Most of us hold at least one life insurance policy, be it a savings plan, investment-linked policy, a whole life plan or a critical illness plan bundled with payout features should death occur. 

Despite the digitisation of life insurance in recent years, financial consultants still play a key role providing advice to customers on life insurance needs. The Asia Pacific Financial Services Association (APFinSA) is an international body comprising nine member country associations that serve more than 100,000 insurance advisers and underwriters.  APFinSA members share best practices that help the public achieve financial well-being while continually raising standards for the profession. Mr Edmund Wee, a former APFinSA chairman, shares the association’s growth strategy and how it strives to stay relevant in volatile times.

You mentioned that APFinSA is global organisation for the financial advisory industry with local knowledge. What does that mean?

APFinSA was set up in 1991 to address the needs of a rapidly growing life insurance industry in the region. Presidents of national life underwriters associations from Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand attended the inaugural meeting held in Singapore in 1991. It was called the Asia Pacific Life Insurance Council (APLIC) then, before changing its name to APFinSA in 2003. 

The life insurance industry is heavily regulated and rightly so, to protect the interests of the public who put their money in life insurance policies. Buying a life insurance plan is a long-term commitment. Therefore, there are strict regulations in place ensure the industry is compliant and customer-centric. 

The Asia Pacific region is diverse. Customers’ needs in each of the markets are different. As an association, member country associations come together to understand how the industry in the region is evolving, learn best practices and if relevant, apply them locally. This helps. The life insurance industry in some member countries are more developed than others. APFinSA provides the platform for member country associations to adapt what works in one or more countries to their own. They do this by first understanding developments, then working with local regulators and other stakeholders on recommendations and eventually, implementation. 

Can you give an example of this in action?

Member country associations often look to Singapore for thought leadership and guidance in regard to governance and growing the insurance industry. This is because of our nation’s reputation as a leading financial hub. Things work, we’re efficient. It’s easy to do business in Singapore. 

In fact, in the latest Global Financial Centres Index survey, Singapore came in fifth in the ranking of the top financial centres in the world. Our insurance industry ranks fourth, after Luxembourg, New York and London. 

In 2016, when Singapore made it mandatory for financial advisers to go for continuing education to stay abreast of industry developments, some of our member country associations soon followed suit. Continuing Professional Development (CDP) is important for the industry. It helps financial advisers enhance their knowledge and skills. For example, the Singapore life insurance industry is very focused on training advisers to fact find, versus pushing products to close a sale. This drives advisers to focus on customers’ needs. It’s a win-win for everyone. 

What is APFinSA’s global growth strategy?

Our mission is to constantly enhance the financial well-being of the people we serve in each of the markets. We do this by raising industry standards through education, so that the more than 100,000 advisors of our member country associations can better serve their customers. Education is important and empowers our members to keep improving themselves to stay relevant. 

APFinSA is the voice of the life insurance industry in the Asia Pacific region. Our member country associations exchange ideas, keep abreast of regulatory and economic developments and act upon challenges when they arise. 

An example is the digitisation of insurance in recent years. There were initial concerns how that would affect the industry. Would advisers be made redundant eventually if people could buy life insurance independently online? Over time, we realised the fears were unfounded. Many people still turn to advisers when it comes to buying life insurance. That’s because advisers add value by helping customers understand their needs specific to their life stages and provide solutions for them. 

Life insurance is sometimes complex. The education we provide as an association to our member country associations have not only helped them navigate regulatory changes, but also sharpened their skills to better understand their customers. 

We’re very proud of the Fellow Chartered Financial Practitioner certification programme we run. It’s recognised internationally and provides advisers with essential skills to provide quality financial advice. 

And even as we experience volatility during the Covid-19 pandemic, our focus on education remains in place. Cannot meet in person? No problem! We enable our member associations with knowledge on how to digitise, whether it’s online meetings with customers and regulators, or taking the time during lockdown to skill up.

APFinSA is based in Singapore. Can you explain how Singapore responds to the needs of the organisation?

Singapore is a leading financial hub globally. The standards of our insurance industry are high. Regulations come into place, often through public-private consultation. We enjoy sound governance, which inspires trust in the public who buy life insurance policies here. 

Operating in an environment like this benefits our member country associations because they learn what works in Singapore and adapt it in their countries. Being based in a country where the financial industry is well governed also means that it is easier for us to secure sponsorships as an association. From Singapore, we have access to a fantastic network of corporate partners. 

In 2022, APFinSA will host the 18th Asia Pacific Life Insurance Congress (APLIC). We’re expecting about 8,000 delegates from 11 countries. Regulators, thought leaders, academics and industry practitioners from all over the world will gather for this 4-day event.

To host a conference of this size, we need more than the infrastructure. In Singapore, the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry is state-of-the-art. More than that, we have the support of government agencies like the Singapore Tourism Board and others, to help create a holistic and memorable experience for our delegates. 

Mr Wee is currently a Board Member of APFinSA and Co-Chairman of the 18th APLIC in 2022. He has been serving in APFinSA since 2009.

Are you an international organisation looking to expand your reach into Asia and globally? Contact the Singapore Tourism Board, a member of the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP) today! We’d love to hear from you!