Godfrey Hui, Vice President and Chief Actuary at China Life Insurance (Overseas) Company Limited (China Life (Overseas)) has seen the highs and lows of market fluctuations from every angle. His role involves making complex assessments of risk, based on analysis of market demographics.
His career itself was in large part the result of an economic downturn. “When I was a graduate, it was not a very good economy at the time. I loved maths, so that was what got me thinking about changing from accounting to actuarial work,” he explains. He got a start with Australian insurer AMP and has never looked back.
Godfrey has spent much of his working life at China Life (Overseas), which has steadily developed as one of the top market players in Hong Kong and Macau. Its parent, China Life Insurance (Group) Company, climbed the Fortune 500 rankings in recent years, rising to number 51 in 2017.
It is looking to expand from its base in Hong Kong and Macau across South East Asia. Its Singapore subsidiary was successfully established in 2015. “Our vision is: Wherever there are Chinese, there is China Life,” Godfrey says.
A more rigorous regulatory framework
Now an industry veteran with 17 years of experience in a senior management role with the company, Godfrey has seen a raft of changes across the field, particularly a tougher regulatory environment in the wake of the global financial crisis. “After the GFC, everyone agreed that customer protection needed to be at the heart of the business,” he says.
Godfrey has overseen the company’s response to a more rigorous regulatory framework, including new guidelines that require insurers to operate with greater transparency and disclosure of the fulfilment ratio of each of their product offerings. The Hong Kong government is also in the process of introducing the concept of Policyholders’ Protection Fund.
He says there has been an increased focus on product transparency and customer protection. “We are seeing the introduction of risk-based capital requirements. Both quantitative and qualitative reporting are crucial under the new regime.”
The Integrated Business Design and Knowledge Base Platform of China Life (Overseas) was recently nominated as a top-three finalist in Hong Kong Insurance Awards 2017 – InsurTech Innovation Award.
Godfrey says the new platform has been useful in streamlining workflow and decision making in the organisation. “It has increased operational efficiency and improved turnaround time, which ultimately enhances customer experience,” he explains.
Constant evolution and improvement
In recent years, China Life (Overseas) has made a concerted effort to introduce new management talent to its Hong Kong operations. It has sought to recruit staff who can demonstrate a commitment to its focus on constant evolution and improvement.
“Innovation has been key throughout the industry, both technology- and service-wise. My first consideration would be whether someone has shown initiative to innovate.”
Godfrey says staff who can achieve success in international management are also highly valued.
“We look for specialised knowledge of financial industries with an international perspective,” he says. “Experience in those countries where we are interested in making acquisitions is something we seek.”
In addition to strong communication skills and industry experience, Godfrey says there are some intangible qualities that China Life (Overseas) looks for in its new recruits.
Good management needs loyalty
“It’s funny to say this, but one thing I ask for is loyalty. I always say good management staff will not just look after their own career, they will look after the company. Without loyalty, it would be hard to contribute.”
Good management staff will not just look after their own career, they will look after the company.
Godfrey says there are particular challenges in trying to gain a foothold in Hong Kong. “It is a saturated market,” he acknowledges. “The penetration rate is one
of the highest in the world. You also have more insurers trying to get into the market and they have been quite aggressive in their product design. At the same time, the insurance market is slowing down in 2017.”
In such a tough market, emerging sectors like travellers to Hong Kong and younger customers are important demographics. Appealing to a younger clientele, Godfrey explains, involves investing in sales and customer service technology as well as developing insurance products with a high cost to performance ratio and getting marketing strategies right.
“We find the younger generation live very digital lives, but they are quite resistant to push marketing. They like to be self-directing in their decision making, but they are also more open-minded and innovative products can catch their eyes.”