June 2022 Issue: Co-operator Newsletter Quarterly Issue 2022

NTUC Income Corporatisation Does Not Compromise Co-Op Values: NTUC Income’s CEO Andrew Yeo

NTUC Income Corporatisation Does Not Compromise Co-Op Values: NTUC Income’s CEO Andrew Yeo
Caption: NTUC Income Corporatisation Does Not Compromise Co-Op Values: NTUC Income’s CEO Andrew Yeo

When Andrew Yeo took over the reins as chief executive officer at NTUC Income (Income) in 2019, he did not know what was to come. Winds of the pandemic had yet stirred then, but the climate was one where technological innovations and rapid digitalisation probed a need for insurers, like Income, to change how they protect people’s financial security.

Mr Yeo, who joined the Singapore insurer in 2015, was Income’s Executive Vice-President and General Manager of its Life & Health business. Having had leadership stints at global insurance companies such as AIA, Prudential and Great Eastern, he is no stranger to the age-old adage ‘identifying risks and tapping into opportunities’. At Income, he has had much elbow room to do good and do well.  

Since its inception in 1970, the Singapore insurer—also Singapore’s first insurance co-operative—has poised itself to serve the people and empower communities to be financially savvy and holistically protected. “What’s kept us at the forefront of the industry is the agility to move fast and continually disrupt ourselves to stay relevant to the shifting operational landscape and changing market needs over the years,” says Mr Yeo.  

Over five decades, Income has accomplished many significant milestones for Singapore, all while doubling down on the need to deliver high-quality, personalised financial products and services that benefit communities and staying true to the co-operative values of social responsibility and caring for others.  

In the 1970s, Income was the first insurer to implement premium deductions by GIRO, a convenient payment scheme that transformed how we complete transactions. In the 1990s, it leveraged the burgeoning Web 1.0 space to become the first insurer in Singapore to allow policyholders to check their policies online. “We have always striven to make insurance more accessible and convenient for the communities,” Mr Yeo adds.  

Fast forward to 2011, Income became the first and remains as the only insurer to offer free insurance coverage to low income and disadvantaged families via the Income Family Micro-Insurance Scheme (IFMIS). The scheme covers families whose child is studying in a local primary, secondary, specialised school, or pre-university institution and is a recipient of the Ministry of Education's Financial Assistance Scheme. It also covers families whose child is enrolled in NTUC First Campus' My First Skool and who have a gross household income that does not exceed $4,500 a month, or $1,125 per capita a month. Between 2020 and end-2021, the coverage of IFMIS was extended to include COVID-19 benefits.

“Families from low-income backgrounds are often the hardest hit when a parent or guardian of young children becomes seriously ill, suffers a permanent disability or dies,” Mr Yeo says in an interview with The Straits Times. According to Income, IFMIS now covers and has helped more than 50,000 families.

Income also kept up with lifestyle needs, offering a new policy to cover loss or damage to handphones in the 1980s—a time when devices, however bulky they may be, were all the rage. In 2014, Income pioneered travel insurance plans that cover clients’ existing medical conditions, facilitating peace of mind when travelling. Four years later, in a bid to protect commuters from unpredictable surge pricing amongst ride hailing applications (Grab, GOJEK and Ryde) on rainy days, Income launched the first-of-its-kind microinsurance ‘Droplet’. This was one of the many pivotal moves that signalled the Singapore insurer’s digitalisation efforts, following its establishment of a Digital Transformation Office in 2017.   

Most recently, Income also launched bite-sized stackable and subscription-based insurance targeting younger communities and even gig workers. “The flexibility offered by such new innovative insurance solutions have also been an attractive proposition for those that find long-term or high financial commitments a deterrent to getting the insurance cover they need,” Mr Yeo says.

For a long time now, the insurance industry has been disrupted by a barrage of uncontrollable factors: from the pandemic to new industry players, changing customer preferences to technological disruptions. If there is anything to learn from Income’s many ‘first’s, it is that market sensibility, however cliché it may be, is the name of the game. Since its inception, the co-operative has understood that being agile has proved to be instrumental in impacting lives and making the difference but alas, it also has its limits.

To achieve better operational flexibility and access greater strategic growth options in an increasingly competitive landscape, Income, also Singapore’s second largest health insurer, had earlier announced plans to corporatise.  

