Swiss Life is a well known European brand, how long have you been in Asia and why did the company first broach this market?
Swiss Life started its business in Asia in 2008 and we have just celebrated our fifth year in Singapore. Asia is a region full of growth opportunities. It is expected to have the largest economic growth and the number of wealthy private clients will continue to grow. It’s very promising. We see a lot of opportunities in the market.
With continued wealth creation in this part of the world, demand for sophisticated wealth management services will definitely increase. We are ready to benefit from these opportunities from our global set-up.
Why has Swiss Life chosen to place itself in Singapore rather than elsewhere in Asia, perhaps Hong Kong?
Singapore has been actively promoting itself as an international financial centre. With the excellent infrastructure, a well-educated workforce and an efficient legal system, it attracted many financial institutions to establish their operations in Singapore. Swiss Life is no exception.
Singapore’s strong and advanced regulatory regime also offers a good opportunity for us to join the development of its private wealth management industry.
As the wealth management industry matures in Singapore, increasingly sophisticated wealth planning solutions will be developed to take care of client needs that are international in nature. For clients with complex wealth planning needs, insurance solutions that offer flexibility of choice may be one of the tools that can be used in conjunction with other planning structures and arrangements.
I understand Swiss Life services the top end of the market. What distribution channels do you use to access HNW and UHNW clients and how does your approach differ with each of those distribution channels?
Our products are distributed only to accredited investors and we work with business partners who concentrate their products and services similar to our target clients i.e. UHNW and HNW individuals. Some of these partners include the private banks, large consumer banks with a specific HNW client segment, family offices, asset management firms and tax, and legal firms.
Our solutions can be used to address straight-forward type planning needs, like liquidity provision, to the highly complex, where it involves more technical understanding of the product structure as well as the legality of the planning scope. We have recognised that it is necessary to provide options for our clients to access our products.
Our partners enjoy the flexibility to distribute our product directly to their clients via their external or qualified in-house insurance distribution arms, and this product is usually the straight-forward type addressing a particular planning need, such as high death coverage for protection or legacy planning purposes.
When it comes to solution catering for clients with more complex wealth planning needs where usually “solution structuring” is required, our partners appreciate that they can refer the client to us directly and we are able to provide the advice with the international expertise and knowledge of our local team.
The main focus is on our business partners and target clients. With many years of industry experience, our team is committed to go the extra mile to provide better service to our partners and clients.
Swiss Life had an operation in the Middle East, headquartered in Dubai, until September last year. Why, or how, does the Asian market differ from the Middle East?
Both Asia and Middle East present a very exciting outlook for growth opportunity. Asia is clearly experiencing greater stability in market outlook. With continued wealth creation in this part of the world, there is also a demand increase for sophisticated wealth management services. The growing and robust Asian economy provides us with huge opportunities and there are still lots of untapped potentials.
However, choppy markets, increased competition from international, regional and local players of all sizes, tightening regulatory requirements, rising operation costs, and ultimately, the talent war, are the key challenges for the industry in the region.
It could be argued that the Swiss Life product range is quite European-client centric. How do you tailor your products to the Asian market?
The product offering from Swiss Life Singapore is very much designed with the planning needs of the Asian market in mind.
In Asia, life insurance in the HNW segment is usually limited to one planning angle, that is liquidity provision. The broader use of life insurance to address client’s planning needs beyond liquidity provision is very much underdeveloped in Asia as compared to Europe. With many years of experience and expertise in the European insurance business, we foresee similar needs from our Asian customers and are looking to leverage the know-how into Asia.
One of the major differentiating factors from other traditional insurance providers here is we have the capacity and capability to provide customised solutions that demonstrate clear benefits to clients.
What products have been selling well for you this year?
We basically have only two core products. One which is a more standard solution, addressing liquidity provision and planning needs and the other one having more flexibility and allowing a high degree of customisation to fit into the various planning needs of our clients.
All our solutions offer unique value propositions, our products are open architecture and offer clients investment management flexibility combined with insurance protection. Just to mention some of these flexibilities, the premium for the policy can be paid in the form of cash or in combination with an existing investment portfolio and there are eight major currencies the client can choose from for his policy death cover. Furthermore, our client is given the option to designate the custodian bank and/or appoint an asset manager for the policy fund whereby the custodian bank is typically a private bank with which the client already has a relationship.
What regions are doing well for you this year?
We have only one office in Asia so far and we’ve been focusing on business partners located in Singapore and servicing the clientele in the region who choose to have their banking or wealth advisory relationship with their adviser located here. Typically the largest client group in most of the banks here are the Indonesian, Indian, Malaysian, Thai and Singaporean. We are also receiving keen interest from partners who serve the HNW clients from North Asia and it is our motivation to bring ourselves close to these people and further expand our market opportunity.
There are some regulatory changes underway in Singapore, the FAIR review being one very notable example. Are you expecting any significant changes to your business model because of it?
Regulations have allowed major changes in standards, transparency and fairness. Transparency is also becoming more important in the insurance and wealth management industry. Though this may be challenging, we see it as an opportunity as one of our key drivers has been to ensure transparency to our HNW clients. Swiss Life is confident that industry-wide discussion and feedback will result in better advisory services, further enhancing the industry’s professional image.
Does Swiss Life have any plans to expand internationally in the coming 12 months?
Our activities in Asia are an important part of our international strategy. We are constantly looking for opportunities to grow in wealth-planning hubs.
Are there any new products Swiss Life has in the pipeline?
Product enhancement and development has always been on-going for us to better cater to our clients, especially those with complex wealth-planning demands. We are working with external lawyers and monitoring the legal and tax framework of some of these high tax jurisdictions around the region. One of our key strengths is the capability to develop solutions that allow clients to achieve efficiency in their wealth planning and being compliant to the tax law.