While insurance started as a way to protect property, today it’s a people-centric industry, explains the CEO of AIA Vietnam Wayne Besant. Vietnam was late to the insurance market, but Wayne doesn’t necessarily see it as a negative: unprecedented developments in technology in recent years mean that more people can be reached, with more personalized products, faster.
Wayne’s see-through office at Saigon Center makes no secret of the occupant’s roots – a well-thumbed copy of the Maori-English dictionary propped up on a shelf; an All Blacks flag draped over a chair. A proud New Zealander, Wayne has found a second home in Vietnam after arriving here in 2015. Under his leadership, the company has been on a winning streak: the Vietnam office of Asia-Pacific’s largest public listed life insurance group has just reported another record-breaking year.
In this edition of “How I Manage”, AIA Vietnam’s boss shares tips on his “People focus” and explains why insurance is the right industry for caring people looking for a rewarding career.
From your perspective, what is insurance? What does it accomplish for society?
Insurance is hardly a new thing; it’s been around for centuries. But while in the beginning it was a way for society to protect property from cataclysms, today it’s more than a safety net for when disaster strikes – we are here to help people live healthier, longer, better lives. It’s not just about paying claims. Next year, we are rolling out AIA’s pioneering Vitality app in Vietnam, which not only gives you a reduction on your premium when you achieve your health goals, but it also rewards and motivates you with things like free coffee and movie tickets as part of what we call “a shared value” proposition where everyone benefits. Healthier populations mean less strain on the healthcare providers and public resources; it also means reduced insurance costs for customers.
What do you see as important markers of a good insurance company, from a consumer viewpoint?
Sometimes it’s good to be the underdog and the little guy, but insurance is an industry where size matters. You want a company with capital and longevity. AIA is the largest life insurance company in the world, it is also one of the oldest insurance companies in the world. We’ve been around for over 100 years and our customers know that whether they have a claim today or in 20 years, we are going to be around to pay it out. The second thing to consider is the product and offering itself. Is it tailored to the needs of the Vietnamese people? Be wary of anything that resembles a one-size-fits-all solution. As an Asia-based company [AIA is headquartered in Hong Kong] with a deep understanding of the local country and consumers' needs, we are well aware that things that work in Ho Chi Minh City don’t always make sense if you live in Ca Mau or Bac Ninh.
If we asked AIA Vietnam employees to describe your management style, what will they say?
I am often described as a people’s person and a caring person. And while I am undoubtedly very results-driven, staying humble and empathetic is my mantra. My team also knows that I will only accept results that were achieved the right way. Treating everyone with respect, giving my team as much autonomy as they need, fostering a culture of empowerment – these are values I live by.
In the wake of covid-19, many leaders are reimagining what company culture means and how to accomplish it. How has AIA Vietnam’s company culture been affected by the pandemic?
If anything, covid-19 has reinforced the existing culture: looking after our people, acting decisively, and communicating a lot. I think the results speak for themselves – despite covid-19 we’ve had another record year. But above all, we wanted to do the right thing. As soon as the scope of the crisis became clear, AIA Vietnam offered full covid-19 protection for all hospital staff in Vietnam, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and cooks. During the first three months, if you tested positive, you got a pay-out. Then after the wave in Da Nang, we reinstated it and back-dated the claims. The policy is still in place today. Our staff felt incredibly proud to have been recognized by the government, for our community focus and support and very motivated.
What qualities are essential to being successful at AIA Vietnam? What do you look for in potential employees?
When hiring a senior person, I always like to have a coffee with him or her as part of the onboarding. What I look for is a good cultural fit and that, to me, means loyalty, resilience and balance. You might have all the qualifications in the world, but if your CV has two years here, three years there and you cannot commit, it probably won’t work. And when I say resilience, I mean people who have to weather a few storms and came out stronger. With balance I want to know what passions you have outside of work. For me it’s sport, but for you it can be church, community work, hiking – anything as long as it’s not work-related. Also, if you are humble, and have people empathy, you are likely to be a good fit for AIA Vietnam.
What are some of your team’s achievements since you took on the leadership role at AIA Vietnam that you are proudest of?
During my time here, we’ve doubled the number of employees to 1,200 staffs. But it’s the development of the people I am proudest of, the most. We have established a successful, sustainable, viable business and it’s all down to the quality of the people we have.
This translates into stellar financial results. Every year for the past five years, we’ve had a CAGR rate (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 35% and we will achieve it again this year. Our contribution to the community, from distributing bikes to the disadvantaged children in the provinces or supporting frontline workers during covid-19, means a lot to me and my people.
We have a saying in AIA Vietnam, “What is good for Vietnam, is good for AIA Vietnam”. We live by doing the right thing in supporting and developing this country.
Technology is reshaping legacy industries. What will the business of insurance look like in this new digital world?
Covid-19 has certainly changed the lens for most industries and the insurance sector is no different. We are seeing the emergence of new online tools, more propensity modeling, less reliance on in-branch visits and better communication tools. As we bring new ways to meet the needs of the customers in this new reality, the focus is on digital. That being said, insurance will remain a relationship-based industry, with technology as the enabler. People remain at the heart of everything we do.
What advice would you give to young Vietnamese who want to pursue a career in insurance?
If you are flexible, open to learning and willing to take some risks, you will pick up experience in no time, as well as honing your communication skills. Also, try to make your parents proud. They probably had to make sacrifices to send you to university, so your success is their success too. If you want a job that is meaningful and that benefits society, the insurance industry is a great career. It’s important to choose the right company, of course. One that is progressive and willing to invest in your future, and cares and supports its people.