Challenging the status quo might not be how Bill Nguyen usually describes his job function (that would be developing the digital roadmap for AIA Vietnam), but the Chief Technology Officer in charge of digital transformation certainly has a knack for modernizing outdated attitudes and processes.
Over the past 4,7 years, Bill’s single-minded focus on putting technology in service of customers has helped propel AIA Vietnam to the rarefied heights of being the organization’s top performing unit in terms of digital transformation. Not only that, the unit’s stellar financial performance over the past five years, with a CAGR rate of 30%, shows how legacy industries can thrive in the age of technology.
Bill is equally adept at finding allies. He got the full backing of the human resources team with his request to avoid hiring anyone with an insurance background (changing outdated mindsets takes too long, he says). Convincing the head office to grant him more freedom in effecting change was a walk in the park, in comparison.
We ask AIA Vietnam’s top IT, analytics and digital transformation guy about the challenges of bringing life insurance into the digital age and what role the startup mindset plays in it.
Looking back to when you first started, how far has AIA Vietnam advanced on the digital path in the past 4,7 years?
To give you an idea of just how “analogue” things were when I joined, imagine a lightly staffed IT department using technology from 15 years ago and everyone working in silos. Since then, the team has grown threefold, to around 150 employees, and I consider the first stage of the digital transformation to be completed.
We were already operating on the cloud and all the systems were running smoothly. So when the pandemic hit, we experienced none of the disruptions many other sectors and businesses suffered. Today, among Vietnam’s Big Four life insurance companies, we are undoubtedly the market leaders in technology.
What is it about the life insurance industry that made you stay for much longer than originally planned?
I fell in love with the brand promise: helping people live healthier, longer, better lives. AIA Vietnam was my first life insurance experience, and their focus on longevity and wellness appealed to me right away. I have high hopes for Vitality— a new personalised, science-backed health and wellbeing program that over the next years will grow to include telemedicine too.
And I love the challenges of the job; building something from scratch, overhauling the department. I am very proud of what my team has achieved: we are nearing the level where we can hope to compete with the guys at the very top, i.e. the big tech companies. They are young, with mostly tech and startup backgrounds, and have the right mindset.
So, what technology have you rolled out at AIA Vietnam so far?
Now that we are on Microsoft’s cloud, we can scale up and down with ease as well as use resources when they are needed. Thus, our operating costs have gone down. We also transformed how we gather, analyze and use data. AIA Vietnam teams now have access to data on the whole enterprise, including historical data, not just what’s relevant for the individual job functions.
What this did was open up ways for us to visualize customers as individuals, with their unique circumstances and needs. This approach is, in fact, revolutionary for the industry, as it shifts the spotlight from policy to customer.
How closely do you work with your colleagues in other departments?
Whether it’s a customer-related or data-related issue, we tackle them by empowering people to work in small teams where different departments come together to address issues collectively. Usually, they wrestle with one problem at a time. As for our salesforce, there was some understandable pushback when we rolled out the new digital sales tools. Change is hard and there were a few hiccups in the beginning. But we’ve since gained their full trust. They understand that to be successful, we can’t afford to do things the way we did them in the past.
How much freedom do you and your team have to implement Vietnam-specific solutions?
Quite a lot, actually! I am the only CTO with almost “unlimited freedom”. AIA Group believes in empowering local business units, as we obviously know our markets better. When I started, it wasn’t that hard to convince the head office that digital transformation is vital to the success of the organization. Though venturous, it has certainly paid off: we are the leading unit when it comes to cloud adoption.
Our digital transformation model is Vietnam-specific and is built around customer experience, partnerships, agency workforce and managing the internal processes. Getting the last component right is crucial as it will deliver the rest of them.
What are your priorities for 2021 and beyond?
The ultimate goal is to bring AIA Vietnam into the digital leader space. To get there, we need to first catch up with the finance sector, and that’s what we are working on this year. Once that critical foundation is in place, we will be ready to play in the big league with the likes of Grab and Microsoft.