“We are looking to grow our business further in Singapore and in the region and serve our customers better, which are the main reasons why we have embarked on an exercise to convert our business from a co-op to a corporate entity,” Mr Yeo says. Reassuring the company’s commitment to cater to the underserved customer segments, such as the elderly, people with special needs and more, he adds: “We have reassured our stakeholders that Income will continue to be a social enterprise and a part of the NTUC Enterprise network of organisations.”

In an email exclusive with SNCF, Income’s chief executive Mr Andrew Yeo shares how Income is poising itself to do more, do better and do well, even if it means pivoting away from the co-operative model.  

NTUC Income CEO Andrew Yeo on Corporatisation
CEO of NTUC Income Andrew Yeo (Image Credit: NTUC Income)

Ler Jun: With corporatisation, Income has positioned itself better to serve the greater public. What can we expect moving forward?

Andrew Yeo: Market growth and maturity has intensified competition amongst insurers in Singapore over the years. In addition to having more players in the market, the eco-system is also evolving and expanding. For example, with rapid digitisation, tech players are competing in the insurance space. Apart from the changing competitive landscape, we have also been facing constraints in how we raise capital to support our growth plans due to changing regulations and financial reporting standards.

We have overcome these challenges and served our customers well, and in staying foresighted and ready for future growth opportunities, we see corporatisation as a very bold step but one in the right direction that will enable us to remain a sustainable and thriving organisation.

As a corporate entity, we will have access to more strategic growth options and ultimately, unlock more value and opportunities for all our stakeholders—policyholders, employees, distributors and shareholders, as the company continues to grow and do well in the market. Apart from growth and expansion, this would also give us the means to accelerate our business improvement plans for greater business efficiency and stay ahead of future disruptive forces.

LJ: With Income leaving the co-operative movement, do you suppose this is a loss to the co-operative sector?

AY: Co-operatives in Singapore have played a major role in economic and social development for many years. Like Income, many of these co-ops started off meeting specific needs of a target group of people and have grown and evolved in their purpose and contributions to wider segments by reinventing themselves and staying relevant to changing needs over the years. Even as they evolve, their purpose to serve their customers well has not changed—this is the essence of any business, regardless of whether they are a co-operative or not.

Even as corporatisation changes our legal form and offers us access to more strategic growth options, in Singapore and abroad, it will not change our commitment to deliver positive customer impact through our products, services, and people, and continue to serve our customers well.

We have reassured our stakeholders that Income will continue to be a social enterprise and a part of the NTUC Enterprise network of organisations. We will remain focused on furthering financial and social inclusion in the community. This pursuit has defined us from day one and will continue to be the beacon for our way of doing business. 

LJ: On the topic of inclusivity, Income has made huge strides in impacting others. What are some of your favourites?

AY:  In 2013, Income launched an insurance plan called SpecialCare (Autism), the first ever coverage in Singapore for children and young adults with autism. A collaboration between NTUC Income and the Autism Resource Centre, it provides coverage for medical expenses from accidents and infectious diseases, including outpatient and hospitalisation expenses.

A year later we introduced a new insurance policy for children and youth with Down Syndrome, called SpecialCare (Down Syndrome), for children and young people between the age of 15 days and 30 years old.

We also cared for our migrant workers. The affordable insurance scheme, Care 4 Migrant Workers, covers them against non-work-related death, total and permanent disability as well as critical illnesses, so that they and their loved ones are better supported in difficult times!

NTUC Income CEO Andrew Yeo
NTUC Income's corporatisation does not mean the company is forgoing its co-op values: says Mr Yeo (Image Credit: NTUC Income)

LJ: Income has pledged S$100 million over 10 years for sustainability causes. We are excited to hear what Income has planned ahead with regards to championing environmental and social causes. Could you share with us in detail some of these proposals?

AY: There are opportunities that we are currently working but are not able to share at this moment. However, we have assured our stakeholders that we continue to be steadfast in our CSR pillars that supports the elderly, low-income families, particularly in championing education amongst children and youth as we truly believe in it as a key driver for social mobility; and supporting social and environmental causes that will create a greener and more sustainable community for all of us to live in. 

LJ: What advice would you share with those who are considering to set-up a co-operative?

AY: There are many opportunities for co-operatives to thrive while making a difference in Singapore. Be clear on your social mission and stay true to your purpose - let it be your north star in good or bad times, and you will succeed! 

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

By Sng Ler Jun

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