Sun Life targets growing local client base

As Vietnam’s middle class grows at a region-leading rate, the need for the kind of financial security offered by insurers like Sun Life Financial is also on the rise. Dean A. Connor, president and CEO of Sun Life, gives VIR an inside view on the growth strategy informing one of the field’s prime movers.

Please give us a brief overview of Sun Life Financial’s overall business strategy?

The foundation of our strategy is what we call our “Four Pillars” – our businesses in Canada, the US, in asset management, and in Asia, where we operate in seven countries. We’ve had excellent growth and success across these pillars since this strategy was launched in 2012.

We’ve now added a bold new ambition for Sun Life globally: to be one of the best insurance and asset management companies in the world. This includes becoming one of the best insurance companies in Vietnam.

Being one of the best involves not just top financial performance, but also delivering for our clients around the world. In fact, our purpose as a company is to help our clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives.

We renewed our strategy last year in what we call “Sun Life Client’s focused strategy”. At the centre of this is delivering a better experience to our clients and creating strong emotional connections with them. We want to make it easier for clients to do business with us, to connect with them more, and be great at solving their problems when issues arise. By doing this well, we are able to build relationships with clients for life.

To create this better experience, we’re making improvements in our businesses around the world. While specific strategies are determined in each country, key elements are:

-An investment in digital platforms

-Increased use of data and analytics

-Continuing to develop and attract the best people in the industry

Financial discipline also remains a foundational part of our success and sustainability. Sun Life is a 150-year-old company known for its enduring strength and keeping its commitments. We remain committed to our clients, our shareholders, and our people through a combination of achieving our financial performance goals, our risk management, and our capital strength.

Are Asia, and Vietnam in particular, still growth areas for your company?

Yes, absolutely. We have deep roots in Asia spanning back to 1892. Today, the growth of the middle class in the emerging markets of Asia is one of the major forces driving our business success. That is also why Sun Life Financial Asia is one of the four pillars of our strategy and why it’s a growing part of the Sun Life story. From 2012 through 2016, our earnings from Asia have nearly tripled in size, and we have expanded to seven markets in the region. We have high hopes for even more success in the region. We entered Vietnam in 2013, and our acquiring 100 per cent ownership of the company a year ago demonstrates our commitment to the country. We find Vietnam a very attractive market with its growing prosperity and young population who need the types of products and services that Sun Life can provide.

Many international insurers have been in Vietnam for quite some time already. What is Sun Life Vietnam’s competitive advantage?

We bring our rich heritage, a commitment to the country, and a very client-focused strategy – along with our winning culture, which we call our “secret sauce”.

We’ve been in business a century-and-a-half, and more than 125 years in Asia, which brings a wealth of experience through all economic cycles and a history of sharing know-how around the world and regionally.

We believe our Client focused  strategy is a strong competitive advantage – focusing on the client and providing experiences that are convenient, modern, and tailored to each client. The professionalism of our advisors is a crucial part of that experience, which is why across Asia we are investing in our “Most Respected Advisor” platform, as well as expanding our advisor force in Vietnam.

In the era of technological innovation, what initiatives are underway? Will Sun Life Asia and Vietnam be able to leverage the latest technology from Canada?

In Canada and in Asia we are also very interested in partnerships in the digital landscape, and have connections with the startup community. We recently became a principal backer of the FinTech Innovation Lab Asia Pacific, created by Accenture. We will be mentoring insurtech startups that could lead to innovations that could be shared across Sun Life in Asia.

We also have our local fintech partnership with Timo to offer life and health products through Timo’s mobile app and connect Timo members to Sun Life advisors.

As our newest operation, Vietnam is in a unique position within Sun Life to pick the best and right-fit technology from what we have already successfully implemented in our other businesses across Asia – including, for example, efficiency improvements and automation systems, advisor and client engagement applications and portals, and data analytics tools.

The bancassurance business in Vietnam is getting more competitive, and it seems that insurers who have a strong brand and capital position are winning the bancassurance battle. Does Sun Life Financial have plans for this channel in Asia and Vietnam?

We always look for the right opportunities to grow our business in each of our markets, and that naturally includes expanding our distribution. Across the region, we have a combination of agencies, bancassurance, brokerages, and digital distribution. We also have bancassurance partnerships in five of our seven markets, including with CIMB Bank in both Indonesia and Malaysia. We are interested in the bancassurance channel for Vietnam if the right opportunity presents itself.

How about digital insurance sales and services? What trends do you see in developed markets?

The advancement of digital capabilities is driven by consumer demand for convenient and personalised service. They want their financial services to be as easy as their interactions with Amazon or Alibaba. This means there is enormous investment underway in our industry globally to make the client experience much easier, including being able to access information immediately and through mobile devices as well as face-to-face. We refer to this as an omni-channel experience. Sometimes a client wants to be able to buy a simple product easily online and other times they want advice that is more comprehensive and service that can be provided through an advisor relationship.

Our Timo relationship is a great example of how we are combining both – an online platform that also allows referrals to our advisors.