Swiss Re: How can we reduce the health protection gap?

December 12 2019

Can we reduce the health protection gap in our time? 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step.” – Lao Tzu

The sheer scale of the Health Protection Gap is scary. US$1.8 trillion that should be – and needs to be – insured right now…but isn’t. Over 40 million households in the Asia Pacific region are impacted.

Those numbers will keep going up just by inflation and ageing alone. And as Asia gets more affluent, it leads to a domino effect of more people being affected by “lifestyle” diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular illnesses.

The “gap” is the number that could potentially be hit by unwanted, burgeoning medical costs. While there is focus on the bigger picture, consider this: a breadwinner struck down by illness; and he/she loses his/her ability to work. The family needs to pay for medical bills, there is a loss of future earning power, the children may have to reprioritise education spending, or may even need to forgo certain medical treatment; and the cost of the medical expenses may force every member – from young to old – to make lifestyle changes.

The chance to change that is staring us in the face. If we can’t create strong awareness and develop this into a “want”, any investment in the rest of the journey will provide no more than process efficiency as it won’t increase the number of people believing they need it.

The insurance journey of Want, Buy, Own

Most people begin to think about insurance or protection when it comes to the “big” life events: Marriage; children; buying a home; receiving an unfavourable doctor’s report.

The change in how we create, collect, and use data has enabled us to better identify these consumers and because of that, we’re in a better position to offer the right products to the right consumer at the right price. In addition, the journey has become more personalised, and we’re able to make tweaks to the insurance journey as we go along.

The Swiss Re role doesn’t end after a solution has put forth and executed. Our goal is to really be a pillar of support to help clients not just live longer, but live better and healthier lives.

One of the ways we do that is through tech.

Incorporating new tech in the customer journey

In today’s rapidly changing world of technology and big data, we need to combine new tech with our risk knowledge and apply that to different elements of this customer journey.

In 2018, we launched a gestational diabetes health management app designed to help pregnant women in Singapore. By using secure blockchain technology, we were able to create a fully automated underwriting journey because of our integration with the OBGYN’s own electronic records.

The win-win? There are  no claims filed. And the patient receives an automatic claims payment when she is diagnosed with one of the eligible conditions via the clinic. That’s just one part of the future we see…and want.

Digital wallets and mobile payment platforms also represent a huge opportunity for the insurance industry to raise awareness and reach parts of the population that some of our more traditional methods of distribution may miss.

Last month, we helped Alipay, which is part of Alibaba group, launch Alipay’s flagship Term Life product. This is potentially the largest term life product sold digitally by volume in China. It’s a straightforward, affordable product with simple customer onboarding experience. Over 30,000 policies were sold in the first week alone.

In Malaysia, we were approached by an insurer to look at their inforce medical portfolio with a view to building them a predictive underwriting model. A lot of this data was raw and unstructured. Our data scientists scraped, cleaned, and streamlined the data to narrow it down from a large diverse population into smaller manageable clusters with homogenous traits. The information allows our insurance partner to offer simpler customer experience.

Building personal, societal and financial resilience

Ultimately, being future ready now is not only about improving that core insurance journey, but also helping build personal and societal resilience through insurance.

If we’re able to incentivise positive behavioural change through diet and exercise programmes, disease management and counselling, we’re on the right path. Health wearables, fitness trackers and a continuous underwriting journey is changing that. I am proud to be part of a company that is at the forefront of this change.

As an industry, we need to push new ways to create flexible and affordable products that lift financial barriers to protection. We know that insurance can take on the burden on risk so that our clients can grow, thrive and take risks that they otherwise would not have.

I believe we are committed to making the world more resilient. We do this by creating better client experiences and journeys, and to show our research and apply them to everyday lives.

It may be the simple one click (or tap) that allows the stressed new parent to protect their newborn in a few seconds. It could be the timely health prompt that serves as a call to action for a newly diagnosed diabetic, which helps put their condition into remission. It could also be the claim that helps get their family back on their feet financially quickly following the loss of a loved one.

This is just the start. And my advice would be to not focus on the big numbers that make it look like a gargantuan task, but instead look at each journey, and each step as a milestone in itself. I am hopeful. Because we have taken more than a few steps already.

Russell Higginbotham
CEO Asia