Singapore Life’s Walter de Oude on technology’s impact on life insurance: Startup Stories

Getting back to the roots of financial security in the face of tragedy.

Walter de Oude, CEO of Singapore Life. Courtesy of Singapore Life. Walter de Oude, CEO of Singapore Life. Courtesy of Singapore Life.

Singapore Life wants to change the way people think about life insurance.

“We think that life insurance is a very simple thing. And it’s really just one product. You need life insurance to protect yourself in the event that something terrible happens and it doesn’t need to be complicated,” Walter de Oude, CEO of Singapore Life, told KrASIA in an interview recently. “It just needs to do what it’s supposed to do, which is to protect you and your family in the time that you need it to.”

He added that historically, life insurance policies usually merge investments with protection. “Sometimes, it’s very confusing to customers because it’s not really an investment product, because it doesn’t perform the same as an investment product due to the protection elements. It is much more expensive as compared to a protection product because it has an investment component.”

Singapore Life has simplified life insurance policies by separating those components into different categories. Customers are able to purchase five types of insurance plans from Singapore Life online—protection plans like term life, critical illness, cancer, as well as investment plans such as endowment and universal life.

“We believe that life insurance is really not so complicated. If you are [able to] buy shoes and car insurance online, surely, it’s no different from buying life insurance or wealth products,” de Oude said.

Technological efficiency

From the get go, Singapore Life was founded to leverage the efficiency that technology can deliver. “The old way of buying life insurance has always been lots of paper and complexities. It is not an easy process. We just made it super easy to get your life insurance organized in a digital way. You can start with your [mobile phone] and ten minutes later you can be covered for life insurance or you can buy an investment product [on our mobile app],” de Oude said.

When asked whether buyers of Singapore Life’s life insurance policy are required to undergo medical check-ups, de Oude said the company uses a series of questions to assess customers’ medical status. The process is automated, and probes the extent of existing conditions and illnesses.

“We find that 85% of people who sign up for Singapore Life do not need a medical check-up, but some will naturally have to have a couple of checks,” he added.

de Oude said that technology is central to everything that Singapore Life is doing. “Technology allows us to be incredibly efficient because we can remove manual processes. Singapore Life is a fully functional life, wealth, and money management company with just 64 employees. And the cost savings are passed back to the customers,” he added.

Singapore Life’s policies are up to 30% more affordable than their competitors’, and de Oude credits this as a direct consequence of the company’s technological efficiency. “I think because of what Singapore Life is doing, the whole industry has upped the game. They are more consumer-friendly and more digital,” he said.

Expansion plans 

de Oude founded Singapore Life in 2014, and took 2.5 years to build up the company before its operations went live in June 2017. Now, he is planning for the company’s expansion in Southeast Asia. Singapore LIfe plans to set up offices in two ASEAN countries by the end of the year. At the moment, the company is in the process of establishing its operations in the Philippines.

The company has been a direct life insurer licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore since June 2017. To date, Singapore Life has raised USD 173 million from investors such as Sumitomo Life Insurance, Ion Pacific, Aberdeen Standard Investments, Aflac, Caber Partners, Impact Capital Holdings, and IPGL.

In 2018, Singapore Life made a profit of USD 6 million in its first year of operation, de Oude said. “Our revenue is about USD 200 million and growing,” he added. He did not provide a forecast for future earnings.

When asked whether he sees more growth for Singapore Life in life insurance or money management products, de Oude said that the business’ two sides are connected. “The more we can help people with managing their money, the more we can also help them get the life insurance that they need,” he said, adding that money management is more of a value-add to the customer.

“We help our customers by offering them good returns from their money management accounts. And the hope is that with that product, more people will take care of the life insurance that they need,” he said.

Defining the company’s culture 

de Oude said that the team at Singapore Life believes in three core values—trust, agility, and determination.

It is because of those principles that the company has been able to keep pace with technological developments. “When some technology doesn’t work the way you want it to, it’s better to throw it away and start again than to fix something that is suboptimal,” he added.

That attitude, it seems, is paying off. In 2018, Singapore Life was named as the Insurance Start-up of the Year – Singapore by the Charlton Media Group. In the same year, de Oude was named Outstanding CEO of the Year by Influential Brands in December.

This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in Southeast Asia.