SINGAPORE -- AXA has made Singapore its regional nerve center for data analytics. And according Leo Costes, the French multinational's managing director for general insurance in the city-state, a government-level commitment to innovation is a big reason why.
AXA has established a "data innovation lab" in Singapore to help drive the development of its services. Last year, it also set up something called the Digital Hive -- a project that monitors what is being said about the company and its rivals on social media. AXA uses this data to tailor the information it provides to customers.
Singapore, Costes said in a recent interview with The Nikkei, makes an attractive test bed for global companies. But he said the city-state's fintech scene is sure to face stiff competition from China.
Q: Why did you establish the data innovation lab in Singapore?
A: We did a full assessment and looked at the different aspects. One of the big strengths of Singapore is all the investments that are made by the government in Singapore, [which is] one of the governments that is spending a lot on innovation.
Since we are in an industry that is heavily regulated, we are also looking [for a regulator that is] looking at all the new technology and innovation. And here, I have to say that the Monetary Authority of Singapore ... is quite innovative and very pro-innovation, compared to the many regulators in many countries.
The fact that they appointed a chief fintech officer was, for me, a strong statement to say, "We want to develop this fintech."
Q: What do you do in the Digital Hive?
A: What I want [to achieve] by creating the Digital Hive is to start moving the insurance industry into the real-time world. We are monitoring "live" the performance of the assets and, in addition, we are starting to inject into the organization a data-driven mindset. So I take a decision based on data, based on facts. We are moving into real-time insights, and then we take action.
The second objective for me is to put the customer back into the center. What is going on in social media? What are our customers talking about? We have launched a completely transparent real-time customer feedback [system]. So when you buy a policy, when you have an interaction with AXA, you write your experience. Your comment will be published on the website. It's better to know that a customer is unhappy rather than not knowing. Because if you know, you can take action.
Q: How is the fintech scene developing in Singapore?
A: Singapore is one of the biggest financial centers in Asia. You have innovation, bigger assurance from banks in Singapore. So yes, there is big potential. But the competition is going to be very big, especially coming from China.
We have a lot of Chinese companies that are now starting to go outside China and entering Southeast Asia. So the competition is going to be really, really strong, and the companies that are going out of China, they have huge capital -- a lot of money. Even Hong Kong or Singapore are going to struggle against those giants that are coming in. So they need to quickly expand, so that they would be able to fight against the Chinese companies.
Q: Who has the edge?
A: That is a tough question. For me, Singapore is a perfect testing platform, because the infrastructure is well-developed and [it is] a very connected country. And it is a country that is fostering partnerships. So you see a lot of partnerships between government agencies, universities and companies working together.
There is a big opportunity. ... If those partnerships are successful, quickly they need to expand beyond Singapore. And I think the initiatives Singapore has, around the smart city [plan], are really good.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Takashi Nakano