Money Moves

Asset awareness

by Maggie Tang

Leading bank recruits insurance specialists to drive business to new heights

Alex Chu, general manager and head of personal insurance
HSBC Insurance Asia-Pacific Holdings Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan

Insurance products are now both comprehensive and complex. For many clients today, insurance comprises both life assurance elements and asset insurance. Therefore, in addition to protecting the insured, services today also secure wealth and yield financial returns through a vast array of investment and savings instruments.

As one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world, HSBC is currently enjoying the fruits of its extraordinary organisational success. Its strengths, knowledge and employee experience are inherited by its subsidiaries, one of which is HSBC Insurance Asia-Pacific Holdings Limited (HSBC Insurance).

HSBC Insurance underwrites as well as sells a comprehensive range of insurance products and has captured a significant market share in the past few years. As of June 2007, its share of the annualised new premiums of the Hong Kong individual life insurance market accounted for 23.3 per cent. This, in part is thanks to innovation and pragmatic professional planning.

"Traditionally, sales professionals in our field were required to master both product knowledge and customer service skills in order to excel. However, as insurance products have evolved to encompass more complicated concepts, product knowledge and sales techniques can become two separate areas," explains Alex Chu, general manager and head of personal insurance, HSBC Insurance Asia-Pacific Holdings Limited. In Mr Chu's view, it is more efficient from a bancassurance perspective to divide the work up for two individuals and capitalise on the resultant specialisation.

HSBC Insurance has a team of specialists responsible for coaching frontline sales staff on product knowledge, and orchestrating joint sales calls to ensure individual client needs are met. Mr Chu points out that such job design benefits clients considerably and promotes organisational efficiency.

Prioritising people

"We always put clients first. Every member of staff is a specialist in his or her job. Our insurance team concentrates on understanding insurance products, which includes substantial conceptual knowledge," notes Mr Chu. They then convey the essence of each product to frontline sales staff. Since HSBC's insurance specialists are experts in their own field, misconceptions are minimised, therefore enhancing service quality and informational accuracy provided to clients.

Besides training frontline sales staff on products, HSBC's insurance specialists act as performance coaches for the sales staff. Mr Chu remarks that employees with relevant sales experience and a proven track record are well suited to the job. "Many of our insurance specialists have insurance sales experience, which facilitates client understanding of products and how they can benefit financially from each plan," says Mr Chu.

Despite valuing previous sales training, HSBC Insurance has its own unique approach to insurance marketing. According to Mr Chu, HSBC Insurance adheres to a "needs based approach" in both marketing and product development. He elaborates, "We conduct an overview of client requirements before recommending any product to ensure every client gains maximum leverage from his or her position."

For example, the team identifies protection gaps during the needs assessment and suggests products which fill the gaps. This is fundamentally important for clients, especially for family breadwinners. Sufficient insurance protection helps clients and their families weather the storm of unexpected events.

Clients' needs are also a major factor in the product development process. "We are the underwriter as well as the marketer. The two functions closely chorus to ensure our products are aligned with market expectations," Mr Chu reveals.

Expanding knowledge

Underlining the fact that the insurance sector is expanding as societal wealth and education levels rise, Mr Chu remarks, "More people now understand the concepts and rationale behind insurance. Greater affluence is driving the demand for financial planning products. As far as the scope of services is concerned, many of our products are savings- and investment-linked catering to differing needs at various stages of life."

Specialists at HSBC Insurance enjoy an advantageous position in the industry primarily due to the sales synergy linked to HSBC's extensive customer base. Also, Bancassurance (the sale of insurance and banking products through the same channel) is an efficient and effective practice. "Like our parent company, we benefit from exceptional corporate governance which projects a highly professional image to consumers," Mr Chu adds.

As a minimum requirement, prospective specialists must have passed relevant licensing examinations such as Papers One, Three and Five of the Insurance Intermediaries Qualifying Examination (IIQE). The competitive remuneration package offered is another attractive factor. "Our insurance specialists are entitled to basic salary and incentive bonuses, as well as a range of extensive training," Mr Chu says.

Meanwhile, certain personality attributes are required of insurance specialists. "Since the major responsibilities are coaching and training, an empathetic personality is a plus. They must be helpful and sensitive to others' needs," Mr Chu stresses. In light of recent growth in the industry, Mr Chu concludes, "This is the right time to join us since bancassurance is becoming more and more significant."

Client centricity

  • Product knowledge and sales techniques clearly delineated
  • Client needs shape future policy objectives
  • Sales synergy linked to customer base
  • Significant bancassurance growth expected

Taken from Career Times 28 March 2008, p. A2
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