Manulife PH ready for new normal from Day 1, says CEO

Manulife Philippines President and CEO Richard Bates said the company's digital transformation journey for the past two years has empowered its customers, employees, and distributors.
Manulife Philippines President and CEO Richard Bates said the company’s digital transformation journey for the past two years has empowered its customers, employees, and distributors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many challenges to businesses. Manulife Philippines, however, has found it easier to adjust to the new business environment. This is thanks to its digital transformation journey for the past two years.

“The changes the COVID-19 pandemic have forced upon us have both put our digital transformation strategy to the test, and validated that we, as an organization, have taken many steps in the right direction,” Manulife Philippines President and CEO Richard Bates told Digital Life Asia.

Empowering customers

“When Manulife Philippines moved to a new head office location in 2019, we also made investments in our hardware and network infrastructure to enable new ways of working. The introduction of FlexWork to our team provided us with the tools and flexibility that allowed 100 percent of our employees to work from home from the onset of the community quarantine. There was no disruption to our operations. We were up and running, from our homes, from day one,” he said.

Bates added that the insurance firm has also empowered its customers and distributors with digital tools. For instance, in 2019, it upgraded the Manulife Online customer portal. This allows customers to manage their insurance policies wherever they are.

Also last year, Manulife Philippines introduced its ePOS (Electronic Point of Sale) tool to its insurance advisors. With this, they can create proposals, and process and submit applications without the need for paper forms. This tool has enabled non-face-to-face selling and allowed its insurance advisors to remain active, even during the community quarantine.

“Having a good number of our customers and insurance advisors using these tools even before the pandemic made the transition to digital interaction more seamless for us. We have seen increased adoption since March. We are continuing to monitor customer needs and feedback, to inform our future investments in this space,” Bates said.

Culture change

What was the biggest challenge that Manulife Philippines faced in its digital transformation?

“The biggest challenge any company would face in a time of transformation is culture change. As we embarked on our digital transformation at Manulife, we went beyond simply rolling out new technologies and training our people to use them. We also empowered them with the right mindset by introducing new corporate values in 2018, and immersing them in the Agile methodology and human-centered design.

“We gave them the tools and environment to foster digital interactions. An open workspace, hot desking, flexible work arrangements, collaboration tools. To foster an open flow of ideas, information and innovation. Employees have been embracing the shift, and have become huge contributors to the digital initiatives we have put in place,” he said.

Advisors as co-creators

As the company moves toward automation and self-service by embracing digital channels, how does it balance this with taking care of their distributors — the insurance advisors and their agencies?

“Our insurance advisors are a big part of our business and a critical part of our team, which is why, as we have pursued our digital transformation, we have made sure to engage and enable them as well.

“As we develop new digital tools, we invite our insurance advisors to be our co-creators. For each distributor-facing initiative, we invite a group of advisors to give us feedback throughout the design and delivery process. We continue to take their feedback post-launch, and use their inputs to guide our plans for enhancements and future releases.

“We also put a lot of thought into equipping them with proper training, to ease the adoption of our new tools. For every initiative that is launched, we convene a cross-functional team that is tasked with ensuring that all our key stakeholders are made aware of and encouraged to use our new digital tools,” Bates said.

Targeting the youth

The shift to digital also recognizes that this is the preferred platform of the youth, who are digital natives. But while Manulife Philippines is providing digital tools, how is it also changing the mindset of young Filipinos? After all, traditionally the youth have felt that they don’t need or can’t afford life assurance.

“We recognize that there is a lot of complexity in the world today. Insurance has, historically, fallen among the more complex financial products. Our goal is, thus, to help reduce some of this complexity and make insurance easier to both understand and access. We believe our efforts here will benefit not just the youth, but consumers in general,” Bates said.

He added that the company is working on making insurance more affordable. This will enable it to extend protection to more Filipinos across all ages and life stages.

“Right now, Manulife products can be purchased for as little as Php1,000 per month. That’s equivalent to just Php35 per day. And what is important to note is that, with insurance, the earlier you start, the more benefits you can reap over time. For instance, our product Freedom gives policyholders a bi-annual payout from the time their policy is fully paid, until they reach the age of 65. With this, the younger you are when you are covered with a Freedom policy, the bigger the total payout you can receive.

“Similarly, we have a number of insurance products that are linked to investments. In this case, the earlier you purchase a policy, the more time your money will have to grow. We recommend that consumers start with a life insurance policy that they can afford. Then top up or purchase additional policies, when they have more income to spare,” he said.

Helping the community

Manulife Philippines has also been giving back to the community during this pandemic.

“One of the community initiatives I am most proud of is our extension of Php4 billion in insurance coverage to 85,000 two-wheel delivery riders. Throughout the community quarantine, delivery services have been critical to getting necessities to consumers and keeping businesses running.

“It has been very fulfilling for our team to recognize the heroism of these front liners from Grab, Lalamove, foodpanda, Shopee Xpress, Gogo Xpress, and Ninja Van through free personal accident and accidental death coverage,” Bates said.

Startup mentality

How challenging was it for a company as big and as old as Manulife Philippines to embrace a startup mentality?

“One of our Manulife values is ‘Think Big’. This means being curious at every level of the organization. Always asking ‘why not,’ constantly learning, pushing the envelope, and facing new challenges. We believe this, coupled with another one of our values ‘Own It,’ which encourages accountability, a focus on solutions and a foundation in data and insights, sets the stage for a culture of innovation.

“As we’ve looked inward and realigned our values to support our vision and transformation, we have also made sure to keep an eye out on what is happening in the space around us. In the Philippines, Manulife chairs the InsurTech Committee of FintechPH, and is an active member of FinTech Alliance.

“We believe that innovation is about delivering solutions to address needs and pain points. And these don’t necessarily have to be built in-house. Sometimes, the best solutions can be delivered by partnering with startups and similar solution providers. We encourage our teams to run experiments or pilot projects with startups. This allows them to establish a proof of concept before launching into full-blown projects. These experiments also give members of our team the opportunity to interact with startups and work with emerging technologies. We’ve found this to be an effective way to spark the spirit of innovation among our ranks as well.”

At the end of the day, Manulife Philippines is transforming itself and embracing the future to continue serving Filipinos. As Bates said, Manulife has been in the Philippines since 1907.

It’s been here for more than 100 years, and it intends to stay here for the next 100 years and more.