Feature: Global healthcare insurer Aetna is set to grow in Asia

By Stuart Hodge

MD for healthcare insurer Aetna’s Asia-Pacific region, Derek Goldberg, details the company’s ambitious aims as it embarks on the latest step of an aggressive regional growth strategy. 

Business Chief spoke to Goldberg for the latest issue of our Asia magazine, which is out now.

Healthcare insurance provision is big business across the globe so it is easy to see why Aetna International has identified Asia as being a key region in its overall growth strategy. Figures in The Economic Times last year estimate that the Asian healthcare market is expected to grow from $1.835trn in 2016 to over $2.66trn by 2020, underlining why Aetna’s expansion in the region is rampant.

The company has been quite forthright about its aim to go ‘broader and deeper’ into local healthcare markets and the global insurer, which was founded in 1980, believes the recent acquisition of Canadian Insurance Company (CIC) will prove vital in its attempts to penetrate within Asia.

The latest deal follows hot on the heels of Aetna’s purchase of Bupa Thailand in July of last year and the launch of its own Asian Innovation Hub in Singapore back in 2016. Both of those moves, as well as that with CIC, form part of the company’s greater strategy to “develop region-specific health solutions tailored for local markets in Asia”.

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One of the key factors resulting from the takeover of CIC is that it will now allow Aetna to operationalise its own licence in Hong Kong. According to Derek Goldberg, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific for Aetna International, that will provide a major benefit in what is a key market for the insurer.

“The new licence will give us more flexibility in developing our products and services to better suit local customer needs in Hong Kong,” he says. “We will have full control and end-to-end capability in Hong Kong, allowing us to design and distribute products more effectively and quickly in the region, thereby enhancing our capabilities as a full-service healthcare insurer in Asia. It also affords us much more latitude to develop our brand in the Hong Kong market.

“It is a very exciting time for Aetna International in Asia. We have already evolved from a company that primarily supports the financial transaction side of healthcare to a company that supports the holistic health and wellbeing of our customers. Our strategy of going ‘broader and deeper’ is reflective of our intent to continue developing in this direction, and to reach more people around the world with market-appropriate healthcare solutions. We understand that a model that works in one country may not work in another, so increasingly we are building out or acquiring broader capabilities in local markets,” Goldberg adds.

But what is it about the Asian market, which is not without its challenges in healthcare terms, particularly when it comes to access for poorer people in some countries in the region, that is so attractive to Aetna?

“Asia is a very important market for us,” continues Goldberg. “Key growth drivers here include a large emerging middle class, growing interest in wellness, and huge advancements in technology adoption. These factors are opening new avenues for healthcare in Asia, and we have an increasingly critical role to play, together with our partners, in connecting more people with health services in the region. This is why you continue to see numerous strategic investments from us in this region, including acquiring Bupa Thailand business in 2017, acquiring CILC in Hong Kong in March this year, and opening our first primary care clinic in Thailand in April this year.

“Looking specifically at Hong Kong – its focus on innovation, strong consumer awareness, and high acceptance of insurance products, makes it a prime market offering good potential for us to introduce new and unique health cover options.

We expect ongoing changes in the government’s approach to healthcare to also open up new opportunities. The imminent introduction of a Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme is likely to lead to the creation of new segments of insurance customers, presenting a further opportunity for product innovation.”

The mention of China is very notable, and as Aetna looks to grow its pool of 650,000 members or customers, it is one country the company has pinpointed as being key.

Aetna International’s products are now available in eight Asian countries, expanding from only three just five years ago, and the insurance provider hopes to increase that number considerably in the months and years ahead.

The aggressive regional expansion has been undertaken with a mindset of “allowing the company to provide highly-localised services matched with the expertise and benefits of a wider global infrastructure”. And it’s already seeing results, with the acquisition of Bupa Thailand alone adding 300,000 members and over 400 healthcare providers to Aetna International’s network.

As well as ensuring that the growth strategy is implemented properly in the region, another thing Goldberg is passionate about is the company’s people. Leadership and the personal development of Aetna International’s employees are both topics close to his heart.

“Based on my own path to leadership, I believe that a good leader should be very hands on in a broad range of roles within the company,” Goldberg adds. “This foundation gave me good perspective across the entirety of the business and served me well as I advanced.

“In my experience, all people want to feel that they are respected, heard, and treated fairly; they want to understand how their role fits into a bigger picture of the company’s strategy so they can know that they have an impact; and they want to understand how they can be supported in their personal development and growth of their careers with the company.

“By paying attention to these kinds of fundamentals of human nature while showing common sense and respect towards cultural differences, it is possible to lead successfully across a diverse mix of cultures.”

But how exactly does that work in a practical sense?

“I always tell my team that they can ask me anything, and I’ve always adopted an open-door policy,” explains Goldberg. “I am also proud to have built an inclusive and diverse workforce, and our hiring practices promote equal opportunity regardless of gender and background.

“I have confidence in the team I have built and they are empowered to make decisions that impact their work. I trust that they will have the right judgement and leave them to go their own way in delivering to the objectives - supporting them simply with the resources they need.

“A key area of focus for me has been employee development for the people at Aetna. All employees are encouraged to maintain a development plan with the support of their managers and we have also increased training and development opportunities year-over-year.

“One of the metrics that points to success is that at least 20% of our team members have benefitted from internal transfer or promotion opportunities within the past two years. We have numerous examples of employees transferring across international borders to take on new roles. This has allowed the talent in Aetna to advance their skills and careers and we intend to build on this going forward.”

This article was first featured in the Asia edition of Business Chief - read the full magazine here! 



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