CEO Asia Gary Crist reflects on the challenges and main accomplishments in the region in 2021.
Despite the challenge of low interest rates, and the volatility in equity markets particularly impacting China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, we have continued to consolidate and build on our strong market presence in Asia. And as a reminder that partnerships are critical to our success in the region, we were proud to celebrate 20 years of strategic collaboration with Etiqa in Malaysia and in China with China Taiping. The longevity of these important relationships speaks volumes for their success. Both partners have constantly looked to evolve and not stand still. This year we were also pleased to complete the integration of Taiping Reinsurance into the Ageas family. This new venture for Ageas allows us to expand into new territories and to expand our reinsurance business as part of our Impact24 strategy.
In 2021 we further strengthened our distribution capabilities by improving our productivity at Troo in the Philippines through the bank channel; building our agency network at MB Ageas Life in Vietnam now made up of 25,000 agents and through our partnership with MB Bank, which has become the n°1 bancassurer after only 5 years of existence; and developing a wealth management platform at Muang Thai Life in Thailand. We created a new strategic roadmap for Ageas Federal Life Insurance in India with a focus on improving sales. We agreed steps geared to broadening our overall distribution capabilities through expansion of our proprietary non-banking channels and improving our advisory processes. As part of this, Ageas has also entered into a strategic cooperation agreement with Federal Bank to help support the development of the bancassurance business and to deepen the strategic relationship.
For our own people, the emphasis has been on embracing new ways of working, with initiatives designed to create a better work/life balance; supporting remote working; and recognising the importance of our employee’s wellness and health by incorporating flexible working arrangements. The latest Net Promoter Score (NPS) measurements for our employees were exceptionally high, reflecting the effectiveness of action plans on topics like communications, performance management, infrastructure and resources, and importantly well-being and work life balance.
2021 was a year in which we focused even more on the customer journey, looking into ways that we can optimise the customer experience, initiating projects in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines where technology and servicing platforms were deployed to create the culture and process in customer engagement, voice collection, and data analysis for improving the overall experience. We introduced NPS scoring across all our operating companieswhich allows us to track in a disciplined way how we are doing with the customer. And we continued to roll out innovative product offerings: customers in Singapore took full advantage of the Singtel Dash all-in-one Digital Wallet with more than 40% of customers actively using the Wallet this year; in China, Taiping Life experienced continued success in an online investment product through Ant Financial with some early success; and in Malaysia, a new drive less campaign allowing for premium rebates was launched with strong momentum across all channels and with environmental positives as it rewarded customers for limiting their use of cars.
The impact of Covid remained severe across Asia in 2021, impacting our ability to interact face to face with customers. With 400,000 agents alone in Asia, this is quite a hurdle to overcome. But thanks to digital tools our local operating companies enabled the sales force to conduct business without interruption.
Sustainability is of growing importance across the whole region, with countries at various levels of maturity, but with a firm commitment from all to increase their sustainability commitment. Etiqa in close cooperation with Maybank in Malaysia has already established itself as a market leader in ESG and is setting the example for sustainability in action. In 2021 Maybank received the Global Economics Award for the “Most Innovative ESG Fund”.
As we look to the future, Connect21 has in many ways provided a natural stepping stone towards Impact24 - so an evolution not a revolution as we kick start the next three-year plan. Our focus in Asia will be on collaborating with our partners to align Impact24 with local operating plans. Partners have welcomed the plan, and while priorities may shift market to market, overall, there is a high degree of commonality. The overall concept aligns well with the ambitions of all our partners in Asia.
Filling the protection gap across Asia has never been more important, so Protection (i.e. fixed indemnity such as mortality, critical illness, personal accidents, Disability/Chronic disease) will continue to be a major focus. Asia will take a lead in sharing learnings with the Group by supporting the operating companies to increase the sales of Protection business with innovative product offerings and the use of digital capabilities in marketing, underwriting, and customer journeys, etc.
And given the key role our agents play in reaching the end customer, building out the agency force in some markets and increasing further productivity in others like China, Thailand and Malaysia will be critical as we move forward.
It has been a good year in Asia despite some significant market challenges, exacerbated by the continuing impact of the pandemic. My proudest moment in recent times is the way our teams have pulled together and worked through some very tough and unexpected challenges while continuing to deliver strong results. And as we look at our partnerships, so critical to our success, they not only stood the test of time, but they are also stronger than ever before.