Money Moves

Bancassurance gains momentum

by Grace Chan

Finance heavyweight on recruitment drive to expand market share

Simon Chung (left)
insurance specialist head, Hong Kong
Arthur Cozad, head of bancassurance and channel management
HSBC Insurance (Asia-Pacific) Holdings Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Thanks to the growing awareness of life protection among people in Hong Kong, the city's finance industry has enjoyed robust impetus in the first quarter of this year.

Bancassurance leader HSBC Insurance, in particular, has recorded a 22.4 per cent market share in the new individual life insurance market in the second quarter, according to Arthur Cozad, head of bancassurance and channel management, HSBC Insurance (Asia-Pacific) Holdings Limited.

Customers nowadays demand straightforward, protective products that offer strong returns, notes Simon Chung, insurance specialist head, Hong Kong, HSBC Insurance. "By and large, they are going back to the basics, wanting simple products that provide a steady income," he says.

A recent HSBC survey suggested that people tend to opt for uncomplicated and effective products to protect themselves and their families. "Although customers regained their investment appetite in the second quarter, they now prefer retirement, education and protection planning products rather than pure investment tools," Mr Chung points out.

The insufficient retirement protection offered by mandatory provident fund (MPF) contributions also prompted a demand for long-term planning, he adds.

Best solutions

HSBC Insurance recently launched "WealthInvest" insurance plan, a new unit-trust life-insurance product that provides greater investment flexibility, but incorporates a higher level of protection. The number of fund choices for investment-linked products have also been narrowed down from more than 100 to 42, to simplify the options for customers working towards achieving their financial goals.

Bancassurance, and particularly the service offered by HSBC Insurance, is becoming more popular in Hong Kong. Long-standing relationships with loyal customers also facilitate an understanding of the financial needs of specific customers.

Mr Cozad says, "We have an advantage because of our access to the bank's customer base. By leveraging HSBC's vast network and service distribution channels, we can offer our customers the best solutions in a timely and most effective manner."

To meet the anticipated growth in the bancassurance business, the bank is looking to increase its insurance specialist team from 40 to 70 by the end of the year.

Candidates should have at least five years of insurance experience, both in life insurance and other areas of the industry. "Apart from professional qualifications, they must be self-motivated and have a strong sense of business and teamwork. The most important personal attribute required is integrity," Mr Cozad emphasises.

Career of choice

HSBC's insurance specialists are tasked with coaching and mentoring branch staff, providing them with the necessary knowledge to design and deliver the best possible insurance and retirement planning options to meet individual client needs.

Mr Cozad stresses that HSBC provides an ideal platform for career development, given the multidimensional nature of its business.

"Our specialists grow with the business. They may also take advantage of job rotations between the frontline and back office, or move into management positions," he adds." High performers can also move laterally to work in the bank's other business units or take up opportunities across the border."

Aside from performance-based financial rewards, other incentives include flexible working hours and "skip-level meetings", where staff at all levels have the advantage of meeting with senior management to share feedback.

New recruits attend a comprehensive two-week training programme, looking at six important aspects of the financial planning process. This includes identifying individual customer needs, as well as preparing and recommending the best solutions. There is also a focus on technical skills in areas such as underwriting, compliance and products.

Since the insurance professionals are expected to mentor frontline staff, the initial training also aims at enhancing their leadership and coaching techniques. "They attend regular advanced training to upgrade their soft and hard skills," Mr Chung adds.

Mr Cozad remarks that specialists receive significant cross-departmental support that enables them to deliver optimum service. For instance, the bank's IT division provides system platforms to help identify the right appointments, while the product division ensures a strong portfolio of choices. The insurance experts are kept abreast of the latest market trends through the bank's intranet and regular team meetings.

Growth factors

  • Strong brand and vast client and branch networks
  • Customers increasingly seek simple, protection-based products
  • Comprehensive training and strong support ensures high service quality

Taken from Career Times 18 September 2009, p. A2
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