Richard Roper, Health & Benefits Leader Hong Kong, Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) Asia, became a part of MMB, a collaboration between Mercer and Marsh, when Marsh & McLennan acquired Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) in April 2019. Roper had been with JLT for over 20 years, starting out as a consultant before moving to lead the corporate financial services business, private clients, sales and marketing in the UK. In 2014, he moved to Asia in order to lead the JLT Employee Benefits business in Asia. Though the merger marked a significant shift across the organisation, Roper takes personal pride in the success of the integration of the two companies. “During this time, we surpassed all targets. This was against a backdrop of difficult times in Hong Kong,” he adds. “The resilience of the team to get the job done was remarkable.”
Roper’s role divides into two sets of priorities: internal and external. “From an internal perspective I want to build a great working environment which gives everyone an opportunity to shine,” he explains. Given the amount of uncertainty in Hong Kong at present, he emphasises the need for stability, transparency, good communications and an element of fun when completing tasks. In terms of external priorities, Roper refers to Mercer’s new tagline, ‘Welcome to Brighter’, which he feels summarises both his and the company’s outward priorities. “We need to always bring a point of view to our clients and execute well. We need to ensure that our clients get to see the whole of what Mercer can offer and boldly shape the future.” He goes on, saying: “This is particularly exciting in Hong Kong and in the health and benefits space as it is such a fast moving environment with many new companies trying to impact on the medical insurance ecosystem.”
Executing a successful digital strategy is invaluable in the industry and region currently, but for MMB it is particularly important to harness technology in order to bring improved insights to its clients while matching the needs of its changing workforce. “Our clients are looking to attract and retain employees, manage costs and improve the employee experience,” he says. “Our role is to work out how we can best help companies achieve those goals by understanding what the factors are that affect those goals.” To achieve this, data needs to be acquired and assimilated in a manner that enables effective insights for Marsh & McLennan’s clients, and this has been taking place alongside the changes undertaken by the workforce. “For example, last year our Hong Kong office went 100% agile. No allocated desks, no offices, just different types of mobile workstations. All employees have laptops and access to conferencing technology that allows fully mobile virtual meetings.” He adds that this has been particularly valuable with the recent disruptions in Hong Kong, as employees have been able to work from home or remotely.
Within this strategy, Roper believes that the key technology underpinning MMB’s competitive edge is its use of data. “MMB goes a step further with the use of data. Data without insights is useless. We go the extra mile to gather different data sources and then use the outputs to formulate targeted actions to help organisations achieve their people-related goals.” Corporations moving to harness large amounts of data is often easier said than done, but MMB has met this challenge with confidence through its partnership with AIA. “We worked very closely with AIA on ‘data driven wellness, utilising claims data, biometric screening data and health risk assessment data to formulate a plan to provide targeted interventions to improve the underlying health and wellbeing of employees.” Roper credits the ability to have provided companies with a benchmark from which they can assess the success of these goals to MMB’s completion of AIA’s Healthiest Workplace Survey.
MMB has real expertise on ‘The Workforce of The Future,’ according to Roper. He asserts the need to be attuned to the fact that MMB’s workforce is changing, as employees’ needs differ depending on where they may live. “We utilise our own talent and retention strategies and work on organisational structures in order to ensure that MMB is an exciting, challenging and vibrant place to work.”
To give his workforce the tools needed to provide excellent service, Roper elaborates on MMB’s new healthcare data dashboard, which enables companies to understand how ongoing claims information could be used to predict costs at renewal. “Rather than wait until close to renewal and possibly get a shock in terms of costs, we can provide a dashboard providing a consolidated view of all aspects driving future insurance costs,” he says. This includes top diagnoses and conditions, predictive cost modelling and hypotheticals. Clients can then benefit from both early warnings to any future cost increases, as well as a view of all of the underlying drivers of those costs.
Looking forward, Roper can see that the claims process is moving to become wholly digital in the wider industry. As an athlete with a particular love for triathlons, Roper uses various apps such as Strava and Relive in order to track his performance. Wearable technology, he believes, will become an integral part of the medical insurance industry in the future. “In addition to simply providing fun data post-exercise, wearable technology will undoubtedly impact medical insurance as well. The more data that insurers have on individuals, the more accurate the pricing and therefore the more incentive to improve health.” Wearable technology will be amongst many other types of disruptive technology that will enter the region. “Telemedicine has to come to Hong Kong, despite regulatory challenges. There are also many advanced chatbots or virtual assistants that can serve as a triage service before a doctor is seen. That will become commonplace over the next decade. The culmination of all of these factors will create an improved experience for both clients and employees alike.” As MMB gathers pace in this new decade, it is ready to embrace new challenges and technologies head-on in order to remain a leader in the region and industry.