COVID-19 anxieties prompt healthier, fitter lifestyles in Asia

Survey of insurance customers shows widespread appetite for digital and health and wellness propositions.

The Manulife Asia Care Survey, COVID-19, Asia, Digitisation, Anil Wadhwani

Amid the anxiety and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, insurance customers across Asia are starting to adopt healthier lifestyle habits in terms of physical health and mental well-being, and increasingly recognise the convenience of digital technology in their day-to-day lives, according to a new survey by Manulife.

The Manulife Asia Care Survey of 2,400 insurance owners across eight markets takes a closer look at the pandemic's long-term impact on local economies, personal wealth and insurance buying habits. The survey, which was conducted in late May, covered Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. All those surveyed were current insurance customers who own Manulife or other insurers' policies.

Around 50% of policyholders surveyed said that getting more physically healthy was a new habit they have formed since the pandemic, with 41% of them saying they expect to be continuing healthier ways of living in the next 18 months. At the same time, 33% of the Asia respondents also started to monitor their mental health status, with around a quarter (24%) of them saying they intend to incorporate mental wellbeing into their daily lifestyle over the next 18 months.

The emerging pattern is significant because if policy holders can make these changing habits stick or more of them start to adopt these new ways of living, there would be major benefits over the longer term. The survey findings point to fitter, healthier people regionwide in 18 months' time. That could potentially have profound benefits for local healthcare services and individuals' quality of life.

"The survey provides a closer understanding of customers' concerns, priorities and aspirations," said Anil Wadhwani, President and CEO of Manulife Asia. "Growing our health business is a core element of our strategy to meet customers' needs, and these findings feed into the design of our products and services, not just at the point of illness, but also during daily life. With behaviour-linked programmes like ManulifeMOVE, we can incentivise and support our customers to take better control of their health and make their lives every day better."

Concerns align with new cases
The concerns expressed by the Manulife Asia Care Survey respondents about the impact of COVID-19 on their local economies correlate with the rate of new cases. In Mainland China and Vietnam, where new cases are relatively low, those surveyed were more upbeat about the pandemic becoming less serious in the next six months, with only 11% and 18% respectively expecting COVID-19 to worsen during that period. In Indonesia and Philippines, where the number of new cases is rising, insurance owners were far less sanguine -- 74% and 58% respectively felt COVID-19 would be slightly more or much more serious six months down the road. That contrasts with the average of 41% across all markets.
The respondents' appetite for a healthier and more active lifestyle is also important given the rising cost of healthcare and the need for local health services to meet increased demand, in many parts, from an aging population. Across Asia, healthcare costs have increased significantly over the past 20 years, rising nearly 500% during that period, according to the World Bank.

Growing appetite for insurance protection as healthcare costs rise
In tandem with their increasingly health-conscious behaviour, there was a couple of other standout findings in the survey relating to financial planning. Firstly, the majority of the respondents lack financial preparedness to hunker down for a few more months in the event of another wave of the pandemic. On average, only 46% said they have more than six months savings on hand to survive if they suffered sudden loss of income.

Secondly, the vast majority of the respondents (62%) said they were looking to increase their insurance during the next six to 18 months. Life insurance and products offering protection from critical illness, health concerns and hospitalisation were of particular interest. Concerns about COVID-19 may have contributed to their demand for insurance, but it also points to a better understanding of how insurance can help them if faced with recurring ill health and critical illness, including hospitalisation and the associated financial impact.

In the emerging markets that tend to be under-insured, such as Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, interest in buying more insurance was discernibly stronger than elsewhere. Quite possibly, the pandemic has led to a greater awareness of the protection that insurance can offer. Alongside that, insurance is more accessible now as a result of digitisation.
Pandemic accelerating digital trends already underway