Charting a Financial Course for Asians: Sun Life Financial Asia

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Charting a Financial Course for Asians: Sun Life Financial Asia

The story of Sun Life Financial Asia (“Sun Life”) has been part of Asia’s growth story for over 125 years. Through war and peace, economic crisis and growth, where it has served clients in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, and established joint ventures and associations in China, India and Malaysia. It’s quite a remarkable story of commitment by the century-and-half Canadian-based financial services company to one of the most diverse and heterogeneous markets.

In all these seven countries, Sun Life offers its individual life insurance products with a mission “to help customers achieve lifetime financial security.” It also provides group benefits and pension products in the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Sun Life’s operations also include asset management companies established directly, or through joint ventures and associates, in the Philippines, China, and India.

Client-focused

When doing business, Sun Life is relentlessly focused on delivering outcomes that matter to clients. Sun Life is constantly looking at ways to make it easier to do business, to increase its proactive contact and to resolve problems better for their clients.

Asian-focused

With its strong foundation and intense focus on clients, Sun Life is committed to creating lifetime financial security for its clients— by driving its strategies that build on Sun Life’s approach to high quality and professional distribution.

The company is optimistic about what lies ahead for its business in the region, with the emerging markets driving strong growth for the industry in general, and especially Sun Life. Looking ahead, Sun Life believes that its Most Respected Advisor strategy has provided a strong foundation for growing its agency force over the coming years. Money Compass managed to catch up with Kevin Strain, the Executive Vice-President & Chief Financial Officer, Sun Life Financial, and Claude Accum, President for Sun Life Financial Asia, during the 16th Asia Pacific Life Insurance Congress (16th APLIC, 17 to 19 May 2017) in Genting Highlands to reveal more.

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Encourage Professionalism

It’s worth noting that Sun Life is the Exclusive Titanium Sponsor of the recently concluded 16th APLIC in Genting Malaysia. Themed, “Together As One”, the 16th APLIC brought over 5,000 life insurance practitioners from 13 countries including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Australia, China and

Malaysia in what is believed to be the largest financial services congress in the region.

“One of the many things that APLIC provides is an important platform to promote the professionalism of the agencies. We need to ensure that as the insurance industry continues to develop in Asia, it will be renowned for delivering a superior level of client service,” commented Kevin Strain. He then explained that one of the reasons Sun Life has supported APLIC since 2009 is based on the belief that it is integral for insurance industry professionals to regularly meet, “so they can focus on continually raising the best practices of the industry. We think that’s critically important.”

People Power

Reflecting on Sun Life’s tremendous growth over the past five years, in agency size and income, Kevin noted a couple of driving factors:

“One is people. We have and will continue to recruit some very good people and we created a culture where people believe they can truly win and grow.” Sun Life has also carved a record of seven acquisitions in five years across Asia, topped with a number of bank insurance deals. Part of its strategy in the region has been to grow both organically and through acquisitions and it has managed to get this balance just right.

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Most Respected Advisor

When asked by Money Compass about Sun Life’s ambitious moves in Asia, Kevin drew the focus back to the company’s core values, “We use a strategy we call ‘Most Respected Advisor’. That strategy focuses on four core values: caring, professional, inspiring, and winning.”

“Caring means looking after our clients, putting them at the center of everything we do, making sure they understand our products, and that they choose the products that best meet their financial needs.”

“Professional is about having well-trained, high quality agents who do what is right for our clients.”

“Inspiring refers to having an agency force that has a lot of energy and that is truly engaged in what they are doing. These types of agents are obviously more successful and most importantly, they do a better job for their clients.”

“Finally, there is winning. In the end, we want to be bigger, do more business, serve more clients, and ensure those clients can enjoy the Sun Life experience of— having life time financial security.”

“We have a concept called ‘Money for Life’ which is—in essence— having a plan that covers life insurance, health insurance and wealth products across your entire life.”

“We are the number one agency in the Philippines,” he added, “our income today is three times bigger than it was five years ago and our profitability is five times what it was.”

