Canadian insurer Sun Life Financial plans to increase its list of agents in Hong Kong and use the city as a springboard to expand into other Asian markets to seize growing opportunities in the region, according to its head in Asia.
“We are based in Hong Kong, and she is our regional headquarters,” Ingrid Johnson, president of Sun Life Asia, said in an interview. “It has served us very well because Hong Kong is such a great location that we can travel around the region with ease.”
The insurance company has operations entirely in the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, as well as joint ventures in Malaysia, India and mainland China. The company has been operating in Asia for 131 years, serving 25 million clients across the region with its army of 30,000 employees and 97,000 financial advisors.
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Sun Life’s planned expansion matches the vision of Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, who wants more international insurers to establish themselves in the city to oversee their operations in Asia.
Ingrid Johnson, president of Sun Life Asia, says the company will focus on recruiting quality agents. Photo: May Tse alt = Ingrid Johnson, president of Sun Life Asia, says the company will focus on recruiting quality agents. Photo: Mai Tse>
“We’d definitely like to see more cross-selling of products among our customers,” Johnson said. “We have over a million customers in Hong Kong, but less than 20 percent have life, health and wealth with us. So this is an opportunity.”
In April, Sun Life opened a 23,000-square-foot customer center at The Gateway in Tsim Sha Tsui’s tourist hotspot, joining peers such as HSBC Life, Manulife, Prudential and Standard Chartered who have built such dedicated customer centers over the past two years to capitalize on Wealthy clients.
“Even though we’ve recently gone into creating this client space, we’ve raised the bar in terms of the client experience,” said Johnson. “The new center helped increase sales.”
Sun Life said sales of the new policy in Hong Kong quadrupled year-on-year in the second quarter, with mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong making up more than 20 percent of the total, up from 10 percent before the pandemic.
Strong growth in Hong Kong, coupled with a doubling of sales in mainland China and a 39 percent jump in India during the second quarter, contributed to earnings increasing 25 percent to C$150 million (US$111.9 million) for the quarter ending in June in Insurance sales increased by 51 per cent to C$450 million.
Underlying profit for the insurer in Asia rose 36 percent over five years, from C$461m in 2017 to C$627m last year.
Johnson said Sun Life will continue to invest in dealerships but will focus on quality rather than quantity.
“We invest very carefully to go after quality agents to make sure we don’t end up attracting people who only care about money,” she said. “As such, we not only want to increase the number of agents, but we want to invest in facilities and technology to enhance their productivity and service to customers.”
Johnson said the Hong Kong expansion plan comes as Sun Life looks to grow in the Greater Bay Area. Sun Life has an insurance joint venture in mainland China with Everbright Group, allowing its banking partner China Everbright Bank to sell in the region that includes Hong Kong, Macao and nine cities in Guangdong province.
Appointed president of Asia at the end of 2021, Johnson moved to Hong Kong from London in January last year and underwent mandatory quarantine when the city was in the grip of the fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Johnson put the shock of settling in the city behind her, rating Hong Kong highly for ease of doing business, good food and hiking trails.
“Hong Kong is a beautiful city,” she said. “You won’t see the ease with which we can live until you get here, and the government has put in place all the necessary structures to support the community to live very comfortably.”
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