Ping An Insurance (Group), China’s largest insurer by market cap, will increase its annual investment in technology by about 20 per cent this year to 12 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion), co-chief executive Jessica Tan Sin-yin said.
The company budgets 1 per cent of the previous year’s revenue for investment in technology for the following year. Its revenue rose by about 18 per cent to 1.27 trillion yuan in 2019. The increase in investment is aimed at boosting cross-selling between Ping An’s different business lines, such as insurance, health care and financial technology, Tan told the South China Morning Post in a telephone interview.
“Health care has been one of the major focuses of the development of Ping An in recent years. We have three health care companies already. The next step forward is to invest more in technology to bundle our insurance products together with our health care services,” she said. “We will invest in the technology of our core business to enhance productivity and reduce costs. We will also invest more in the area of health tech and fintech in several of our platforms.”
The group, founded by chairman Peter Ma Mingzhe in Shenzhen three decades ago as a life insurance company, has diversified into a financial conglomerate with interests in banking, securities, online medical services, fintech and virtual banks.
It now wants customers using its health care apps or online consultation services to be able to easily buy its insurance products online. Those who have bought its medical insurance will also be able to get claims quickly by using the group’s health care testing labs.
The company said the outbreak of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus thought to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has had a mixed impact on its businesses.
The outbreak has hurt sales of life insurance products, as it has restricted travel by Ping An’s more than a million agents. The sales of life and medical policies in January declined by 15 per cent year on year to 26.54 billion yuan, according to a stock exchange filing on February 20. The fall can also be attributed to Lunar New Year, which fell in January this year as opposed to February in 2019.
The company’s online health care and fintech businesses have, however, seen stronger demand amid the outbreak. Its internet platforms, including health care platform Ping An Good Doctor, as well as financial platforms Lufax Holding, OneConnect and Autohome, have 515 million users.
“We have used our health care technology platform, Ping An Good Doctor, to provide online medical consultation services. Other health care units have also helped improve the management of clinics and hospitals,” Tan said. Use of the Ping An Good Doctor apps increased 10-fold during the outbreak to 1.11 billion accumulative visits in January. Ping An Smart Healthcare, another unit, launched a Covid-19 smart image reading system on February 19. It uses artificial intelligence to assist doctors in quickly diagnosing the disease.
“Fintech demand has increased during the epidemic, too. OneConnect, which is a platform for banks and financial firms, has supported financial institutions’ business via digital channels,” Tan said. She said the platform had supported 19 banks, which had used voice robots instead of human employees to answer questions by customers. This led to savings of 57 per cent and enhanced efficiency by 50 per cent.
The company also offers platforms that allow students and adults to study online during the outbreak, she added.
“The Covid-19 outbreak will affect the sales of insurance businesses in the near term. However … it will also encourage more people to buy medical and life insurance in the longer term, which will benefit Ping An,” said Kenny Ng Lai-yin, securities strategist at Everbright Sun Hung Kai.