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Prudential PLC CEO on how the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the company’s purpose in Asia

May 06, 2021 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated May 06, 2021 18:52 PM UTC

Mike Wells details the insurance company’s year of innovation.

Oh, mike, Thank you so much for joining us to talk about your company. Prudential PLC is a famous british insurance company. I'd like to begin our conversation about a comment that you made on a recent earnings call with investors. Where you said the covid pandemic has reinforced the alignment of our business and social purpose with our communities, our staff and our stakeholders. Hello, What did you mean by that? Well, it's good to be here. It's, uh, it was referencing what we do in Asia. So we're British our history. It goes back to the 1800s in the UK, but we're primarily now in Asian led business and in those markets. You know, we work on financial and health inclusion and, and very different than you see in Western market. That's a more holistic approach. So, with Covid, what you saw was obviously an increase in the, in people's concern and need, uh, to address medical savings and insurance. You saw regulators open to new technologies and new ways of communicating, including the way you and I are talking now. Um, you saw an increase in demand for telemedicine and services that were embedded in some are digital propositions. And all of it came together while our employees were all working from home to build out and supplement this and, and did an extraordinary job through covid of actually bringing these services into the community. And like lots of other firms, they also volunteered. We provided, you know, free coverage and, uh, products to consumers markets. It was a tremendous amount of charitable activity on top of that. You know, the socially focused on corporate work. And why was that so important to have this business and social purpose all coming together? Why was that so important to you? And credential? Well, it's a sustainable business in our space, uh, you know, has to have a role in society. That makes sense, right. Otherwise, you can be replaced by an app for, uh, you know, some new form of technology or some competitor. So we've been in the market about 100 years in ASia coming up on that. And as you probably, you know, many times, asians tend to save for retirement with with their own money, they don't tend to have government subsidized programs. Same with health care. So there's a huge need there and we can align with those stakeholders at the consumer level. That also makes good policy when you're dealing with government leaders and regulators, health ministers, if you can bring these services, access is still one of the key issues, not just who's going to pay for it, but can you get someone medical support technology? Can you get them to a doctor? These sorts of things? And all of those make for a very sustainable model because you're important to the markets that you're in. Just as people became more aware of Covid and the risk of this virus, you launched a healthcare app in Malaysia is called pulp. Uh, it's now available in Hong kong all across asia and even in africa. What does hold do, tell us how it works and why has it become so popular to take some of the best global concepts in a medical ecosystem if you will, from an artificial intelligence systems checker to telemedicine to hospital referral to prescription delivery. Um, all these sorts of capabilities and it puts them on mobile devices across countries with very low levels of medical support are often great distances from an individual to a hospital or a doctor. So it fills a very important need. And we actually launched in Malaysia. I was there for that, that launch uh, with the Minister of Health. And one of the concerns were discussing at the time was Dengue fever. Covid wasn't on the on the radar screen yet. And it has a predictive analytics tool that guesses where mosquitoes might be that would carry dengue fever. And again in region, that's a very important app. So it's it's very flexible and what it can address. Um that's important again, for sustainability and it's and maintain its relevance to to all of our stakeholders. And I understand that presidential offices service for free in the very early days. And for people who actually have covid covid patients, you paid the doctor bills and you just heard the payments on health policies. What motivated you to take that action to do that? So part of it was our discussions with what the problems were that the various governments were facing. So the lower income part of the populations, they wanted to make sure we wanted to make sure we could get them tools, preventative tools, diagnostic tools that we're not currently available to them. We just thought that was the right thing to do on the Covid response activity. One of the things that we've learned as a company, we run a charitable foundation. Again, I don't think that's probably unique for, you know, CeoS that you're talking to. But we realized we could move faster With our 16 plus million clients that we have in Asia to support them in, in, uh, their, their concerns and their problems around COVID. Then some of the non for profits and candidly, even some of the government's good. So we put in place some of the activities you mentioned, we also had benefits if you were, uh, quarantined Because you know, that often meant you weren't earning. Um we've created all sorts of unique features. 170 new product or support propositions last year during COVID and they were very well received by our customers. I noticed that Prudential just published its E. S. G. Report. The company's environmental, social and governance goals for the year ahead. Health care and making it affordable and accessible is right at the top of the list. What more do you want to do in the healthcare area? What are your healthcare goals? I think one is health inclusion, which is, can you get, you know, some of the tools that we're discussing accessible to people who otherwise have very little in the way of healthcare solutions. Um, some of the challenges in Asia are, you know, post covid are, are the rise of chronic illnesses. Uh you know, diabetes for example, in some of these markets is is growing up much faster than it is a global rates and these sorts of things. We have a variety of tools and and you know, ideas that we're putting together to address those sorts of concerns through a mix again of digital in person, medical care etcetera. I think that's a key part of our future. Mike. You've been talking a lot about Prudential, strong sense of purpose. Uh clear values. And as you know, many ceo these days are discussing what role business should play in society, a topic that you know, 10, 20 years ago got very little attention even five years ago. So what do you think is the responsibility of businesses in terms of addressing social issues of social problems? I think you're a ceo and as a business, you know, we need to be able to demonstrate to our stakeholders that we have an impact that's positive on society. And so that means addressing uh social challenges that you actually have the ability to move, you know, have impact on. So for us, for example, in emerging and developing markets in Asia, health and financial inclusion are are key to these economies growing. And so if that's access to digital payments, if that's access to, you know, to help capabilities that weren't there before you can materially change the social concerns of individuals and a society doing those sorts of things. But all your behavior has to be aligned. I mean, there's gotta be a, you know, it's gonna be culturally true inside your organization, that these things are your real values and you've got to demonstrate them day in and day out. And if you do that, your permissions in these sorts of markets grow and you're allowed to do more innovative things. So there's a, there's a benefit to shareholders by doing the right thing on these social issues. So how has all this changed the job of the Ceo? How has ceo leadership changed? I think what's changed is, you know, you the model of the CEO and most organizations has gone from a top down, here's my view and how we're gonna execute to how much information can you absorb from key stakeholders internally? Externally. You know, on the social issues you asked about on the, on the policy challenges in a given country and thanks and the more of that information that you can process, the more effective you can be as a Ceo and leading, which in our case is an extraordinary team. And I think that goes to the role being much more about, you know, the multiple stakeholder, the Rubik's cube is the most overused analogy, but it's, it's a proper one. And uh, and can you remember that there's constantly impact on someone else if you move a piece of that cube? I think that's a, that's what the jobs like now, and it's very challenging and it's a lot of fun.