2 AXA entities to merge into one-stop shop

Insurance giant AXA will merge its life and general insurance entities here to create a one-stop shop, it said.

Europe's second-biggest insurer said the consolidated entity will operate from Jan 1 next year.

The general insurance business - called AXA Insurance Singapore - has been here since 1969 while AXA Life Insurance Singapore was set up in 1999.

Ms Doina Palici-Chehab, who is chief executive of both, told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: "We've operated separately, due to the fact that we were created at different moments, but during the last few years, we realised we could have synergy, and had already merged some departments like communication, human resource and finance.

"We were already moving towards being more efficient in terms of cost. It was good for our stake holders, our employees - they didn't have to go to separate meetings - and it was a natural move to go even further in the concentration of staff and activities."

The insurer began working on the consolidation at the beginning of this year, including lodging an application for a composite licence.

AXA's 700 or so staff will be retained in the consolidation, which will cost around $1 million to effect.

"All assets and liabilities of the general insurance business will be transferred to the life company, and on Jan 1, it will be renamed AXA Insurance," said Ms Palici-Chehab.

"We can focus even more on our customers by being one company. The client has to have a seamless treatment by us, so irrespective of the type of insurance they've bought, they get equally good service served from one hand."

One of the new entity's initiatives is an upcoming digital platform called MyAXA, which is due for release by Jan 1.

"It's where clients, irrespective of being life or general insurance clients, can see policies on one app. MyAXA was developed in France and we brought it over with few redevelopments. We just have to link it to all our backend systems," she said.

The consolidation will affect AXA's health insurance set-up. Both the life and general insurance entities are selling such policies but the teams will come under one managing director.

"We've also gone digital in health insurance, with a health claims portal which is already active. If you're insured with AXA, you scan your claim and follow up with your payment," explained Ms Palici-Chehab, who added that the aim is to become the "preferred insurer in Singapore".

AXA is second in the market for general insurance and sixth in life insurance here. It was ranked 46th among the world's 100 best global brands this year by Interbrand, and Ms Palici-Chehab noted that "there's no insurance brand higher than AXA".

She also said that the firm's presence here is growing, recalling that it once needed an advertising campaign to teach people that AXA was not an acronym but one word.

"We've started being recognised as an insurance company for life insurance too, so more agents want to work for us. The life insurance agency force is growing a lot.

"In the first half of this year, we were, if not the only one, among the few who had a net increase in the agency force."

It has about 1,000 exclusive life agents, and a net 20 per cent growth in agency force manpower, compared with the same period last year.

The insurer said it values innovation, be it through products or sales. For instance, it started selling life and general insurance via SingPost's retail network last year.

With its commercial clients, AXA is also able to do things like pay in advance when there are accidents.

"There was a fire in a food court and there was no doubt insurance would have to pay, so we immediately paid half of the estimated loss," she recalled.

"Insurance is a difficult business because what we sell is a promise. When clients buy a product, they buy mostly by price, but they only know how good the product is when they need to make a claim," stated Ms Palici-Chehab.

"We need to be good at the moment when our clients need us, and sell insurance on a needs basis. We need to train our distributors and agents.

"In the AXA group, we think if we don't innovate, we die."

This article was first published on Oct 21, 2016.
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