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Managing the risk: Eric Hui

Eric Hui has been a Zuricher for nearly 30 years, witnessing decades of extraordinary transformation since his management trainee days rotating through various departments to learn every aspect of operations. Today, as CEO of Zurich Insurance (Hong Kong), he says that while technology has redefined the industry, there will always be a need for human interaction.

Eric Hui

In fact, Eric attributes his time spent in claims – his first placement – to teaching him the essence of meaningful interactions between customers and the company, a dialogue he describes as the ‘moment of truth’.

Headquartered in Switzerland, Zurich employs about 54,000 people globally and nearly 600 in Hong Kong. It becomes evident during Eric’s chat with The CEO Magazine that his focus is fixed on a company culture of innovation, where building and developing tailored products will help customers feel more relevant.

The CEO Magazine: What is insurance and why is it so important?

Eric: Insurance is prudent risk management against unexpected events in life. In Hong Kong last year, Typhoon Mangkhut caused roughly US$370 million in insured loss. Imagine rebuilding the damaged infrastructure or simply rescheduling a paid vacation, without insurance?

The protection gap is an issue with many people unaware they are underinsured, that the coverage they purchased as a graduate will not be adequate when they’re married with kids.

I believe the most important aspect when processing insurance is the meaningful interaction with customers during the claims handling process. It is the moment of truth. Technology is redefining the claims process as we speak but there will always be need for human input, human expertise and judgement, and, most importantly, for treating our customers fairly and affectionately.

Having said this, we have had to modify our approach somewhat to cater to the emerging generation, who live very digital lives and expect innovative products. They prefer a more hands-on approach where they can digitally connect and manage insurance products online by themselves. Our products must be easy to understand and cater to their individual needs. Insurance is certainly a tool to improve our world in many aspects. We own the role to make insurance relevant to the changing customer behaviour, societal values and economic development.

How does innovation drive growth at Zurich Insurance (Hong Kong)?

First impressions count, so we provide a seamless customer experience through our application programming interface and artificial intelligence, transforming ourselves in the areas of acquisitions, claims and services. In 2010, we were one of the first Hong Kong insurers to introduce a claims app to improve the quality and speed of claims handling. Along with our long-established B2B e-platform, we also have the eClaims platform and chatbot, so we are continuously improving and reinventing our service touchpoints.

Furthermore, we have partnered with HKTVmall to launch insurance services on the largest online marketplace in Hong Kong. We are delighted to offer this and it signifies a new era for both HKTVmall and Zurich Insurance.

The inaugural Zurich Innovation World Championship was launched in August last year and attracted 450 start-ups from around the world. Were you pleased by the response to it from Hong Kong businesses?

It was incredible. Out of the entries received from around the world, Hong Kong received the third highest number overall (behind London and Singapore). This cemented the fact that Hong Kong is truly a thriving insurtech hub.

We would love to help these winners and start-ups lift their ideas off the ground by running a proof of concept and aligning for win–win–win impact, making it a win for our customers too. We are also encouraging creativity among the younger generations to nurture our future talents. We’re actively sponsoring youth programs like the Trial and Error Lab of the Breakthrough organisation in Hong Kong.

Eric Hui

What is your leadership style and how do you approach people management?

I have a versatile style. Depending on the situation I may be authoritative or people-oriented but either way I work closely with my team. This versatility goes hand-in-hand with principles and integrity – which are also fundamentals of my management style.

To support our people, last year we introduced FlexWork arrangements to enhance time management by employees. We also listen to them via the employee Net Promoter Score as part of our evolving feedback culture. We need to understand what drives their job satisfaction every day.

Another aspect of my leadership is a commitment to ESG (environmental, social and governance). A sustainable business needs to commit to issues that are bigger than financial performance. We are taking active steps and using long-term thinking to ensure we are a socially responsible company well into the future, and that it comes from the heart, not for any certification or reward.

What are the current challenges and opportunities in Hong Kong for Zurich Insurance?

The general insurance market in Hong Kong is relatively fragmented and recently stagnant; however, the city is always filled with opportunities. The Hong Kong Government wants to help close the protection gap, so insurers are encouraged to promote protection-based products, with customers encouraged by tax incentives for the voluntary health incentive scheme (VHIS), mandatory provident fund and annuities.

Our government is also supportive of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) and Belt and Road (B&R) initiatives. Our capabilities of running international programs, marine insurance, risk engineering and captive program management make us an ideal partner to work with GBA, B&R, maritime businesses, and so on.

Zurich is also a partner of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s Infrastructure Financing Facilitation Office and a member of the Belt and Road Insurance Exchange Facilitation of the Hong Kong Insurance Authority, where we collaborate with key stakeholders across industries and government entities to strengthen Hong Kong as an infrastructure financing centre in risk management.

Our global organisation gives us a winning edge. We are constantly improving our competence through acquisitions, such as Cover-More, Blue Insurance, Travel Ace and Universal Assistance, which increases our knowledge, boosts our talents and enhances our creativity, all of which bring new ideas to market. Our workforce, supported by the global talent pool, is diverse and we leverage this to broaden our ideas.

Looking forward, our strategic priorities include digital health, travel, mobility, life protection and international programs. As mentioned earlier, the world is changing and we have to stay relevant. We have to change our conventional mindset to better manage risks. For example, in our ageing society, we are serious about creating solutions for the elderly. With our recent travel product revamp we took a bold approach and included coverage for elders that most insurers would not. Not only is there no upper age limit, there is also no reduction in their sum insured.

At the end of the day, we pride ourselves on listening to our customers. We have different touchpoints throughout the customer process to capture feedback and areas for improvement. These comments are reviewed daily and shared with key stakeholders to trigger improvements. Our customer satisfaction score has increased tremendously in recent years which is attributed to the hard work that we’ve put in.

This customer-focused approach, combined with our strong concentration on innovation, will ensure that Zurich Insurance (Hong Kong) continues to thrive and prosper.

Eric Hui on the best advice he ever received

Always follow the path of integrity.

“This advice came from my beloved mum. It is always on my mind and has helped tremendously throughout my career.”

The same piece of advice, even from the same person, could mean different things at different times to you so don’t ignore things you’ve heard or known before.

“This was told to me in 1999 when I was doing a short management course in Sydney. The professor who said it was highlighting a case study that I was already familiar with so I wasn’t concentrating. Since then I have remained attentive in every class. It reminds me that learning and reflection can happen anytime.”

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