Your experiences shape your achievements

TOPICS: Start-up , Insurance

by Fred Ngan

I am an entrepreneur born after the 1980s. Change has remained a fixture in my life since my school years. I have switched schools multiple times during which I repeated a year and skipped grades. Then, moving homes 16 times in ten years. Lived life working abroad and tried my hands at starting my own business five times. I tasted success and had my fair share of setbacks. 

Like many Hong Kongers, I took my parents' advice and was on track to becoming a professional. By aged 26, I was qualified an actuary in North America. This led to consultancy work in Toronto, Chicago and London. I fulfilled a promise to my family and was living what many outsiders saw as a stable life.

Though this is not the life I am after.

People have asked why I gave up my profession to start a business.

This turning point dates back to a heart operation five years ago. I needed surgery for heart problems but was shocked to discover my company's medical scheme insufficient to cover private hospital care. I never imagined large firms to provide such limited coverage. In the end, I could only wait to have my operation at a public hospital. While the surgery went well, I was out of hospital the next day given a shortage of hospital beds.

With life's uncertainties, should I be living life this way? I cannot hesitate further. That experience gave me greater determination to start my own business. The idea is to enable every Hong Konger, a simple and basic medical plan that will allow them to also benefit from private medical care.

Before this venture, friends have asked if I thought things through and if I misjudged. While my background is in actuary, I let my intuition take lead. People have lost opportunities for being too calculative or overly rational.

This is why I left my consultancy job and partnered with a fellow actuary. Together, we set up two startups-- Coherent, an insurtech consultancy firm and Seasonalife which offers a platform for consumers to compare insurance products. We saw potential in the tech sector and were fortunate enough to recruit talents.

One day, I bumped into the CEO of an insurance company, a veteran in the industry. He offered his take and advised us to establish our own brand. In fact, he would have given it a go himself if he was my age and free from technological barriers. What he said stuck with me.

In September of 2017, our team decided to apply for a virtual insurance company license from Hong Kong's Insurance Authority. Virtual insurance seemed the perfect sales channel. Consumers can instantly insure, underwrite and file claims online with their smartphones or computers. Agents are not required.

Our team saw an opportunity in this meaningful project. Within a short time, we negotiated with different insurers and eventually teamed up with Sun Life Hong Kong Limited to submit a formal bid for the license.

People often ask, "Why name your company Bowtie?". I normally reply by asking "When do you tie a bow tie? At your wedding or graduation? What about tying your kid's shoelaces or your daughter's ribbon?". Given you won't casually help others with their bow ties or shoelaces, the person you help must be someone of importance you treasure. This is not indifferent to an insurance policy for someone you care about.

We named our company "Bowtie" to create a brand that can touch and connect people. Hong Kong is not short of insurers but it does lack a digital one. The local market is full of insurance plans with investment components but there are few strictly on pure life and medical insurance. As an actuary, I feel a simple plan is just what Hong Kongers need.

I found it challenging to build an insurance firm from scratch. After all, we had neither a large team, nor consultancy or outsourcing support. We did everything ourselves. While we did not have it easy, we are fortunate to still have reached our targets sooner than expected. On December 20th of 2018, Bowtie became Hong Kong's first virtual insurance company authorized by the Insurance Authority.

Fate may have dictated how we live our early years but I am a firm believer of creating your own destiny. My ideal life is not about having a stable job as a professional worker. There is never a best time to start your own business. Don't be afraid to take the plunge and cherish every chance to learn. What you have experienced will shape your achievements.

Give yourselves a chance. We all have the right to choose an extraordinary life.

About the Author

Mr. Fred Ngan is co-CEO of Bowtie Life Insurance Company Limited, and co-founder of Coherent Capital Advisors Limited and Seasonalife Limited, two insurtech companies in Hong Kong. He leads the customer acquisition and engagement for the first digital insurer in Hong Kong. He has over 13 years of experience in the insurance and consulting in Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  He worked as a consulting actuary at EY specializing in financial reporting, risk and capital management, and asset liability management serving life insurers across Asia.