P&O gears up for IT age
The Star, 15 August 2000
By Leanos Fernandez.

IF the future lies in information technology (IT), then Pacific & Orient Insurance Co. Bhd (P&O) appears to have got its business formula right.

In preparation for an IT future that is around the corner, the company, the largest subsidiary of Pacific & Orient Bhd, is planning to increase its investments in some major related areas.

P&O executive director and marketing head Douglas Ong Eng Soon spoke on some of the plans undertaken by the company that have gone a long way to further secure its position as the leader in the use of IT in the insurance industry.

“While we have spent millions on computersation since it was launched in 1988, the demands of globalisation and a highly discerning local clientele have made it necessary to increase out investments”, Ong said in an interview.

Elaborating on the financial implications, Ong said since the introduction of computerization, some RM60 million has been spent.

“We are considering spending the same amount, perhaps even more if the justification is there in the next five years,” he said.

Having been in the competitive insurance sector for almost 20 years, Ong has not surprisingly, developed an unmistakable tough management style of his own, one that hardly belies his strong instinct for survival in a do-or-die business environment.

What is already well-known too most industry people is that the parent company’s IT division consists of three wholly-owned subsidiaries committed to create software and distribution of hardware. They are P&O Global Technologies Sdn Bhd, P&O Global Technologies (Thailand) Co Ltd and Pacific Research & Development Corp (USA).

One reason for the P&O confidence in gaining greater market access is that its 800 independent insurance agents enjoy enormous “technical support” from P&O Technologies Sdn Bhd. The business activities of P&O Technologies have been put under the wing of P&O Global Technologies Sdn Bhd.

Asked what the future growth prospects were in the light of some visible increase in the number of its broad customer base, Ong said: “We are looking at a 20% growth rate for the next financial year with an increase of around 250,000 new policyholders.”

Another priority is to further enhance existing IT facilities to agents when they conduct their day-to-day transactions with customers throughout the country.

The third priority is to provide more IT-related conveniences. For example, providing the infrastructure to check policies, make renewals, secure information and quotations via the Internet of website.

“Also, to establish and consolidate links with the relevant insuring parties and authorities for the entire customer base,” Ong said.

Such parties will include not just the approving bodies like the road transport department or the police, but also adjusters and workshops.

With so much emphasis on the development of IT, how do employees fare in the whole scheme of things?

Having for years been exposed to claims and handling of myriad marketing problems, all of which involve customers as well as company personnel, Ong is seeing a gradual “acceptance” of the IT changes being introduced by the company.

“Employees remain at the heart of everything we do here and with the inevitable reality of IT and its often highly complex demands we will be allocating more funds for retraining,” he said.

With the constant demand from both the consumers and the authorities for changes, P&O is seeing the need to become more focused.

The retraining is more specifically geared towards changing traditional attitudes and practices of agents as well as staff.

“Over the years both agents and staff have adopted the attitude that motor insurance was mandatory and therefore they did not have to really bend backwards to service customers, satisfactorily. This has to be changes and this is where the retraining part comes in,” Ong said.

P&O has been one of the main players in the motor insurance industry for almost 20 years, which is why its senior management feels that a break from the past needs to be made more so now than later.

In recognition of the importance of the potential for a wider customer base, P&O is in the process of charting our new courses for its agents and employees on how to deal with customers more effectively.

Armed with technology, the company hopes to provide a more secure form of insurance coverage to its growing number of customers, while at the same time meet the ever-changing demands of the industry.

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