Greta Mikelonis of Manulife Asia on Mental Health

As mental health is (finally!) becoming an increasingly important aspect of our wellbeing, we speak to Greta Mikelonis, Head of Health at Manulife Asia, about the insurance company’s new approach, the industry’s evolution and the importance of digital platforms in raising awareness.

Greta Mikelonis, Head of Health at Manulife Asia

Greta Mikelonis of Manulife Asia talks mental health

The recent Manulife Asia Care Survey 2022 revealed that 2 out of 3 respondents experienced mental health issues. What is the insurance industry doing to ramp up mental health-oriented benefits?

When most people hear about mental health issues, they tend to see it as a monolith rather than a unique set of issues. So, in order to ramp up mental health-oriented benefits, companies need to understand what exactly is affecting customers the most. Our survey at Manulife pinpointed the most pressing mental health issues in Asia to be excessive worrying, mood swings, sleeping difficulties, and the inability to concentrate.

From here, Manulife and the rest of the industry need to work towards creating and offering products and services that can help our customers who are experiencing mental health issues. We already have relevant health products available in specific markets – for example, in Hong Kong, we offer psychiatric medical expense coverage; in Singapore, we have a plan that includes psychotherapy treatment for expecting mothers; and in Vietnam, we provide coverage for psychotherapy in our medical reimbursement rider which serves as a basis for future offerings.

In addition to helping customers, Manulife is also providing mental health-oriented benefits to employees. In 2021 and 2022, Manulife gave its global team of 37,000 colleagues five additional leave days. In addition, we’ve also coined every 2nd Friday of the month “Fuel Up Fridays”. It’s our global initiative to support an afternoon of collective learning to explore new skills and deepen current ones.

Industry information shows that when mental health services are not covered, highly prevalent conditions such as depression and anxiety can impact insurers’ cost profiles indirectly by up to 30% – 40% of physical health claims. What do you believe the best solution going forward is? And will more insurers in Asia be adopting more mental health-friendly insurance packages?

That’s a really important point because I think a lot of people are unaware of how mental health issues can go on to affect the rest of the body. Mental health problems, if left untreated, could potentially worsen physical conditions. The reverse has also been proven – increasing your physical activity has a positive impact on your mental health.

As for what I think the best solution is, it’s getting people the care they need as soon as possible and offering benefits packages that empower customers to act swiftly, rather than when it’s become a problem that is affecting more than just one aspect of their health. We know that when we support our customers’ mental wellbeing, we can reduce the risk of physical diseases, which is why we’ve adopted more mental-health friendly insurance packages.

At the same time, we’re also making healthier behavioural choices easier and more accessible through digital platforms, like ManulifeMOVE, that reward customers who are more physically active. Our MOVE customers can also keep track of how their overall wellbeing is evolving, using the patented Health Score developed by our Swiss partner dacadoo.

With mental health, economic recovery, and medical costs being among the top concerns cited across the region, do you think these will endure past the pandemic, and how are you responding to them?

We are more than two years into the pandemic, and as a leading global insurer, we have been mapping out what this would mean for our business and, more importantly, for our customers.

COVID-19 will be a part of everyday life moving forward – hopefully eventually as more of a flu, but people will continue to feel the impact of the pandemic. We, as business leaders and as life and health insurers, will need to ensure that product, service, and experience meaningfully meet the needs of our customers during these challenging times. Mental health and the cost of medical care are not going to be ‘fixed’ once the pandemic is past us, so building products for the future is crucial.

To respond to concerns, we introduced a suite of special life and health insurance COVID-19 related benefits for our customers in Asia which vary by market, such as simpler claims processes, waiving medical deductibles, hospital cash benefits, and deferring premium payment. Many of these benefits have been in place since the start of the pandemic.

More significantly, customer expectations towards insurers are also changing – they are now looking to us for more health and wellness offerings, whether this means making available more integrated healthcare services, like mental health support, or even having the ability to speak and see a doctor over a smartphone app via teleconsultation.

Working from home has been on the rise as many countries in Asia have gone in and out of lockdowns. What new measures has Manulife adopted in Asia to help their employees work better from home or remotely?

The health and safety of our employees, agents, customers, and communities have been Manulife’s primary focus throughout the pandemic. If we look at what we have been doing for employees, we’ve invested heavily in technology to enable our 15,000 employees in Asia to not only work from home, but to be as productive as they can be by providing the same access and tools they would have in the office.

We also know that employees need flexibility to balance their multiple priorities both at home and in the workplace. Globally, we have a flexible working approach that focuses on wellbeing and aims to make lives easier for our team colleagues through flexibility around where and how we do our work.

For example, Manulife’s “Working Better Colleague Toolkit” supports employees’ overall wellbeing, as well as our culture of learning, with helpful tips and tools to encourage “Me” time to read, review, learn and think, as well as to take time off to rest and recharge. The toolkit also provides tips to have the right workspace when working remotely, which includes an ergonomics self-assessment checklist.

