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The personal policies of Cigna’s Jason Sadler

Published on Saturday, 14 Feb 2015

Insurer’s president of international markets believes the industry can do more to help clients’ well-being

Some may view insurance as just one element in a balanced investment portfolio, but from Jason Sadler’s vantage point, there is a much bigger picture. 

He believes the sector has a duty to do more than provide protection options and financial benefits linked to medical, life and accident cover. In his case, that centres on promoting exercise, healthier lifestyles and pre-emptive check-ups in the wider community. As president of international markets for US-headquartered Cigna Corporation, he is in the fortunate position of being able to push such initiatives in 10 countries and territories in Asia and Europe. 

“Traditionally, insurance has been bought in case something bad happens,” says Hong Kong-based Sadler, who has been with Cigna since 2010. “But we can’t just focus on helping with problems when they happen. Increasingly, we also have to offer advice on how to prevent them, especially in areas of health and well-being, by engaging with customers and explaining how to reduce the risks of things like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. 

The importance of doing this was brought home again by the results of the company’s recent “360-degree well-being” survey, which looked at key markets in Asia. It compiled scores for five indices, including physical health, plus perceptions of social, family, financial and workplace well-being among members of the public. 

Hong Kong placed last behind the likes of South Korea, Thailand and the mainland. And while 66 per cent of local respondents said they view personal health as highly important, only about a third thought they got sufficient sleep and just 25 per cent claimed to follow a well-balanced diet or get enough regular exercise. Worries about gaining weight, financial security and having to look after elderly parents added to the general sense of strain. 

The results, of course, are based on perceptions. When statistics are factored in, they show that Hongkongers in fact have healthier weights than the regional average and, for example, are less likely to consume alcohol on a regular basis. But the message is clear: community-wide, there is still plenty of room for improvement, and educating people about possible risks and how to avoid them is the best way to start. 

“We are ready to offer practical advice about things like going to the gym or having annual check-ups and put coaching tips online on how to lose weight,” Sadler says. “Lower claims could result in lower premiums down the line, but currently, there is more scope for that in the employer space rather than for individual clients.” 

Another aspect of this is the progressive launch of new specialised products and services. For instance, in South Korea, which often leads the way, the company introduced health coverage last year specifically “targeting” cancer among the elderly. Elsewhere, for the “senior segment”, there are policies covering dementia, with benefits payable when certain symptoms are diagnosed. And plans are in place for tailor-made dental coverage, which would entail regular check-ups and provide suitable benefits in case treatment is needed. 

“All markets have their nuances, but everything comes back to understanding customers and providing policies relevant their needs,” Sadler says. 

“Historically, insurance companies tended to be more focused on the ‘product’, not the customer, but that is changing. To succeed nowadays, you have to be innovative, looking for new market concepts and new channels and, where necessary, working with partners to build a wider range of core capabilities. I still believe there is a lot more we can do, and coming up with new challenges and opportunities is what I thrive on.” 

Inspired by his father, who went from accountancy to managing a consultancy firm, one of Sadler’s earliest ambitions was to run a large company. He took a BSc in business studies in Britain, before starting as a graduate trainee with Allied Dunbar in the early 1980s, a time when the financial services sector was very dynamic. Combining work with study for a chartered management accounting qualification, he was exposed to different parts of the business, including insurance, and proved a quick learner. A series of moves followed. 

 He regards the most significant move as joining Axa Insurance as an audit manager, which gave him a new level of responsibility, and subsequently moving to Asia 15 years ago to work on the launch and bedding down of HSBC’s MPF business.

Although planned, the transfer took place at 48 hours’ notice and led to an exciting and rewarding period, which also marked a significant milestone for Hong Kong when the first annual MPF statements were sent out.

“Each success and achievement was a chance to think about what else I could do,” says Sadler, who admits to being a very driven and focused person who likes to have clear line of sight on what has to be done during the day or week. “Ultimately, I always wanted to be in a position where I was running a business, overseeing the P&L, with the challenge of helping other people do things better.” 

 He believes in good communication, listening to client feedback, and ensuring staff clearly understand the company’s objectives and their individual roles. He aims to be flexible and open to ideas, delegating when possible and guiding where required. 

When not in the office or travelling for business, Sadler may be working out at the gym with a personal trainer or in the family kitchen, where he is ready to try his hand at anything from Indian or Chinese to Italian, French and traditional British fare. 

“I find cooking quite relaxing,” he says. “It can also be a chance to detach and reflect with a clear mind on what needs to be done in the week ahead.” 


Insurer’s policies

Jason Sadler shares five essentials for building an international business in Asia 

Customers are key “You have to understand their needs and, by recognising emerging trends in the industry, have an insight into what people will want or need in the coming years.” 

Plan ahead “Develop a very clear strategy in terms of where the best opportunities for growth are and what you want the company to achieve against short- and longer-term targets.” 

Step by step “Have a structure and process so staff can work steadily towards each objective and make it happen.” 

Stay focused “Don’t spread yourself too thinly by trying to take on too much at the same time.” 

Be a good employer “Make sure you have good staff. That is fundamental, but it is also one of the major challenges in the Asia market, where there is such demand for talent. As an employer, you therefore have to be proactive and maintain good connections, but I find if people like what the company stands for, they will come to you.” 

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