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Suite Talk: How FWD Singapore’s CEO finds fulfilment in his job

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Abhishek Bhatia, chief executive officer of FWD Singapore, speaks to Nabilah Ismail on finding the best value proposition for both employees and customers by understanding their needs.

Q Beginning your career in marketing, how have those skills contributed to your current position as CEO?

No amount of experience or what function you work in will truly prepare you for the job because to be a CEO, you will need to be completely cross-functional; having an understanding and appreciation of all functions. Having said that, the one thing that really helps, especially in our business model, is to be focused on the customer. Marketing, as a function, trains you to have a mindset that focuses on the customer to make sure that the product is well-positioned, and that its communication is derived from what customers are looking for.

Would you say the bit about communication extends to your staff as well?

Absolutely, we have to come up with a proposition for the staff to stay engaged and deliver to their utmost potential. This proposition needs to be administered for staff, just like for our customers to buy our product. It helps if you have empathy for both parties, and then come up with your value proposition based on that.

Is there a downside to having empathy at the workplace?

I don’t think there’s a downside to having a high level of empathy with your employees because a manager’s job is a difficult one and you need to constantly understand the other person’s point of view. While there is merit in that, as a leader you need to remember to stick with the decision that is in line with the larger good.

What has been your biggest accomplishment in the first year at your job as CEO? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

Our vision is to change the way people feel about insurance by providing customers new and convenient ways of delivering online, ink-free insurance. So far, this is being received well by customers, and we have been able to scale up over the last one-and-a-half years.

It’s an energising feeling to create something from nothing. We give customers an alternative way to buy insurance in both the terms of pricing and channel; similarly, we’ve provided an alternative to our employees to join us and experience the culture and the different ways of delivering insurance. For me, just the opportunity to do that is a huge privilege because when you get to do something that is so energising, you love every minute of it. I’m very thankful for that.

When moving people around the world, one of the biggest things for companies to look out for are medical benefits.

Having worked across Hong Kong, Europe, etc. and now based in Singapore, do you notice any similarities or differences in the work culture?

People’s motivations across the world are similar – they want to do meaningful, productive work and want to be acknowledged for it. They want to feel like they’re part of something bigger, and that’s common around the world just because of the way we’re all wired.

The differences between each country lie in how their society has grown historically, and elements such as their culture and education system. The appetite for risk is higher in Asia because of the belief that tomorrow is going to be better than today – as they’ve seen each subsequent generation doing better than their predecessors.

This is a broad generalisation, but there is a strong work ethic in Asia. For example in Singapore, we launched our Direct Insurance Platform on the direct-to-consumer side within nine months. This included recruiting people, creating a Direct Insurance Platform, creating the product, and then going live. Frankly, this process could take up to three years in some cases, but work ethic played a huge role in our rapidity of completion as people went above and beyond the call of duty given their belief in the purpose.

Coming to FWD’s core competencies, what are the challenges companies face today when expatriating or repatriating?

When moving people around the world, one of the biggest things for companies to look out for are medical benefits. They might vary greatly from country to country; the quality of medical care, and its cost and processing.

We believe insurance needs to be portable and flexible so that assignees can take it with them no matter where they go, regardless of pre-existing health conditions. Additionally, employers and employees should only pay for what they need, i.e. modular, independent benefits, rather than features that would be unnecessary to them.

 Does the government have a big role to play the well-being of expatriates?

Yes, I think the government has a role to play in the well-being of all its citizens. Singapore is a global role model in terms of how the government has provided the right infrastructure and a conducive environment for the assimilation of foreigners into society. There are plenty of benefits for expats in Singapore – for example, safety, and a clean environment – and all of it has been orchestrated by the government and I think they’ve done a good job.

Coming to the HR angle, how closely do you partner with your HR team?

HR to me is critical, as the quality, engagement and productivity of our employees determines our success in the market. If you put a bunch of good people together and give them a problem, you are bound to get a fantastic outcome.

For instance, during recruitment, we focus on getting the right people, and the way they’re on-boarded, engaged and assimilated into FWD’s culture will determine how our organisational goals are driven.

I do work with my HR team at various levels. Apart from the day-to-day supervisory guidance on things like compensation or work policies, I work with them on bigger strategic objectives of the company as well. I believe the CEO and the chief of HR have to work hand-in-hand to be able to drive all of the people-related elements for the organisation.

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