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Jul 2018

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Chris Wei, Aviva Asia: An Asian Star on the World Stage

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Feb 2018

The industry has seen numerous senior executives in Asia who have gone on to notable global roles. 
Mr Chris Wei, Global Chairman, Aviva Digital and Executive Chairman, Aviva Asia, whose career has gone through the same progression, shares his thoughts. 
By Benjamin Ang
 
 
Having experience in Asia gives a broad diversity in terms of the different ways to succeed in the insurance industry and that provides a good platform to becoming a global executive, said Mr Chris Wei, when asked about the numerous global executives who had cut their teeth in the region like he did. 
 
   He first came back to Asia some 15 years ago. Over the years, he has held various senior roles, including Group Chief Marketing Officer, Head of Bancassurance and Direct Marketing at AIA, and Group CEO at Great Eastern Holdings. He was then named CEO, Global Life Insurance of Aviva in 2014, before his role evolved. 
 
   “I have North American experience, I have European experience, and I have Asian experience. And it’s been a privilege to have worked here,” he said. 
 
   “Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. And because of the growth dynamics and also the diversity of markets in the region, even though we are geographically in the same area, every country is quite different in terms of culture, maturity level, regulatory framework, and customers’ attitude towards protection or savings,” he said. This means an executive will have experience executing vastly different strategies across markets in Asia in order to succeed. 
 
More global leaders from Asia?
With the talent, skills and platform available for leaders in Asia, will we see more leaders assuming global responsibilities? He said: “I certainly hope so. One of the things that was recognised is that I am of Asian descent and now have a global role with a big organisation.”
 
   Much depends on the culture of each organisation as well. Being a UK company, naturally there is going to be a bias towards UK executives. But Mr Wei pointed out that Aviva CEO Mark Wilson is a New Zealander who has built a group executive team that is “quite international”. That diversity allows the group to better understand the different customers’ needs and preferences it has across its markets.
 
   He added: “I have the good fortune of working for a great organisation. In Aviva, we embrace diversity. More and more so, we are realising that if we bring in people of different skillsets and backgrounds, there is a diversity of thought. And it is scientifically proven that such teams work more effectively as a result.”
 
Personality of the Year winner
While Mr Wei modestly cited “good fortune” and that “it’s been a privilege”, his accomplishments speak for themselves. He was crowned Personality of the Year at the recent 21st Asia Insurance Industry Awards for his track record of experience and success across multiple disciplines, and for being a digital trailblazer in the industry.
 
   On the win, he said, “This was genuinely extra special because it’s recognition from my peers in the industry. To me, that means a lot.”
 
   “I’ve been in the insurance industry my entire career. I did choose to go into actuarial science at the University of Toronto,” said Mr Wei, who comes from a family with a long line of doctors. 
 
   “Over the last 25 years, I’ve tried to make an impact on the industry. I’ve had the good fortune of working across three continents. The industry has been great to me. And now with this recognition, hopefully I can continue to play a part in progressing the impact that our industry delivers to customers every day.”
 
Partnering for disruption
To achieve unprecedented progress, Mr Wei believes it is necessary to work with the right partners. In 2017, Aviva, Tencent, Hillhouse Capital Group signed a deal aiming to develop an insurance company in Hong Kong focussing on digital insurance. It hopes to be the first InsurTech-approved venture in Hong Kong, and aims to launch before the end of first quarter of 2018. 
 
   “This joint venture is interesting, it is the coming together of three partners, we have Tencent which everybody knows, not only WeChat but now they have an eWallet and looking to expand that functionality in Hong Kong. We’ve got Hillhouse that I think is a brilliant asset management company and then of course ourselves, we bring the insurance expertise. So it’s three partners coming together to look to disrupt what is a fairly traditional market, and hope to bring a different set of options for Hong Kong consumers,” he said. 
 
   Elaborating on what “digital insurance” means, he said “it is actually really allowing customers to access services and products that are related to insurance in a fully digital way”. 
 
   He added: “It will probably be on mobile devices, it will probably be linked to WeChat’s chat platform and eWallet, and the idea is to make it simple enough that people can complete an investigation, a quote and buy journey, and actual conversion into policy issuance, totally digitally in minutes. And ultimately if and when they need to claim, similarly they would be able to claim digitally.” 
 
   There will be some offline capability. “If somebody wants to talk to somebody, you must have that customer service capability, so that’s a given”. But as much as possible, it is really for customers who want convenience, choice, and access to their policy information on any device 24/7. 
 
   “Some of the basic functionality that we plan to introduce – in addition to no commissions and no exit penalties – is that people can change their minds anytime with no lock-in period. So it’s really a subscription-type policy which we are quite excited about,” he said. 
 
“Playing with the best”
On working with partners outside of the insurance industry, Mr Wei said: “I was asked the question before, ‘Are we inviting lions into the den?’. My response is ‘I think we can’t afford not to play with the best’.” 
 
   Digital by its very nature is open platform. There are massive ecosystems such as those of Tencent and Google that you have to plug into. The key is to embrace the different ways customers choose to engage and not about forcing insurance down customers’ throat. 
 
   “It is about finding opportunities that when they need something, we are there. And we are there ready to serve with simple and effective products,” he said, adding that “If we own enough of the value chain and make it very obvious to customers and partners why they should choose Aviva because of a better experience, then I think naturally they will come to us.” A 
 
 
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