Greta Mikelonis of Manulife Asia talks mental health
Greta Mikelonis

There’s been an explosion of data from connected devices, which means insurance companies can better understand their customers. At the same time, there’s also been a rise in mobile apps that monitor and track health status. Is Manulife integrating new technologies into its platforms or partnering with already established wellness-tracking apps?

One of the key opportunities for us, especially during these times, is to be proactive about motivating our customers to lead healthier lives. In order for us to do that, we’ve been investing and growing our home-grown behavioural insurance platform, ManulifeMOVE. Today, we are proud to have more than 1.5 million customers enrolled across Asia.

The platform, available as an app, functions to reward people’s every move, as it merges activity-tracking and insurance solutions to encourage our consumers to adopt healthy behaviours. The programme helps our customers make healthier lifestyle choices in both the immediate and longer-term. The benefits range from healthcare partnerships that offer valuable health insights to regular challenges incentivising health improvement through wellness, entertainment, and lifestyle rewards.

In addition, beyond just promoting healthy behaviour, we’re also expanding our health and wellness ecosystems within the platform to help customers better manage their health. In mainland China, we’ve collaborated with Good Doctor online, one of the country’s largest online platforms, with more than 230,000 doctors available to give medical advice. We have also partnered with 111 online pharmacy to enable customers to directly purchase medicine. These partnerships help build out a holistic health ecosystem that incorporates consultation, diagnosis, treatment, and fitness, all within the MOVE app.

What does Manulife see for the future of the insurance industry, particularly over the next two years?

The pandemic has put health and wellbeing at the front and centre of people’s minds, and in doing so, it has raised the importance of insurance to unprecedented levels. Our survey showed that interest in buying new and additional insurance across Asia remains strong.

The same survey also revealed that Asian consumers were seeking ways to better protect their health and their families’ health, with many saying they are interested in buying life, health, and critical illness products.

This combination of an increasing focus on health and a greater appreciation of insurance presents an extraordinary opportunity for the insurance industry to better address Asia’s health and protection needs.

In terms of the future of the industry, insurers that will be able to meet the region’s health requirements in a holistic manner will be the ones that are the most customer-obsessed. This means tilting the product mix to offer a more comprehensive suite of health solutions, as well as expanding health ecosystems to ultimately benefit customers and offer a more comprehensive range of value-added services.

When you’re not in the office, how do you relax and destress?

The best way for me to destress is to spend time with my family. I’m a mother to three very energetic kids – my youngest is two, and my eldest is seven, so I’m sure you can imagine how busy our house can get. They keep me on my toes and, most importantly, in the moment, enjoying the now.

When I’m not with the kids, I practice yoga to stay in shape. I’ve been a yogi for a long time and try to squeeze in at least three sessions per week, either in person or digitally. I also enjoy sneaking away for foot massages. It’s a habit I started nearly 15 years ago when I moved to Shanghai, and it allows the stress to simply melt away.

How have you personally integrated or adopted new wellness technologies into your own self-care routine?

I actually have hopped onto the wellness technologies bandwagon and have been tracking my steps for over five years now. Initially with a generic app but after joining Manulife, ManulifeMOVE allows me to continue that same discipline in another way. I love how technology helps to keep me informed. My apps check in on me and make sure I’m moving every day, so using them has become part of my daily routine, just the same way brushing my teeth is. Also, I’m a big fan of being rewarded for my efforts, so the discounts the app provides are a perfect motivator.

I’ve also started to use digital platforms to do yoga when I can’t make it into the studio, and I’m currently testing out a new habit tracker that was rolled out by Gretchen Rubin called the Happier App.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

Well, since I’ve been in Hong Kong now for over two years, the first place I would visit is Michigan back in the US, as that’s where my parents are. But after that visit, I’d love to explore one of the many places that still remain on my bucket list. There are quite a few, so I’ll just name a couple, New Zealand because I want to see in person the scenery from the Lord of the Rings and Istanbul, Turkey because my husband and I love good food and history.

What are the top trends for the industry going forward?

Without a doubt, the pandemic has accelerated digitisation, and as digital habits take root, customer expectations shift. Seamless, online experiences people get from other providers, like food delivery or virtual payments, influence their expectations for the next digital interaction.

Meeting people’s health needs through our products and services continues to be a top trend. But underpinning that is also working towards eliminating all friction points in insurance processes, especially claims. Historically, the insurance claims journey has been complex. People seek reassurance and simplicity when they make claims, and they’re often at their lowest.

The industry needs to work towards fully automating the claims process, through AI, machine learning, and faster, analytics-driven systems. What this means ultimately means is that our customers can focus on getting better, reassured that their treatment is covered and that their claim will be paid quickly.