Singlife celebrates becoming the largest insurer in Singapore after $2.3B merger

  • Digital life insurance company Singlife has completed its US$3.2 merger with Aviva Singapore
  • Founder and group CEO Walter de Oude established Singlife in his adopted home of Singapore in 2017
  • De Oude's goal for Singlife is to create a seamless and interconnected digital financial journey for its customers
  • Following the merger, de Oude's ambition is to create a home-grown regional brand out of Singapore
  • Because of his work, Business Insider named De Oude to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming finance in Asia.
  • Visit Business Insider's Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

In late November, Singapore-based digital life insurance company Singlife completed its US$2.3 billion merger with the Singapore arm of UK insurance company Aviva. The deal, which was first announced in September, will make the new entity — Aviva Singlife — the largest insurer in Singapore and one of the largest in Southeast Asia.  

For Singlife, headed by founder and group CEO Walter de Oude, the merger is its most significant to date and follows the company's acquisition of Zurich Life Singapore in 2018. The deal is vindication for a company that was founded in 2017 with the ambition of transforming the insurance sector through digital platforms. Business Insider spoke with De Oude to learn more about his journey with Singlife and see what the future will hold for the new post-merger powerhouse.

Business Insider: Tell us about your background. When did you land in Singapore and why?

De Oude: I was born and raised in South Africa. While my father is still in South Africa, my brothers and I have moved to other parts of the world — me, in Singapore and my brothers in the UK and Abu Dhabi. Singapore has been my permanent home since when I moved to Asia to work as an actuary for Swiss Reinsurance in 2000. Following that, I was a Consulting Actuary for Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company and later joined HSBC Insurance (Singapore). I stayed there for close to a decade, holding a range of roles from Chief Actuary and Head of Products, Deputy CEO and eventually CEO. 

Having been in Singapore for two decades and with my sons both born here, we are now permanent residents of the country. 

Business Insider: Why did you choose Singapore as the base for a new kind of insurance company? What was the attraction compared to other markets in the Asia region?

De Oude: When I founded Singlife, I was already living in Singapore and working in the financial services industry for over a decade. I became so familiar with the ins and outs of the insurance sector in Singapore and saw the struggles of inaccessible, costly, and inflexible financial products that weren't benefitting people enough. It became clear to me that it was important to create a financial experience that works better for people, curated specifically to their needs and their habits. 

Singapore has a stable yet fast-paced financial landscape that embraces digitization and innovation, eager to evolve with the changing needs and technologies. Active support for fintech innovation—such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore's recent S$250 million commitment to accelerate innovation and technology adoption in the financial sector—is especially vital to take a company from a start-up to an established institution. As a whole, Singapore's financial infrastructure, conducive regulatory environment and attractive funding stand out from its neighbours which helped navigate the challenges when it comes to establishing a company. 

Business Insider: Following the Aviva merger, what are some of the new products and services that you hope to be able to introduce?

De Oude: It has been Singlife's goal to create an interconnected financial journey through a seamless digital experience. With the success of the Singlife Account, our flexible insurance savings plan, we've launched Singlife Grow, our new investment-linked policy that simplifies and diversifies investment opportunities. With the addition of Grow, Singlife will enable customers to save, manage, grow and protect their wealth all through a single app, bringing us a step closer to reaching our goal. 

Looking ahead, I'm excited about the new markets and opportunities where Singlife's digital-first model can thrive. Digitisation is at our core and as we continue to battle the challenges brought on by COVID-19, the relevance of digital insurance is more pertinent than ever. It will be an exciting future as Singlife continues to expand and develop products and services to serve our customers post-pandemic. 

Business Insider: In terms of new markets, in which countries do you see the most potential for the Singlife model to be a success?

De Oude: Singlife has already expanded to the Philippines earlier this year. This is the first market outside of Singapore that we have ventured into. Beyond Singapore and the Philippines, we're looking to continue expanding to other markets in the region to bring our savings and protection products to more people across Southeast Asia. 

With the region's mobile-rich landscape, we see great potential for the Singlife model across Southeast Asia. With the challenge of COVID-19, digital finance will only accelerate further and digital financial services such as Singlife will play a key role in our everyday lives. 

Business Insider: What are the challenges you face in considering new markets opportunities in the region?

De Oude: Southeast Asia is a region that celebrates diverse cultures and has varying societal and economic practices, making it necessary to understand the nuances of each country. With some ASEAN countries still being largely cash-based and other markets challenged by developing internet infrastructure, there is no one-way approach when it comes to providing digital financial services to a richly diverse region. Products need to be hyper-localized and tailored to the specific needs of consumers. Despite the differences in each country in the region, a mobile-first approach has proven a success. 

Business Insider: Financial services in Southeast Asia is becoming increasingly diversified, particularly in the digital space. A good example is Singapore's recent award of digital banking licences to companies such as Grab and Sea. What are your thoughts on non-traditional players entering the insurance space? 

De Oude: The insurance landscape has evolved rapidly in the last decade. With the entrance of telecommunications, ride-share and tech companies entering the space, it is clear that the financial services sector is evolving and converging with other industries in a bid to create the next super-app.  As financial services continue to merge with lifestyle products, it only reaffirms our vision to create an interconnected financial experience that brings together saving, investing and protection onto a mobile-platform to better serve the modern consumer. As more players eye-up insurance, it pushes us to continue innovating and creating stronger products that work harder for our consumers.   

Business Insider: Following the merger with Aviva Singapore, what is Singlife's outlook and ambition for 2021?

De Oude: With the launch of the Singlife Account, we celebrated over 180,000 downloads, achieving a total of S$100 million assets under management (AUM). The Singlife Account has had amazing success in 2020 and we're just getting started. Looking towards 2021, we're excited to be joining forces with Aviva Singapore, creating a homegrown regional brand with innovative products that better serve the needs of our customers. Watch this space.

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