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Interview: Ricky Chung, Smart Screening

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Ricky Chung, who has a science degree from Tsinghua University, joined Thomson Reuters as an internet technical consultant in 2000 before going to Canada to pursue his dream of becoming a digital artist. Ricky then worked for Tencent and Ping An digital marketing for seven years before he started his own company, under the brand name Smart Screening, which provides individual insurance agents with a digital solution to increase sales conversion.

Q.1 The availability of new data forms such as basic health data, location data and purchasing behavior will allow insurers to both price and cross sell short term insurance propositions. China is at the forefront of this new trend, can you give some examples of this in action?

As a wearable device technology company, we have seen several attempts in the past two years to connecting end users to our internet-enabled hardware to collect data. Several Chinese insurers have embraced this and involve the user by issuing a monthly report sent to the user notifying if he needs to come to take a quick check-in at our clinic. The consultant at the clinic will further give recommendations of some short-term insurance propositions. That technology was also used with our driver glasses device, which collects driving and behaviour data. We used that data to build a drivers’ safe-driving model to give to an insurance company to let it update the renewal price.

Q.2 In the face of increasing competition in the Chinese insurance industry, how can western insurers compete with Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT)?

I’m not sure what makes the BAT the assumed competition in the first place. In fact, insurance is only one of the many areas the BAT have expanded into. The internet giants loaded with cash are competing with each other by trying to make the user experience a one-stop interaction on each platform. However, western insurers hoping to compete must remember they bear the cons of lack of outlets, short of manpower, low brand awareness, I think the chance for a new western insurer is to use up-to-date technology to influence the Chinese middle class families who hire insurance as a global asset management vehicle. To facilitate that, we focus on providing the agents with a robotic virtual device to engage in online conversations to capture the needs in real time and convert.

Q.3 Which will have a bigger impact on the insurance industry, blockchain or AI?

Blockchain has two major issues, government policy and ecosystem. In the foreseeable future, I doubt if the government will grant to practice blockchain in so many industries, especially with the finance relating ones. Per what I understand blockchain also needs to set its value infrastructure on the base of a comprehensive ecosystem (no matter on what level). Insurance will play some role there though the impact itself remains still very questionable to me. On the other hand, we explored using AI on our digital device to help with user acquisition and retention, which had turned out very promising results. As a tech company like ourselves, we give our credits to AI.

Q.4 The notion of an ecosystem seems especially relevant in China (Ping An HaoChe or Autohome). Why do you think we don’t see the ‘ecosystem’ phenomenon in the West?

First HaoChe has faded from the market. So this is more of an economic philosophical topic to me. Most Chinese companies won’t draw a clear line about what they should and should not try. The underdeveloped legal system somehow decreases the cost when a Chinese company makes unsuccessful experiments in new verticals and that emboldens them to continually attempt it. On the contrary western companies tend to plan strategically and make decisions by taking numerous factors into account including law, politics, competitive environment etc. After coming back from Canada for almost 10 years this becomes more and more obvious to me.

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