UK life insurer Prudential has appointed a new head of product for Singapore in what is seen as a move to support the development of its wealth management offering, AsianInvestor can reveal.

Koh Hui-Jian, currently head of intermediary distribution at Prudential subsidiary Eastspring Investments since 2011, will switch roles in the coming month to lead a team responsible for product design and management. Such teams work with fund houses to tailor investment, savings and other solutions for clients.

She will replace Paul Wilson, who took up the post of head of innovation in February. A spokeswoman for the group declined to say whether he had replaced anyone.

Koh Hui-Jian

Koh will report to Wilf Blackburn, Singapore chief executive and acting chief customer officer until someone is appointed in the latter role, the spokeswoman told AsianInvestor

Eastspring is recruiting for Koh’s replacement, who will report to Xavier Meyer, head of distribution.

On the face of it, Koh’s transfer seems unusual because intermediary distribution has little overlap with insurance product development in terms of experience and skill sets, a Singapore-based insurance industry consultant told AsianInvestor.

WEALTH PLATFORM BUILDUP

However, the move comes as insurers in Asia look to ramp up their wealth management offerings, said the consultant, who asked to remain anonymous. That could explain why an executive with experience of the retail and private banking space would be useful in a product development role, he added.
 
Koh has also worked in retail sales for Deutsche Asset Management and business development for HSBC Asset Management.

A major focus for insurers in the region is to build up their offering of savings, unit-linked products and other investment products, especially for the high-net-worth segment, said the consultant. This is because they see the strongest sales and most growth potential for these products, he noted, either through their existing channels or through intermediaries such as private banks and brokers.

Life insurance firms in Asia have been looking for alternatives to universal life and short-term endowment products for some time, added the consultant. These products were very popular among distributors and clients, but they are also competitively priced and very capital-heavy and therefore less attractive for insurers in the face of more stringent risk-based capital rules in many jurisdictions.

Asked whether Prudential was looking to build up its wealth management offering, the spokeswoman would only say: "With rising income and an expanding middle class in Singapore and across Asia, Prudential will continue to provide innovative solutions that meet the fast-growing protection, savings and investment needs of customers."

DIGITAL DRIVE

Meanwhile, Wilson, who had joined Prudential as head of product in February last year, has substantial experience of financial technology, across areas including blockchain and e-commerce. 

He is now responsible for "strengthening the innovation culture" at Prudential Singapore. said the spokeswoman, without providing more detail.

Wilson will presumably be helping to develop the insurer’s digital distribution, said the unnamed consultant. This is fast becoming an essential area of capital expenditure in the insurance industry, he noted, as it is in the asset and wealth management space.

Online offerings have been a key sales channel for some time in areas such as car and household insurance, said the consultant, but life businesses are now looking to up their game on this front for both savings and investment products and term protection. 

The recent appointments of Koh and Wilson follow a reorganisation of Prudential's investment team in Asia over the past 18 months or so. The insurer has installed chief investment officers in each of its big Asian markets –including Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – along with a new regional CIO.

Other insurers in the region have also been busy making high-level personnel changes in the past year or two, including to their investment staff, with a view to improving cost-efficiencies and performance in what is a tough environment.