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CEO interview: AXA in China, adapting, evolving

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Yamin Zhu (pictured), CEO of AXA Tianping, AXA’s wholly owned P&C company in China, speaks to The Digital Insurer about how AXA is adapting to the rapidly changing Chinese market.

Q.1 Can you tell us more about AXA’s digital projects in China, and partnerships AXA has engaged in such as WeSure, MediTrust?

The digital evolution is in fact bringing new opportunities to the insurance industry in Asia, as new technologies are enabling insurers to better address customers’ needs. One example is the growth of telehealth, which mirrors a broader uptick in the use of online services, from agents conducting activities remotely via digital channels to customers ‘self-serving’ online rather than going to physical customer service centres.

In China, digital innovation plays a key role in how AXA Tianping, as one of the most diversified foreign insurance companies in the Chinese market, is firmly transforming from volume-driven motor mono-liner to value-driven and health-focused multi-liner, providing customers with a more convenient experience.

For example, AXA Tianping is working on a strategic alliance with QHealth (formerly known as Tencent Trusted Doctors), a leading online medical service provider in the country, to provide professional and reliable health services and ensure that high-quality services are accessible whenever and wherever possible with more and more comprehensive and diversified resources.

The partnership enables us to provide 24/7 access to teleconsultations through a dedicated hotline for AXA customers and employees seeking advice and support. The online platform is supported by 450,000 professional medical doctors and psychologists. A dedicated mental wellness helpline via chat and video on WeChat has also gone live last year, providing additional support as society recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

Across Asia, AXA has been digitalising its services in line with its commitment of moving from being a Payer (offering policies and handling claims) to a Partner (supporting customers’ holistic wellbeing across their life journey). At the centre of it is EMMA by AXA, AXA Asia’s main digital platform for customers that first launched in Hong Kong in 2019 and is now also available in the Philippines, mainland China, as well as Japan.

In the Chinese market, AXA Tianping has localised this platform through WeChat, providing users with services including a Family Doctor, Instant Medical Consultation, Online Pharmacy, Drug Delivery, Mental Health Consultation, Top-tier Doctor Consultation and Child Health.

This digital platform also provides AXA Tianping with valuable feedback, helping us fully understand the needs of customers and their families, allowing us to provide increasingly personalised health management and reliable support.

Q.2 How important is the Chinese market for AXA? What is the attraction?

As the second-largest insurance market in the world, China is one of AXA’s key strategic markets globally, marked by its huge market scale and rapid growth, especially in the field of health insurance. According to official statistics, the compound growth rate of commercial health insurance in the past 10 years has exceeded 28%.

The Chinese government’s ‘Healthy China 2030’ strategy has made development of the healthcare sector a national priority, while also leading many Chinese consumers to become increasingly aware of the importance of their own health.

In particular, China’s middle-income consumers are generally more eager to buy insurance, part of a growing demand for high-quality health services and rising willingness to pay for health value-added services. However, very few health insurance products currently available are in their price range or address their needs. AXA Tianping’s efforts in China are largely focused on this group of consumers, aiming to provide them with a diverse range of products and services backed with our global high-quality resources, comprehensive cooperation network and leading digital innovation ability.

Q.3 Some foreign insurers have been permitted to own 100% of their joint venture in China. What impact do you think this will have on the market?

China’s insurance industry is gradually opening up and becoming more market-oriented, and foreign investment regulations have also been increasingly relaxed. AXA Tianping sees this as a positive trend, allowing more Chinese consumers to enjoy more diverse insurance products and services. At the same time, we are happy to see that governments at all levels and financial regulatory departments are continuing to strengthen the regulatory system and promote standardisation in the industry’s development.

The arrival of more foreign insurers will naturally make for a more competitive market. Success in such a market will depend on whether a company can find its own unique competitive advantage, fully release its potential for innovation, and provide customers with high-quality products and differentiated services.

Q.4 We are continuing to see the convergence of life/health insurance and healthcare. What is AXA developing in preventative solutions, chronic disease management, or even the direct provision of healthcare in China? (eg Emma)

AXA has long been aware of the need for new convenient, digital solutions to help patients manage their own health. Based on years of extensive research, AXA has developed numerous products to meet emerging needs, including several specifically made for the China market.

In June 2021, we upgraded our digital platform Emma Health Management Service to a broader one-stop platform called Emma by AXA, offering access to family doctor, telemedicine, online pharmacy, drug delivery, mental health consultation, child health, insurance claims e-policies and renewal services.

We have also found that the challenges of the pandemic have led people around the world to grow increasingly self-reliant and proactive at managing their own health, while taking a more holistic approach to wellbeing that embraces both physical and mental wellness.

AXA Tianping’s Shengshi series of products, including Signature Inpatient and Outpatient Insurance and Full-Flexi & Modular Medical Treatment Insurance Solution, are designed to meet this emerging desire for a more complete experience of treatment, and reflect our belief in being not just a Payer, but a “Partner” on customers’ health journey. Signature Inpatient and Outpatient Insurance compensates 100% for major diseases like malignant tumors, while Full-Flexi & Modular Medical Treatment Insurance Solution covers the whole journey of healthcare before, during and after consultation, including professional in-home care for 90 days after surgery without additional cost.

Through Shengshi series of products, AXA aims to meet the needs of China’s new middle class, providing them with higher-quality as well as higher-level medical services.

Q5. How has the experience of working and developing in China influenced the business’s digital transformation elsewhere? 

From its diverse social ecosystem to the nearly universal scope of online payment, China’s digitalisation is at the forefront of the world. AXA Tianping has introduced an upgraded version of its digital platform EMMA by AXA, providing users with services of Family Doctor, Instant Medical Consultation, Online Pharmacy, Drug Delivery, Mental Health Consultation, Top-tier Doctor Consultation, Child Health, providing users with services including a Family Doctor, Instant Medical Consultation, Online Pharmacy, Drug Delivery, Mental Health Consultation, Top-tier Doctor Consultation and Child Health. Digital platforms such as Emma also provide AXA Tianping with valuable feedback, helping us more fully understand the needs of customers and their families, allowing us to provide increasingly personalized health management and reliable support. In the future, we will continue to share effective digital solutions with colleagues around the world and expect to make common progress.

Q6. How do you see the future Chinese insurance market developing over the next five years?

China’s insurance market has tremendous growth potential and is expected to become the world’s largest insurance market by 2035. Demand for convenient and personalized health solutions has soared over the past year, particularly among China’s rapidly expanding middle-class against the backdrop of the pandemic. At the same time, China’s continuous opening-up of the insurance sector enables international insurers to deepen their engagement in the market.

In addition, the Chinese government has been supporting the healthcare industry in recent years, with its Healthy China 2030 blueprint being an example. This has helped to expand access to high-quality healthcare services, alongside promoting the development of commercial health insurance to fill the gap in insurance coverage.

AXA Tianping’s recent Digital Health white paper co-authored with Deloitte also identified five major healthcare trends and looked into consumer pain points in first and second-tier cities when it comes to healthcare delivery and insurance. We uncovered a growing demand for sophisticated digital health management products, including remote access to dedicated family doctors to provide service across the continuum of care.

These insights have informed our development of new solutions. One example is the Emma by AXA digital platform.

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