Juliana Ang, Income’s Chief Human Resource Officer, shares what drove the launch of the SMA programme, how it stands out from the rest, the most pressing talent challenge in Singapore's insurance and financial advisory industry, and more. Interview by Jerene Ang.

Income recently announced the opening up of 1,200 new financial advisory job opportunities to fresh graduates and mid-career job seekers with the launch of its Sales Management Associate (SMA) programme.

The 18-month earn-as-you-learn programme is uniquely structured in three phases. It aims to help participants hone a strong foundation in financial advisory by allowing them to first complete their financial advisory licensing, undergo sales training and on-the-job career discovery, before moving on to full-time careers within the Income network.

On the back of the launch, Human Resources Online spoke to Juliana Ang, Income’s Chief Human Resource Officer, to find out what drove the launch of the SMA programme, how it stands out from the rest, the most pressing talent challenge in Singapore's insurance and financial advisory industry, and more.

Q What drove Income to launch the SMA programme?

As an organisation, we see strong opportunities for growth in the insurance sector. We believe that the industry will continue to be resilient, as people become more aware of the need to prepare for life’s uncertainties against the current socio-economic climate.

Tapping on our unique proposition as an insurer with multiple channel touchpoints – tied financial advisors, retail financial services (branch) and Income’s financial advisory subsidiary, Infinitum, our integrated network approach allows us to groom the next generation of advisors holistically.

We believe that this will give participants the flexibility to carve a clearer path for growth in the financial services industry, should they choose to hone their skills in either one of three career tracks. Through this program, we also aim to strengthen our distribution channels to better serve the evolving insurance and financial advisory needs of Singaporeans.

In addition, we aim to double our agency force in the next few years, and at the same time, also offer meaningful job opportunities to Singaporeans, especially first jobbers and mid-career job seekers, and hence, it was timely for us to launch our Sales Management Associate (SMA) programme.

Q I understand that the SMA programme is an industry-first. Please share more about what makes it stand out from similar earn-as-you-learn programmes.

The SMA programme is currently the only earn-as-you-learn in the industry that provides participants with a starting monthly base remuneration of S$2,900, even as they sit for exams to obtain relevant licences, supported by Income. This provides participants with job security from the day they join the programme, allowing them to focus on honing their skill sets.

The SMA programme is uniquely structured to build a strong foundation in financial advisory by allowing participants to first complete their financial advisory licensing, undergo sales and customer service training and on-the-job career discovery. Our unique network and integrated approach provides participants with exposure to the different career paths before deciding on the career path they wish to pursue within Income’s network.

One of the unique highlights is the one-on-one mentorship by the senior management team at Income, as well as the on-the-job discovery, where they go behind-the-scenes to gain insights into the different facets of insurance, from insurance design, claims, product development, underwriting and more, to fully understand the different components that the insurance and financial advisory industry comprises of.

Q What career development opportunities and career paths are available for SMA programme participants? How will the programme prepare participants for them?

To build a good foundation, first and foremost, the SMA programme educates participants with the necessary financial knowledge and skillset, to eventually obtain their insurance and representative licence as a certified financial advisor. Following which, participants will experience on-the-job training under the branch services department and learn how to deal with different types of customers at the different Income branches in Singapore. All throughout the programme, participants will also have one-on-one mentorship opportunities with the senior management to seek advice and improve on the various sales and soft skills approach.

Upon completion of the programme, participants will then have the flexibility to pursue one of the three tracks within the Income network - retail advisor with Income’s Retail Financial Service (RFS) branches, a tied advisor with Income’s agency force, or a financial advisor at Income’s advisory subsidiary, Infinitum. They could either take on a specialist role as a financial consultant or client advisor or pursue the management path, to become a sales manager or centre manager at Income’s Retail Financial Service (RFS) branches.

Q What are the 3-4 key pillars/focus areas the programme follows as it prepares candidates to enter the insurance and financial industry? How can this be tweaked to apply to other industries?

There are several focus areas. Firstly, the SMA programme supports participants to obtain the relevant licensing and offers on-ground exposure, to help participants get a head start in the financial advisory industry.

It is designed for participants with little to no financial advisory experience, to provide guidance to fresh graduates and mid-career job seekers to help them gain experience at a comfortable pace.

Secondly, the SMA programme provides participants deep insights into the industry through mentorship sessions and exposure to key aspects of insurance and its value chain, going “behind-the scenes” to understand more about areas and functions such as insurance design, claims, product development, underwriting. Having this added knowledge and insights into Income’s front and back-end sales operations will be beneficial in helping them address their customers’ needs better.

Thirdly, another focus area is creating a holistic and flexible programme – one that allows for flexible job sampling to further build practical exposure and knowledge so that participants can make an informed decision about the career path they wish to pursue, based on personal experience. They can choose to hone their skills either as a client advisor with Income’s Retail Financial Service (RFS) branches, tied advisors with Income’s agency force, or a financial advisor at Income’s financial advisory subsidiary, Infinitum.

Lastly, the programme aims to provide participants with job security. The base remuneration we offer aims to provide participants peace of mind as they focus on licensing and honing skill sets as a financial advisor, rather than worry about making sales right from the get-go.

Q What is the most pressing talent challenge in Singapore's insurance and financial advisory industry today?

One of the key challenges is in attracting talents who have a keen interest to learn about how the industry works, the value that insurance provides to people across ages and financial circumstances, and an open mindset to listen to what people really need and offer personalised solutions that suit their individual needs.

As we continue to look for and attract talents who are looking for meaningful and rewarding jobs in the financial industry, we are also focused on cultivating a culture of innovation within the organisation. By leveraging design thinking and cross-functional collaboration, we believe this will set us on the right path towards reimagining insurance for our future.

Q How do you expect the industry to evolve - one, three, and five years from now?

Over the next few years, we can expect continued value in face-to-face personal insurance advisors given the nature of insurance which can be complex if one is looking at comprehensive financial planning. But we can also expect an increasing demand for a savvy digital sales force that can add value to customer engagement, providing upstream advice rather than downstream support such as claims.

To keep up with these evolving consumer expectations, this calls for our salesforce to be up-skilled and equipped with the right digital skill sets to serve customers more effectively, strengthening our capabilities as a multi-channel insurer.

These days, consumers want access to insurance at their fingertips in today’s digital-first world, and that means insurers like Income will have to ensure that all our customer touch points, both offline and online are kept easily accessible, intuitive and seamless.

We can expect advisory to be more seamless, transitioning between online to offline, to create a more holistic experience for the customer. Data and customer insights will be the currency of the day and we need to recognise the potential of online and offline touch points, how it can augment business growth accordingly and how do we best tap each channel to sharpen customer engagement and build a more personalised customer experience

Moving forward, with data and insights, everyone can be tapped as a catalyst for innovation, especially when the relationship with customers and observations can unveil new lifestyle pain points that can then inspire new product innovations. This will allow us to innovate and think of new ways to fulfil the financial needs of different segments to ultimately bridge the protection gaps, as well as broaden the accessibility to insurance.

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