Not a lot of Filipino companies make it to a century, much more to their 110th year. Insular Life has navigated through countless challenges because of its agility to adapt to the times. This global pandemic serves as proof.
The Philippine economy was not in a position of strength when 2020 began. The eruption of Taal volcano, which happened just weeks after Typhoon Ursula (international name: Phanfone), displaced more than a million people and dealt a heavy blow to agriculture. Strong typhoons (Rolly, Ulysses, and Quinta) also caused severe damage to lives and property.
COVID-19 added salt to an already wounded Philippine economy. In response to the pandemic, the government imposed strict restrictions on mobility. Many companies had to close down or lay-off workers, which led to a 15-year record high unemployment rate of 10.3%, equivalent to 4.5 million Filipinos without jobs. Household spending was curbed by an estimated Php2.2 billion a day, which drove down private consumption, a key economic driver.
By the second quarter of 2020, the economy was pushed to the brink, recording its first recession in nearly 30 years after exhibiting 84 consecutive quarters of growth. The year ended with a -9.5% in GDP, the worst performance since after World War II.
The local insurance industry, however, managed to sidestep the economic downturn. According to the Insurance Commission, the life insurance sector’s premium income in 2020 rose by 5.9% to P247.7 billion from P233.9 billion in 2019.
Turning a crisis into an opportunity
Our story of resilience, however, goes beyond the numbers — but in making the numbers count.
While the pandemic dented InLife’s gains — our consolidated net income fell by 30% to P3.4 billion in 2020 from P4.9 billion (parent firm InLife accounting for P1.8 billion, 39% lower than P2.9 billion, previously) — we already braced ourselves for a challenging year even before the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was enforced in March 2020.
We immediately identified our priorities: to enable our stakeholders digitally, guarantee business continuity, and ensure the safety of our employees, policyholders, and agents.
While InLife has been painstakingly building its digital ecosystem since 2015, we continue to ensure that our IT infrastructure and teams will be able to support the emerging demands of the times. Physical distancing, lockdowns, and work from home (WFH) arrangements brought unique challenges to our ways of working and doing business. But the pandemic also gave rise to customers’ wider acceptance of digital platforms, which we are ready to address.
To provide uninterrupted service to our policyholders, we went 100% online in policy servicing.
- Through our comprehensive, self-service Customer Portal, policyholders are able to pay their billed premiums 24/7, in addition to doing premium redirection, fund switching and fund withdrawal, taking out policy loans, or withdrawing dividends. The portal also has a chat and email facility for faster communication with our customer service associates.
- We expanded our payment channels to make paying premiums easier and facilitated contactless benefit payments during times when movement is limited. We added more banks for our automated debit arrangements and introduced e-commerce payments such as ECPay, which has over 8,000 payment centers nationwide, including convenience stores, pawnshops, remittance and Bayad Centers, and rural banks. Thus, our unbanked policyholders can now pay their renewal premiums at 7/11 stores or through GCash.
- Ella the Chatbot also made its debut during the pandemic. The Facebook Messenger-based application responds to frequently asked questions and helps potential customers connect with a financial advisor, 24/7, thus augmenting our call center capability.
To maintain productivity while keeping our employees safe, we implemented alternative work arrangements, equipping them with laptops and digital tools such as VPN to enable them to work from home. The teams which needed to work in our office premises strictly observed occupational safety and health protocols and adapted split teamwork arrangements.
Even amid the pandemic, we were able to embark on innovations that allowed our agency force and bancassurance channels to generate new business and address policyholders’ needs.
- We launched the Virtual Business Enabler (ViBE) platform, the country’s first fully digital insurance selling system. ViBE enabled our financial advisers to sell insurance without the need for face-to-face interactions with the client.
- Our Automated Underwriting System (AUS), which was officially launched in 2015, continues to serve as a fast and efficient system for policy application and issuance in as little as 30 minutes. In 2020, we further boosted our AUS by enabling our agents and bancassurance channel to secure customers’ e-signatures and upload their IDs or selfie.
- We launched our e-commerce platform, The InLife Store. Aside from providing current and new customers a quick way to buy insurance, we are also able to generate and analyze data to help us in developing products more suited to customer needs.
- As a contribution to the local industry, we worked with the Insurance Commission and the Philippine Life Insurance Association in efforts to facilitate online agency licensing exams of new recruits.
Despite our ECQ and WFH challenges, we continue to develop and design products that would enable our customers to deal with unexpected and unfortunate events in the future, such as this pandemic, which could cause loss of job security, loss of income, and financial anxiety to many. Among the new products we launched are:
- Prime Care, a yearly renewable plan that gives cash benefits in case of critical illness;
- Solid Future, which offers a fixed death benefit; and
- Total ProtectER, which combines life insurance, hospital income, and health care solutions, in one policy.
We also made available Guaranteed Issue Offers (GIOs) through the digital application process and without the need for a medical examination for three of our products: Solid Fund Builder, Wealth Assure, and Wealth Secure.
In addition, we launched three pioneering investment funds that allow investors to take advantage of opportunities in the equity markets here and abroad.
- Peso Global Technology Fund invests in the equity securities of technology companies across the globe.
- Dollar Opportunity Fund allows investors to ride on the growth potential of fast-growing and innovative companies in the United States.
- Recovery Equity Fund is a P1-billion investment portfolio that takes advantage of the current discounted prices of stock companies traded in the Philippine Stock Exchange.
Living our values
While we have achieved much given the difficult times, there is still a lot more work to do as our countrymen continue to reel from the impact of this unprecedented crisis.
As a Filipino company, we have a responsibility to our local communities and to society. Our mission to serve God, our country, and our fellow Filipinos has never been more relevant than now.
As our first response to the pandemic, we assured both our individual and group life policyholders that they would be covered against COVID-19. We also extended the grace period for premium payments to 91 days instead of the usual 31 days for individual policies due for payment from February 15 to May 31, 2020. This was to enable our policyholders to adjust to the ECQ.
Through our corporate social responsibility arm, Insular Foundation, we mobilized our employees, agents, and policyholders to extend a helping hand to those affected by the pandemic and other calamities. You will find the Foundation’s full report under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) section.
As of this reporting, COVID-19 continues to mutate and spread in our communities. We remain vigilant but hopeful that we will surmount the odds. To enable the rapid recovery of our revenues while implementing a seamless customer experience and improving operating efficiency, we will continue to expand our agency force, strengthen our bancassurance sales, pursue partnerships to scale up our business, implement programs to identify and address customer pain points, and continuously work on our automation and business process excellence.
No doubt, 2021 will still be fraught with challenges. But we are confident that InLife will not only endure — but thrive — as an institution. We have navigated through turbulent times and continued to adapt well and thrived. A solid testament to this is the “Domestic Life Insurer of the Year – Philippines” recognition from Insurance Asia Awards in 2020, the fourth consecutive year we have earned the recognition.
Guided by our values, we promise to stay on the path of our dual transformation roadmap and how this leads to the fulfillment of our mission: provide every Filipino a Lifetime for Good.