Rahul Sachitanand
Jan 13, 2021

How AIA's CMO is giving a century-old insurer a digital reboot in the middle of a pandemic

After seeing revenue tumble in the first half of 2020, Stuart A Spencer has leaned on a rapid transformation to help burnish the insurer's brand.

Stuart A Spencer, group chief marketing officer at AIA
Stuart A Spencer, group chief marketing officer at AIA

AIA, Asia’s largest listed life insurer, endured a rough start to its 2020 financial year, as the pandemic battered its business and resulted in a 37% slide in new business. As people squirreled away their money to cope with the onslaught of Covid-19, insurance companies, traditionally reliant on face-to-face interactions, struggled for traction. So as people huddled indoors under lockdowns across the region, AIA went to work recasting its brand and marketing activities, to reignite growth and add to its list of its 36 million holders of individual policies in 18 markets in the region.

Transforming a business that has been traditionally reliant on thousands of physical intermediaries has been a challenge for Stuart A Spencer, group chief marketing officer and member of the group executive committee at AIA. While consumers have traditionally preferred to visit branches or deal with agents to sign up or renew with insurers such as AIA, Spencer has had to find new ways to bring them into the fold during the pandemic.

Despite the slump in the first half of 2020, Spencer believes that the pandemic has given a fresh filip to life insurance. “During the pandemic, there has been a surge in interest in what we do as people put health and wellness at the centre of their lives,” he told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “To keep pace with this transition, we have reworked our online properties to help our customers make this shift.”

A key campaign from AIA in some markets in 2020 was its 'Share the love' initiative, which sought to focus on how its consumers have managed during the pandemic. It also let them gift a policy to a loved one as a sign of their commitment to leading healthier lives.  

To keep pace with rapid changes in the market, Spencer has focused his team’s energies on aggressively taking transactions from offline to online. As a result, unique visitors to AIA sites rose by 30% in 2020, and total site visits by 23%.

Behind the scenes, Spencer has been busy pushing his team to adjust the look-and-feel of customer-facing apps and sites. “Due to the pandemic, there has been a shift from face-to-face transactions to virtual ones, and we have been at the forefront of this shift,” he claims.

Spencer lists several changes in the way AIA has approached its marketing in this period. He cites how AIA China now uses WeChat to deliver important messages to agents during difficult times; has launched the first 24-7 online agency product campaign, 'YITOU', which generated thousands of sales leads and policies; and has developed new functionality called Air Sign, which enables agents to close sales with customers without face-to-face meetings. In Hong Kong, AIA has launched three new platforms in 2020 (Sign Everywhere, Easy Sign and EcBuy), all of which allow customers to purchase policies from agents using online platforms.

All of this transformation comes at a time when AIA is not just dealing with the impact of the pandemic, but also facing aggressive competition in Asia from rivals new and old. While it continues on this digital transfomation, Spencer will be mindful of legacy rivals such as Prudential, which is trying to stay current by teaming up with a K-pop band, and newer insuretech ventures that promise the latest tech and silkier customer service. 

Spencer, however, is unfazed by these moves and is willing to walk the talk on AIA’s digital transformation. According to AIA, in the second quarter, more than 40% of new policies were closed using video technology and remote signatures. Over a 30-day period at the end of the third quarter, AIA’s staff conducted close to 280,000 video calls and 1 million online audio calls, a step change from previous periods.

AIA’s attempt to keep wary consumers investing in insurance comes on the back of the launch of its latest brand-building initiative, called 'Live with Vitality'. According to Spencer, this campaign has been designed to encapsulate that no matter how customers strive to live better lives, AIA will stay by their side to help keep their health on track.

AIA launched the campaign in October in four markets (Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand) across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. In phase one, the focus was on teaser social GIFs. Phase two in November saw the launch of three social films focused on the three key pillars of Vitality (eat well, stay active, reduce stress). The third phase will focus on films using real customer stories. During the first two phases, AIA says the campaign reached more than 14 million people.

All of these initiatives cement a long-term transition from a dealer in plain-vanilla life insurance to a brand focused on health and wellness. “The pandemic has intensified the focus on health and wellness so our brand promise has never been more relevant than it is today,” Spencer contends.

To stay relevant to health- and wellness-conscious consumers, Spencer adds that AIA Vitality focuses on physical activity, healthy diet, smoking cessation, and alcohol moderation, all of which are closely linked to reduced incidence of long-term, costly diseases such as heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.

He also points to AIA’s #onemorehour campaign, which focuses on mental wellbeing and sleep sufficiency, both of which, the insurer argues, connect to better clinical outcomes. With a commissioned Kantar study of 6000 consumers in APAC showing that 85% are not following eight key behaviours to lead healthier lives, AIA and Spencer believe they have found a key lever to drive growth in the market.

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