Money Moves

Career focus brings good business

by Miranda Breding

William Cotter, CEO Jennifer Cheung, director and head of central sales and service
CIGNA Worldwide Life Insurance Company Limited and CIGNA Worldwide General Insurance Company Limited
Photo: Johnny Kwok

Business success lies deeply within a company's infrastructure. William Cotter, CEO, CIGNA Worldwide Life Insurance Company Limited, Hong Kong, explains, "Our business model is based on telemarketing, which is something that other companies treat as a low-level position. We treat telemarketing as a long-term career."

Founded in 1792 as the Insurance Company of North America, CIGNA has emerged as a leader in healthcare plans for US companies and direct marketing of life, accident and health insurance outside the US. With a net income of US$1.2 billion in 2006, CIGNA employs over 27,000 people worldwide, including 300 in Hong Kong.

Telemarketers are on the front line in CIGNA's strategy. Since they are in constant contact with customers, they are invaluable for providing feedback and helping the company fine-tune its products and services. "We value quality, customers' affinity with our partners and loyalty. Our business is customer-led," Mr Cotter points out.

Jennifer Cheung, director and head of central sales and service of CIGNA Hong Kong, says competitive compensation packages and sales recognition keep employees focused. In addition, the company offers employees a clear career path. "We are truly committed to developing people. If you succeed, CIGNA does too," Ms Cheung adds.

Motivation is also significant, and employees extend themselves to meet challenges. Staff turnover, a problem faced by most insurance companies, is minimised at CIGNA through different means including an annual sales convention for top performers held in overseas countries such as Spain and Portugal. The fact that CIGNA offers the chance to build a long-term career also keeps turnover down.

"If you boil insurance down to its simplest element, it's a promise. Our key goal is to keep our promise to our telemarketers and stakeholders," Mr Cotter emphasises. The company's "healthy careers, healthy returns" programme, for example, promotes the concept of a career being more than a job.

A five-tier chart of sales positions allows employees to see where they are and where they can go. Ms Cheung notes that the goal is to encourage employees to become multi-skilled, allowing them to move upwards.

CIGNA's health-benefits company, a business of caring, fosters diversity and community involvement by offering positions to the disabled and prioritising volunteer services.

Mr Cotter explains that recent graduates tend to be attracted by the core values of customer focus, people excellence, respect, integrity, urgency and stakeholder return. Many employees starting in the call centre have schooling up to Form Five, and in-house training is provided. The right outlook is essential for staff working in this area. "The most important factor is that a potential employee has a desire for a career and a positive and optimistic attitude. Soft skills are trainable, mindset is not," Ms Cheung stresses.

Mr Cotter adds that an attractive work environment, a bright future and the strong economy continue to draw new employees. "Business is good. We're having an extremely successful year and we need to bring in more employees to meet demand," he says.

Taken from Career Times 20 July 2007, p. A2
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