Chai Chaiyawan, president of Thai Life Insurance, has spent two years laying a new road map and upgrading the business model to increase competitiveness of its agents and to prepare for the intense competition from the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
“Thai Life Insurance will become a people business, not a life-insurance business as before. We have to create a new culture among all stakeholders, especially agents, that the policyholders are a part of their lives and our agents must be a part of the policyholder’s family,” Chai said.
He said insurance products nowadays did not differ much, hence customers could not judge which one was better for their needs. In these circumstances, people will prefer to buy insurance from familiar agents before considering other brands.
The company, therefore, has to change the mindset of its agents from that of a salesman to a life partner. Making an impression on customers immediately will make them brand ambassadors, and this will result in sustainable growth in the long run, he said.
More than half of Thai Life’s agents are ageing, 45-50 years old, because the company recruited a lot of them in 1983, a high-growth year for the company.
“We did not know what would happen in the future, or that the AEC would bring new competitors into the life-insurance industry. We have to prepare ourselves, especially the agents, because they contribute 80 per cent of total premium income,” he said.
At present, Thai Life Insurance has 70,000 agents nationwide. The company is developing a project to create a new generation of agents who will be successors to the first generation. These new-generation people don’t want to be merely agents – they can be brand ambassadors for Thai Life as well, he said.
“What we are doing is reinforcing our iconic brand among Thais and people from neighbouring countries living here. Once they experience the Thai Life brand, they can continue to use Thai Life products even when they return to their own countries,” he said.
The company is interested in having a foothold in Asean, but it won’t be in the near future because these neighbouring countries have just opened up their economies and the priorities of their people are more basic. Therefore, non-life insurance will be more important for them.
He said an insurance business was a financial institution whose performance could not be evaluated only on the basis of premiums or sales. From the day an agent sells a policy to a customer, the company has the responsibility to take care of that customer’s money and return it on time, he said.
Thai Life Insurance ranked fourth in terms of gross premium income last year, but Chai said he did not mind the ranking, as his company was focused on how to manage money against its customers’ expectations of returns.
He said the firm’s new road map would need some time to reach its goals because the competition was intense and it therefore had to improve its competitiveness.
Total premium income this year is not expected to grow because of the delayed government payments to rice farmers.
Chai said the company was working with Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance, Japan’s second-largest life insurer, which has become a strategic partner of Thai Life Insurance, to develop a plan catering to older Thais and Japanese living in Thailand.
Meiji Yasuda has vast experience in such schemes, while Thailand is become an ageing society. This product will be offered to corporates through the human resources departments of each company, he said.