thrive as one of Asia-Pacific's top insurers. To find out how the company is managing its current transformation while also planning for the workforce of the future, Paul Brenchley, Partner, KPMG in Singapore sat down with Aileen Tan, Chief Human Resources Officer at AIA Singapore.
Paul Brenchley (PB): In your opinion, how is the insurance business changing?
Aileen Tan (AT): The insurance industry is increasingly customer-centric – the customer is at the core of the business, and insurers must continually innovate to meet their evolving needs to stay competitive.
This means that insurance will be more intricately personalised to suit the individual, as technology empowers, and even necessitates the shift towards more tailored insurance policies. Part of this is looking beyond healthcare management to health management – in line with one of the key shifts outlined in the recent Healthcare Industry Transformation Map (ITM) in Singapore.
Firstly, the ability to analyse big data is already transforming our industry today. The future, with the continuing rise of technology and the Internet of Things, could see us being able to collect and analyse this data on a more granular level that we will be better able to monitor the health and risk-taking behaviours of individuals and adjust policy coverage and premiums for each individual in a timely manner.
Secondly, technology enables better customisation at both the corporate and individual levels. This creates an opportunity for insurers to empower individuals and companies to take charge of their own health and financial future, going beyond just tracking their health today to being able to take immediate action to address the gaps tomorrow. This role of individuals in taking charge of their health and financial future will become increasingly important with the rise of the gig economy, as individuals with short-term employment contracts will be more reliant on individual insurance for sustained protection for the long term.
As we expect more and more data to be collected and analysed, insurers will be able to work more closely with other stakeholders in the ecosystem to tailor policies that best meet the needs and goals of our customers and their families.
It is with this view of the future that we are investing in innovations such as AIA Vitality and our integrated digital platform to continue to add value to the lives of our customers.
PB: What impact is that having on the existing AIA workforce?
AT: The culture and capabilities of our people are evolving as the business evolves and the nature of jobs fundamentally changes. This is a continual work in progress for us as we keep thinking about what we need in our people in order to support and sustain our transformation journey.
At the same time, we must also balance the need to maintain business as usual. Take the technology function, for example: we need people who understand the new applications that we are implementing, and at the same time, still need people who can maintain the legacy systems for the business to continue running smoothly. And I think that puts quite a lot of stress on a business function.
Most importantly, we keep going as a team because we all believe in our company's purpose – because being able to help other people live healthier, longer, better lives makes all this hard work worthwhile.
PB: How are you encouraging existing employees to adopt new capabilities?
AT: That's one of the big questions right now. In some areas of the business, employees have been enthusiastic adopters and others have been slower to adopt.
In my team, I've tried to help catalyse the shift by bringing in individuals with different skill sets from outside of the insurance sector. We brought in someone with an engineering background to help our HR Ops teams improve their processes. We hired someone from a tech firm whose main job is to scan for new ideas and models that we could test and adopt. We have marketing professionals working in our employee engagement teams.
What's important is that I'm not just hiring 'snipers' who work alone and in secret; I'm partnering these people up with champions from my team who show an interest and a talent for adopting new ideas, and together, as a team, we grow to adopt new technologies and ideas.
PB: How important is it to set the right tone from the top?
AT: It is extremely important to have buy-in and support from the C-Suite. Our CEO is very aware that our business is powered by people and he makes great effort to ensure that our people agenda is always front and center to enable our business transformation.
At the same time, our CEO has been very vocal at Town Hall meetings and in his communication to the employees about the transformation that we are going through. We've changed our Town Halls from being a 'functional report' style to instead focus on specific themes critical to our business transformation. Each of our leaders shares about how their function integrates into that theme. This helps our employees to connect the dots and start to understand what this transformation actually means for them.
PB: Are you able to find the talent and capabilities you need today and in the future?
AT: In Singapore, we are lucky to have a very proactive government and industry. Our regulators work closely with the banking federation and industry groups to try to understand and plan for future skills requirements. The government has been working on an industry transformation roadmap and has been very active in helping industry partner with universities and associations to find and shape new capabilities. But Singapore is also a relatively small market, so there have been times where we have had to look outside of the country – and often outside of the industry – to fill our capability gaps.
PB: What do you expect the workforce of the future to look like?
AT: I certainly have some guesses and ideas, but the answer really needs to be data-driven and supported by smart evidence. That is why we are currently undertaking a significant Organisational Design project; we know that we want to move towards a fully digital enterprise and we know that we need to obsess about the customer across the organisation. And this project will help us understand and be clear about the roles, workflows, capabilities and structures we will need in order to achieve and maintain a digital, customer-first organisation.
PB: What have you learned from your experience?
AT: There are two main things:
The first is the importance of being a leader instead of just a manager. I think the corporate world has a lot of managers, but too few leaders. Leaders are the ones who stop to help their people understand why we are doing certain things. They are the ones that are there to engage the team in ongoing and upcoming changes.
For me, the other great takeaway is that we – as leaders and as individuals – need to be willing to 'unlearn' and then relearn the things we think we know. And that's easier said than done, particularly for those who have had rich experiences and many successes, such as the executive team, because the things that need to be unlearned first are often those that made you successful in the first place.
PB: Are you optimistic about the transformation ahead?
AT: I am very positive about our transformation objectives and our strategies to create our workforce of the future. I think the important thing is that we are fully aware of the challenges and are working together, from the executive committee level to entry level employees, to come up with the right solutions for our business and our customers.