Clients expect "fully digital journeys" – Sun Life CEO

Clients expect "fully digital journeys" – Sun Life CEO

Clients expect “fully digital journeys” – Sun Life CEO | Insurance Business Asia

Life & Health

Clients expect “fully digital journeys” – Sun Life CEO

Kevin Strain on prioritising agility and cultural changes

Life & Health

By
Jen Frost



Sun Life has been in business in the traditional life insurance industry for over 150 years, and cultural shifts accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic impact have made digital mission critical for the insurance company.

Sun Life clients now expect to have “fully digital journeys” with the life insurer, which also focuses on wealth and health solutions, and this is a global phenomenon, Sun Life president and CEO Kevin Strain (pictured) told Insurance Business.

“Our businesses are fully digitally oriented, and we’ve been stressing culturally that we have to think and act more like a digital company,” Strain said. “We have to be more agile, we have to push decision making closer to the client, and it’s a significant shift in how we think about doing business.”

Strain’s emphasis on this transformation is backed up by the life insurer’s 2022 annual report, in which ‘digital’ or ‘digitally’ are mentioned 60 times. Among celebrated milestones, more than 65,000 financial roadmaps were created for Canadians using the Sun Life One Plan digital tool last year, while in Asia 83% of applications were made digitally, representative of a 12% surge.

“In my mind, the life insurer of the future is a digital business that meets clients’ needs how they need to be met, and how they want them to be met,” Strain said.

Digital drive pivotal to Sun Life’s triple-pronged health, wealth, and insurance lifetime aims

Strain sees this digital drive as playing a pivotal role as the business builds out its capabilities to meet its vision of “helping clients achieve lifetime security and to live healthier lives”, with a greater focus on health and wellness than in the past and on delivering plans that encompass evolving life, health, and wealth needs.

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“It’s about creating digital ways of interacting with clients that cover life, health and wealth – and that dive much deeper into wellness will certainly change how we look,” Strain said.

To deliver on this and for the group to continue “demonstrating an impact”, it can no longer be seen as the support function of the past, according to Strain, and Sun Life, which made CA$4.3 billion in insurance sales and had CA$1.33 trillion of assets under management last year, has looked to a fresh mindset.

Agility has become a priority for the more than a century-and-a-half old insurance company, and units have worked more closely with digital teams to share feedback and ideas.

Hybrid “here to stay”, says Sun Life president and CEO Kevin Strain

This digitally focused approach has extended to how Sun Life is looking at its workforce.

Strain, on the other hand, predicted that “hybrid is here to stay”, with some caveats. Sun Life is currently committed to hybrid work, with most businesses not having mandated days and the group having effectively taken a business-by-business and role-by-role approach, according to Strain. For example, its “highly collaborative” asset management business has asked people to come in more frequently, whereas those working on solo projects have been coming in less often.

“One of the things we do believe is that when people come into the office, they should be coming in for collaboration, they should be coming in for teamwork, or sessions that need that sort of innovation,” Strain said. “We want to make the office a magnet for people; we want them to come because they get closer to the culture, and they see the value of those relationships.”

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Cultural norms and differences are also at play, with workers in some regions having been more inclined to return to pre-pandemic norms.

“If you went to Asia, you’d find that most people are coming back into the office now,” Strain, who served as president of Sun Life Asia from 2012 to 2017 based in Hong Kong, said. “And that’s been their choice, right? They’ve wanted to come back for lots of different reasons that tie into the culture.”

Sun Life CEO believes advisors are here for the long haul and will benefit from technology

The way the life insurance agents and advisors have interacted with clients has also changed, and Strain further predicted that hybrid expectations where it comes to doing business are here to stay.

Digital savviness has become a key requirement for advisors and agents, while advancements and a surge in interest in generative AI, buoyed by the meteoric rise of ChatGPT into the sphere of public interest, has even seen suggestions that they could find themselves competing with the technology.

A recent survey of 1,000 American consumers by life insurance agency Getsure found that despite 68% of respondents expecting insurance agents to be replaced by AI within 20 years, even more (70%) would not feel comfortable dealing with an AI agent – just 9% said they would feel very comfortable doing so.

“Computers can’t have empathy,” Strain said. “Generative AI is not going to have empathy and the role of the advisor, which is to understand their clients and to empathise with their clients, is so important.”

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Clients may be expecting solutions for the computerised age, but advisors and agents will continue to play a key role for the long-term and customers want to continue having that long term “digital journey” with them, in Strain’s view.

“The role of the advisor is even more important today than it’s ever been, because of the complexity and the sophistication of bringing together life insurance, health insurance and wealth products, and the fact that that’s being done over a lifetime,” Strain said.

What’s your take on Sun Life CEO Kevin Strain’s approach to digital and vision for the life insurer of the future? Let us know in the comments below.

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