From landing as the only Filipina and the only one in insurance on “Forbes Asia’s Power Businesswomen” list, to being recognized as a gender equality champion for leadership commitment at the 2021 Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Awards, Nina D. Aguas has been inspiring many Filipinos with her accomplishments.
In the past five years since she became the Company’s first woman CEO before serving her current post as Executive Chair, InLife has been enjoying a strong balance sheet, assuring its policyholders of the company’s reliability, and making its digital infrastructure more robust, touching millions of women’s lives through a movement for financial and social empowerment, as well as reaping local and international awards.
Ms. Aguas said she draws wisdom and strength from InLife’s 111-year history, surviving, evolving, and emerging stronger from every crisis. This, plus her more than 40 years of successful banking career and business transformation experience makes her a woman of great influence from whom many draw inspiration. The two years of the COVID-19 crisis has challenged the way we do business and the way we live, and we look to our leaders for some answers and directions for the future. Ms. Aguas’ many messages delivered during the two years of the pandemic are inspirational, not just among InLifers and for Filipinos from all walks of life. Here is a selection of excerpts from her memorable speeches explained further with the context behind each quote.
As a 111-year-old institution, InLife had already seen and been in several crises in the Philippines and in the world. The COVID-19 global pandemic crystalized the need for an institution like InLife that knows how to manage and navigate through a crisis, from generation to generation. To lead in these challenging times filled with uncertainty, we must know how to be quick on our feet to address the needs of our policyholders, as well as the convenience and the safety of our own people. On top of that, we still need to operate our business in a profitable, as well as responsible and sustainable, manner.
So how do you get the leadership to rise above all of that while you’re fearing for yourself, fearing for the Company, and fearing for the world while you have a business to run? This was the context of my speech: to do well and to do good, and to be able to keep the people and our policyholders.
On the first year of the pandemic, in 2020, a lot of the businesses, InLife included, were more focused on the safety of their employees, of their agents, and of the community in general. In 2021, there was a better understanding on how to deal with COVID-19 and we had pockets of opportunities within the months that we were not on lockdown. Our financial advisers pushed hard to underwrite policies as they feel the need they cannot go on without a sale, and neither could we. So, we looked at ways to make it more convenient for them to underwrite business, as well as for our policyholders to connect with us.
Fortunately, the acceleration of our digital efforts was coming to bear in 2021. But we could still do more, and it's still work in progress. We did well in 2021 in terms of financial performance because our agents were able to regain their confidence and overcome their fear.
I think I always have it in me, and I speak with all humility, this spirituality as a person. A lot of the challenges I'm able to address and deal with personally first. To pause and to say, “I can't do this” or “I'm afraid,” it's just not me. I wake up every day and look at that day as a precious gift and ask myself, “What am I going to do with this gift?” I will not stay in bed or hide because I'm afraid. This day has to be lived, and in the best way I can. I guess it's coming from my own soul, my inner being guided by Someone up there. I've been blessed in a way to be disposed this way. I anchor on Him. Be not afraid. If you read the Bible many times, “Be not afraid” is always said many, many ways, and many, many times, in many, many instances.
For example, if you’re a mother and show fear, your kids will show fear. If you’re less confident and diffident, they mirror you in a way.
If there is any ounce of inspiration that I can give to our employees and to the agents, it’s first to say it, then do it. When your heart is full, the mouth opens. It's so full it has to be expressed; it cannot be left inside. That's what I wanted to do for them. I know we are all fearful. I know we all lacked courage because COVID impacted us personally and I've lost a few friends myself. But the thing is, you have been chosen to live. So do something with that life.
I think we are all caretakers and caregivers like the team on the ground during this pandemic. We stayed as our core. We stayed, as I always say, as the soul of the organization. When I came to InLife five years ago, we changed the tagline purposefully to a “Lifetime for Good.” We wanted to last a lifetime for many generations, not just for our own, so that the next generation should be able to see an InLife or to experience doing business with InLife. InLife is a business built over a century, whatever the conditions were, whether it was World War II or peace time, it withstood the times because people shared a common purpose and did the work they had to do. If the soul of the organization doesn't veer away from what it is set to do, it will continue, it will live on, it will thrive.
My dream for InLife can be expressed in terms of the number of lives that it touched, not by its industry ranking or financial performance. In the Sheroes program that we crafted three years ago, our dream was to touch a million lives in three years.
But in three years, even during the pandemic, we've managed to touch 7.6 million lives. That's the sort of dream I have: to remain relevant, to remain a mover of humanity. That's what I wish for every InLifer to think, more than just financial performance — to think what can they do for one another, what can they do for the policyholders and for their families, and how they can make a difference in the communities, in society, and in our country.
The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams; the universe will make it happen. It's worked for me in many ways since I was young. If I could share that gift with as many InLifers as possible, and with our policyholders and with people in the communities we touch, then I’ve lived my dream.
Women entrepreneurs or those who run SMEs were seriously impacted and we saw it in the early days of the pandemic so we tried to do what we can. We were able to touch 7.6 million lives through our Sheroes program. It was more also about leveraging on technology and the platforms to reach more women. We took advantage of digital ways of delivering and connecting, as well as help SMEs gain access to capital and credit through our partnership with UnionBank of the Philippines where we are also a shareholder.
Many women were looking for ways to learn and get educated on opportunities made possible with the help of digital technology platforms so many signed up with Sheroes. Unfortunately, technology has a bad side, too.
There were cybercriminals taking advantage of and exploiting women during the lockdowns, as well as domestic violence. So we also try to educate and look for ways to help these women, even if this goes beyond our financial literacy programs, health and wellness solutions, or connecting SMEs to other platforms to continue doing business. Whatever the need, we have to find a way to get involved and contribute to women empowerment.
Through our Insular Life Foundation, we were able to help a lot of communities and beneficiaries through scholarships, donations of computer and other equipment for schools, among others. Now, the Foundation is going beyond education and into sustainability so it's very important for us to beat as one with the community because we cannot exist without it. So what's driving us is to be in the communities where we are and to get involved, in disaster response for Super Typhoon Odette, for example. We were the first corporate foundation to have provided disaster support in Siargao, and one of the first in Cebu. We also provided assistance in Ormoc, Leyte, Dumaguete and many other communities affected by the typhoon.
When you're recognized as being a member of the community, you feel compassion for the community, and you do good for the community, that’s the bottom line we aim for. Of course, financial gain is still important, but it becomes secondary because people have to be given access to food and shelter, etcetera.
The Foundation does that for us and we have to be very conscious that we are enabling people more than giving. When we assist women-led SMEs to gain access to capital, we’re not giving a loan, it's not going to be charity either they have to come back to us with a good business model and we want them to be profitable. When they turn in a profit, they also have to look for other smaller businesses that they could support themselves, so we enable them to pay it forward. If we are able to create that ripple going for a long, long time, then mission accomplished! We have done our part.