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Finance

Japan's Dai-ichi Life beats peers in race to online insurance sales

Coronavirus forces change in industry's long reliance on in-person business

A teleworker in Japan: Dai-ichi Life Insurance turns to online sales as the coronavirus pandemic holds its 40,000-strong sales force back.

TOKYO -- Dai-ichi Life Holdings will become the first major Japanese life insurer to sell policies completely online, Nikkei has learned, in an alternative to a long-standing tradition of face-to-face sales.

Japan's second-largest life insurer, with a 40,000-strong sales staff, will start selling all types of life insurance policies online as early as this fiscal year. Customers will be able to speak with agents using the chat app Line or other videoconferencing tools.

Dai-ichi's online shift comes as the coronavirus pandemic has made in-person sales -- often done in customers' own homes -- an infection risk.

Other insurers could follow suit. Face-to-face sales remain a cornerstone of the Japanese life insurance industry's business model. Dai-ichi and its peers employ around 230,000 representatives who handle everything from helping customers choose a policy to follow-up service. 

No rules hold insurers back from selling policies online. Yet while banks and stock brokerages have long since gone digital, the insurance industry has favored in-person contract signing, in part as a means of preventing insurance fraud. 

Some players, such as Lifenet Insurance, do offer a limited selection of policies online. But online transactions account for only about 3% of new life insurance policy signings.

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