Tuan Miang Chua, Head of ASEAN, China, HK and India Regions at Gen Re (for Life & Health), travels extensively for work and he joins Elayne Grace on the inaugural ‘Inside Asia’ to discuss life, career and advice for actuaries.
This is the first instalment in our ‘Inside Asia’ podcast series which aims to explore the experiences of actuaries working in Asia or moving between the Australian and Asian markets. The second instalment on the booming online insurance market in China is here.
What do you do in your current role and what does it involve in terms of travelling between Asia and Australia?
I manage the Life and Health reinsurance business of Gen Re across China, HK, South East Asia countries and India. I travel extensively to all these countries and it is my first trip back to Sydney in 12 years’ time. So I do not travel to Australia extensively. I cover half of the world’s population. There are a lot of emerging markets in these areas, I get the opportunity to see new things and what is happening in different markets.
The China market is unique – unique in its language, culture, regulatory environment, and approach to innovation. How does it differ to Australia in terms of these things?
The Reinsurance industry has grown significantly over the last 20 years, the market has grown into a total value of over 300 billion CNY in 2016. One of the changes over the years has been that consumer awareness of insurance needs has increased significantly. The Chinese consumer probably did not know much about insurance products 15 years ago. Nowadays, they know the need for protections, long term saving and investment. Moreover, they are more willing to try, buy and to experience insurance services and products.
The industry has been growing to about 20% over the last 20 years. It is currently the second largest market in the world and insurance penetration remains very low. I could imagine that the market will grow into the largest insurance market in the world in the future. The current growth is happening in the era where technology is already very advanced. There is a lot more pressure and motivation to create innovative products and services for the consumers. Therefore, the insurance industry is determined to advance in their operation, underwriting and customer service. They are developing new products to cover different needs. Some of them may not be seen as insurance products, but there will be insurance elements in it.
For example, in the general insurance industry, shipping return insurance has been one of the products becoming very popular. The Chinese consumers like to buy online and they would have to pay for the cost for the shipping to return the product if they don’t like the products. Now, they could buy the policy which last for a few days for a very small premium amount. The insurance company will cover the cost of sending the product back.
What about the Life and Health Insurance industry?
It is also growing very quickly as well. The Health care industry in China is just started to develop now. The insurance industry is slowly finding its foothold to offer the insurance protection to the consumers and they can afford the ever-increasing health care cost.
Can you share with us a bit about your personal story of first coming to Australia and how you became an Actuary?
I am from Malaysia, which is always in a friendly relationship with Australia. I came to do my Year 12 when my parent decided to send me to here to study University. I learned about the Actuarial professional in Year 12 from my English teacher, who encouraged me to consider this profession. As I like Maths, I decided to give it a try and went to Melbourne University for the Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Actuarial Studies.
What would be your advice to help Actuaries wanting to make a move to China be better equipped?
The employment for foreigners in China is not an easy process. If you are thinking about going to Asia, Singapore and Hong Kong are the two more obvious choices. If you are keen to participate and move to the China market, the best path is through the consulting companies. China does have a huge supply of actuaries and actuarial students. In my early days in Shanghai, the Chinese insurance companies used to recruit from overseas for experienced people. With many Fellows and Associates and a huge supply of talents locally, foreign actuaries will have to prove the type of skillsets, knowledge and experience that they can bring into the insurance industry. For this reason, these opportunities are more limited to the senior positions in China.
To be able to speak and write Chinese is important, not crucial. More importantly, it is the readiness to see how things can work and be done differently and recognise the cultural differences. [You need] to have an open mind and the willingness to contribute by sharing your own experience.
How does insurance differ in Australia compared to Asia generally speaking?
There are significant differences, many Asia countries still sell the traditional whole of life endowment products, with interest rate guarantee and mortality and mobility rates guarantee, whereas such products are extinct in Australia. In fact, these pose challenges for the Institute to make the education relevant for these Asian based actuaries. If they want to find out how to do reserving and risk management for endowment product with significant guarantee, the Institute will have to provide such education so that what they learn is relevant.
What do you predict for the actuarial profession in the China market over the next 10 years? What challenges do actuaries ace to remain relevant?
The profession in China is still at a developing stage, almost all members are involved in insurance industry: Life, Health and General Insurance. There are more opportunities now however, for actuaries to move into different practice areas. For the traditional areas of insurance, we are facing the competition from Data Scientist and Analysts. This is an area which we need to continue to equip and upgrade our skills to be able to compete effectively.
In China, there are more young actuaries attracted to such new areas. This is another challenge for the profession: how to keep them, so they see how they can contribute to the profession and how the professional body can contribute to their self-development for the long term.
How can we as the Actuaries Institute in Australia better collaborate with Asian actuarial associations?
Australia has a very close relationship with many Asia countries, there are many Asian students come to Australia to study. This is the greatest asset: to keep the relationship going and to encourage them to continue to pursue the Australian qualification. Many of them have built a lot of goodwill when they studied in Australia. We can make our profession relevant to them for their development and recognition, so that they are willing to continue to be our members. Many Asian counties have their own professional bodies, but those bodies do not have all the skills or resources to provide the Education. The Institute can play a greater role in helping the Universities and professional bodies in Asia, especially in the emerging market to develop their actuarial profession.
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