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Bigger, higher Standard Life

Published on Thursday, 12 Apr 2012
Roy Halliday
Chief executive - Hong Kong, Standard Life (Asia)
Photo: Berton Chang

Standard Life (Asia) has been steadily growing in the past five years and is still expanding in Hong Kong with a range of positions to fill. The local unit was set up in 1999 as a subsidiary of the British-headquartered Standard Life Group. In 2006, when the group prepared for an initial public offering in London, the company considered selling the Hong Kong subsidiary.

That particular year, the Hong Kong business only produced sales of HK$300,000 in annual premium equivalent (APE). However, it was decided that the business should be retained within the group's portfolio and a new management team was brought to Hong Kong to re-launch the unit with 24 staff in 2007.

Last year, the company produced an APE of HK$650 million, and within five years, it created about 85 jobs. The company now has more than 110 employees, covering sales, marketing, operations, IT, finance and risk management.

"Business has been growing very fast and hopefully it will continue," says Roy Halliday, Hong Kong chief executive of Standard Life (Asia).

Indeed, in a recent Office of the Commissioner of Insurance report, the market share of Standard Life (Asia) jumped from 4.67 per cent in the third quarter of 2011 to 6.60 per cent in the fourth quarter - the biggest single-quarter market share the company has achieved in the past two years.

Standard Life (Asia) is also looking at expansion across the region, probably this year, and Hong Kong will be used as a systems hub.

Advertising positions such as analyst, product specialist, product development, assurance analyst, information security and others, Halliday says he is looking for entrepreneurial people.

"We are a smaller part of the [Standard Life] Group and this brings opportunities and also challenges. These opportunities and challenges vary between head office and the subsidiary," he says.

The company has a good mixture of local staff and expats, he says, with people from Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, and Britain. Speaking English is a must and Cantonese is very important as the main part of the business is local.

"For new hires, we prefer applicants with a good knowledge of [Putonghua], as we also have a reasonable amount of mainland business," Halliday adds.

In sales, he prefers about five years of preferably relationship-driven local experience - or it can involve expatriate experience that is more about propositions, such as tax solutions for people who move around the world quite a bit.

"I look for candidates who are keen to learn, keen to apply themselves, hungry and ambitious," Halliday says. "They have to be flexible and like a new challenge."

Candidates should be focused on customers - able to listen to them and appreciate their financial needs - and have a good understanding of insurance products. "They have to do more than the average - they have to delight the customer," he adds.

The company has four key values - being easy to deal with, predictable in outcome, beneficial for the clients and responsible in investment.

New staff go through an on-boarding process that helps them to understand products and policies, while further training is available at different levels of seniority.

The company tops up its employees' Mandatory Provident Fund payments with voluntary contributions of between 5 and 10 per cent, depending on seniority and length of service. There is also paternity leave.

"It's important that we help staff maintain a healthy work-life balance. Staff are encouraged to think of new things to help this and I'm very happy to sponsor it. We are organising a joint basketball or badminton event to maintain health, for which I will sponsor the venue," Halliday says, adding that a recent company-wide exercise has helped increase staff satisfaction.

The group asked staff across the globe to think about "what do we do when we operate at our best." Coming from various parts of the world, the feedback was unanimous: "We care, do the right thing, work together, get on with it and celebrate success," Halliday says, citing the highlights from the global employee survey.

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