Professionalism of its Agency

Part of Sun Life’s strategy is to be a leader in Asia through distribution excellence, especially in higher growth markets like Indonesia, Vietnam, China and India and Malaysia. Kevin believes that having a high quality distribution model in place will provide a propelling force, “whether it’s bank insurance, agencies, digital, telecommunications or fintech.”

As a strong believer in having an agency model to deliver a high quality client experience, Sun Life’s next move is to establish its network of agencies in Malaysia. “The agents can explain the products, the financial plan and encourage sales. It’s almost like having a financial coach, someone who sets a plan and encourages you to execute it,” added Kevin.

Sun Life currently has agencies in all of its other markets in Asia, including: the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and China.

Against the headwind of competition, whether from banks, or the digital inroad of fintech, the Vice President & Chief Financial Officer of Sun Life Financial still sees that, “The success of agencies will always be about how professional the agents are, and how they do their roles.”

Fintech Inroad

In regards to technology, Sun Life sees developing digital tools for distribution and considering alternative channels as both a challenge and enormous opportunity.

“I don’t think fintech is going to replace agencies,” added Kevin, “the challenge mostly lies around capturing these opportunities.”

To counter this, Sun Life is investing significantly over the next few years to upgrade the digital side of its business. This includes a wide range of initiatives, such as: data and analytics to develop an intimate understanding of their clients; digitizing their business processes; developing new products and services; and leveraging internal innovation hubs and external partnerships to generate breakthrough innovative thinking.

Notably, Sun Life has already launched a series of recent telco and fintech strategic partnerships in the markets in Asia where they operate. The partnerships aim to further enhance the client experience, boost operational efficiency and foster agility and convenience in an increasingly competitive insurance market.

In time, we should expect more customized products from Sun Life, tailored to individual healthcare and insurance needs, at the convenience of a clients’ preferred communications channel.

Bancassurance

In Malaysia, Sun Life currently strides in the league of the second to third largest bank insurance business. CIMB Bank topped its bancassurance partnership, with more than 270 branches nationwide, allowing Sun Life Malaysia to match its products to CIMB 8 million customers. Besides CIMB, Sun Life Malaysia is also in partnership with other organisations such as Bank Persatuan, Bank Rakyat, Kuwait Finance House and etc.

Telco-assurance

The company has been a pioneer for innovative collaboration that aims to bridge the insurance protection gap, especially throughout Asia where many people still lack adequate insurance and protection coverage.

Malaysians will soon witness the emergence of the country’s first telco-assurance, with Sun Life Malaysia’s recent partnership with U Mobile—one of the country’s fastest growing telecommunication providers. The partnership will mean that, commencing in October this year, Sun Life Malaysia will be able to offer microinsurance to U Mobile’s customer base of over five million. This partnerships will enable the delivery of a cost-effective, convenient, transparent and customized solution to a vast under-served insurance market, where five out of every 10 Malaysians do not have life insurance coverage.

Expanding its Asian Footprint

Sun Life is excited about its future in Malaysia, driven by its young demography, rapid economic growth and low levels of insurance penetration. “Malaysia is certainly an exciting proposition for Sun Life,” stated Kevin. He then made reference to how these factors drove the Canadian insurers to acquire CIMB Aviva Assurance Berhad and CIMB Aviva Takaful Berhad, in a transaction valued at RM 1.80 billion through its strategic partnership with Khazanah in 2013.

Unique and Outstanding

Having been in the region for over 125 years, Sun Life has been able to build a strong presence in Asia based on its relentless desire to deliver lifetime financial security to its clients. Driven by this focus, even from its very humble beginnings, Sun Life instilled a high quality and professional approach to its distribution strategy, ensured they had a strong suite of products to match and from there they were able to build their brand in each of their markets. The growth of Sun Life varies from market to market. In the Philippines, they are certainly one of the largest insurers with over with almost half a million policy holders, whereas in Vietnam the company is still in its early stages having only established operations in 2013.

As Claude Accum, President for Sun Life Financial Asia concluded, “You have to be outstanding in each country in at least one aspect and we have certainly achieved this and in some markets this applies to more than one area.”