I grew up with the insurance industry. For 42 years, my father worked for Scottish Life Assurance Company. At age 15, my first after-school job was filing life insurance policies in the safe at Scottish Life's Head Office in Edinburgh, Scotland.

After finishing my degree at Oxford, I worked for several years in financial services, marketing and advertising. In 1999, I discovered my affinity for Asia and realised that it was in the world of insurance where I truly felt a sense of purpose. I did take a break from this path from 2009–2011 to study clinical psychology and set up a private practice in Singapore. What I learned in those years has served me very well, and I am sure will continue to do so.

I joined Swiss Re in 2012 as Head of Health Solutions in Asia. Private insurance is still developing in many countries in Asia, where healthcare costs are often paid out of pocket and an illness such as cancer can wipe out a lifetime of savings.

Closing society’s protection gaps

In China, cancer is the leading cause of death. The numbers are shocking: almost three million fatalities and over four million newly diagnosed cases every year.* Most oncology treatments are not covered by government-provided healthcare. Swiss Re saw an opportunity to address that treatment gap, but we were unable to do it alone. That is why we partnered with Roche.

Data is the lifeblood of the insurance industry and in Roche, we found a partner who provided us with accurate information on the incidence of cancer, disease progression, treatment pathways and associated costs. This allowed us to work with local and international insurance companies to design policies to cover oncology treatment. By being able to calculate the risks, insurance companies can run a sustainable business and still offer individuals affordable premiums.

As a reinsurance company, Swiss Re takes on part of the risks as well as the rewards. It is important to note that these insurance policies in China do not stipulate the use of any company’s products—this is about expanding overall access to treatment.

In addition to data, Roche provides education programmes on cancer prevention and leverages its connections with leading physicians, who give insurance agents a basic understanding of oncology. Swiss Re works with government regulators to help ensure that patients understand the policies and buy the coverage they need.

Opportunities are opening up for private insurance in China. Our collaboration with Roche illustrates how creative approaches can close society’s protection gaps and demonstrates the power of cross-industry partnership in improving access to healthcare.

* Chen W, Zheng R, Zhang S, et al. Cancer Statistics in China, 2015. CA: Cancer J. for Clin. 2016.