For Dr. Bei Zhang and Dr. Shivani Sarwal, the move from medicine to insurance has been illuminating. Dr. Bei Zhang joined Peak Re last December and is responsible for Life & Health Underwriting for the Greater China Region. In February this year, Dr. Shivani Sarwal stepped into the role of Senior Vice President Life & Health Underwriting. We spoke to them to learn more about why they made the change, and how they continue to apply their expertise in medicine to the future of reinsurance at Peak Re.
Tell us a little more about your career journeys so far.
Bei: I started my career as a medical doctor and have experience in medical
doctor and have experience in medical operations and hospital management in both Singapore and China. Before joining Peak Re, I have worked in various direct insurers and reinsurers in the medical and health side, again in Singapore and China as well as Hong Kong, so I know the region well.
Shivani: I moved from medicine to insurance in 2003 and have worked with various direct insurers in India in underwriting and claims. Prior to Peak Re, I worked with other international reinsurers on product development, data/technology driven underwriting solutions, managing client relations and assisting business development in the Asia region.
What initially attracted you to the insurance industry?
Shivani: I moved to insurance because I saw the opportunity to use my medical education to facilitate and improve access to medical care. When I started as an underwriter, my experience became particularly useful in determining which risks to take on board or decline. I also developed a passion for product design and have found my background as a doctor is very helpful in that regard. For example, lately we have been looking at solutions to cover certain risks such as diabetes, mental illnesses, maternity or childcare.
Bei: I come more from the operational side of medicine. I’ve been responsible for hospital management, quality control, patient care services and social security funding. During my time working in these areas, I developed an interest in social medical insurance and in commercial insurance.
How do you find your new role at Peak Re?
Bei: Fascinating. At Peak Re, we nourish an understanding of Life & Health Underwriting which goes beyond the traditional approach. We have a holistic approach to growing the business, which incorporates marketing, business development and research—an approach that’s particularly helpful when targeting a market like China.
According to recent estimations, China’s current health protection gap might be as large as US$800 billion, with revenues for private health insurance earmarked to grow to RMB 5 trillion (US$744 billion) by 2020. What are your thoughts on those findings?
Bei: Those insurers who select the right strategy, find access to a younger generation and are willing to use technology may be able to reap some of that potential—and I expect Peak Re will be one of them.
Shivani, what do you think this means for the rest of Asia?
Shivani: Outside of China, Peak Re targets India, Thailand, Vietnam and increasingly—South-East Asia. This is where we’re finding a young population with an expanding middle class who are looking for new solutions to protect their life and health needs. These consumers believe in technology and are interested in products that are specific to their market and easily accessible.
How do you see reinsurance impacting these populations and what is Peak Re’s role?
Shivani: Peak Re has the ambition to strike a balance between making societies more resilient and generating profitable business. That’s an almost philanthropic approach that clearly goes beyond the aspirations of the average reinsurer. We aim to make a meaningful difference to our clients, consumers and society at large. So, we are exploring new opportunities in deploying technology and data, but also exploring micro-insurance to bring insurance protection to the mass market while addressing risks such as medical emergencies or disabilities.
What attracted you to Peak Re?
Bei: The young, dynamic environment really convinced me. I appreciate having the opportunity to try new approaches and be part of an environment where decisions are made rapidly. It’s a cultural trait that really applies to everything at Peak Re, including its people and its culture.
Shivani: I agree, that ambition really sets Peak Re apart and convinced me to join the company. In addition, it is exciting to be part of a growth story and to see your ideas come to fruition. It creates a very special atmosphere that is supported by the openness and warmth of the company’s corporate culture—which I found very embracing from day one. We are one team, one Peak Re! That’s what I enjoy.
You’re both fairly new to Hong Kong, how are you adjusting to life in the city?
Bei: I’ve been here for four years, and I really enjoy hiking.
Shivani: This is my first time living in Hong Kong. I’m an avid runner and I love the hilly landscape here. As an outdoor runner, the ups and downs on my running track make it exciting. I also love the buzz of the city—it is very lively and active.