For someone who heads a 107-year-old institution, Insular Life Executive Chairman Nina D. Aguas defies stereotypes. She has a distinct and youthful sound — from the cadence of her walk to the way she talks — and her infectious smile is making everyone sit up and ask: “What’s Insular Life been up to lately?”
Nina has already built a three-decade career in international and local banking, but she still could not help but brim with excitement, particularly when it comes to the company’s new battle cry, Inlife for Good.
In this interview, Nina shares her views on how Insular Life strives to remain relevant in a country where majority of the population still have limited or no access to financial services.
How did you come up with InLife for Good?
Giving birth to InLife for Good was very personal to me.
I’ve had a storied career working for financial institutions here and abroad. But I’ve always known that my heart is where the home is and kept a quiet wish to be part of a great local institution – an institution that does good, builds communities and cities, and elevates lives. So, it’s by design as well as divine grace that I’m here at Insular Life.
For 107 years now, Insular Life has built a reputation as a company that has made delivering good its primary purpose. We create a positive impact to the lives of our policyholders, our communities, and our country. Thus, the term “InLife for Good” came to be.
"For 107 years now, Insular Life has built a reputation as a company that has made delivering good its primary purpose. We create a positive impact to the lives of our policyholders, our communities, and our country."
“Inlife” is short for Insular Life. If we were to have a broader view of the world and sustain the legacy we leave behind, we should go beyond being “insular,” which means narrow-minded, parochial, and shortsighted. It has been over a hundred years since the Company was established in 1910. Back then, being named “Insular” was a source of great national pride, as this connoted being “island born” or born in the Philippines.
If we have to stay relevant to the next generation, particularly to the millennials, we should be “in” — to be current and always in the know of what’s happening around us. Adding “For Good” to Inlife gives us a higher purpose to serve.
How will InLife for Good enable the company to stay relevant?
Evolving changes in technology, demography, as well as consumer needs and expectations are disrupting many businesses, including insurance. In this constantly changing world, InLife for Good will serve as our true north — a fixed point that will help us stay true to what we are and what want to be as a company.
Digitalization can help us fulfill our stakeholders’ needs faster and improve customer experience at every touch point — whether they choose to deal with our agents or through bancassurance. We can facilitate two-way conversations, use data to understand them better and find out their needs, and offer products and services that meet those needs.
But to me, digitalization is not really a strategy; it’s an enabler. We want Inlife to be at the forefront of digitalization. Our ambition is to be the first fully digitally connected insurance company five years from today.
How do you plan to meet this ambition?
In the last two years, our organization has undergone dramatic transformation. In 2016, we said that the innovation we make
is all about making it easy for the policyholder, not because it will be easy for us to do.
In 2017, we stepped up our efforts in many ways you can imagine. Our financial performance still ranks as among the best
in the industry. We expect 2018 to be our best year ever, as we inch closer to be the No. 3 by 2022 in terms of gross
premium revenues while moving to No. 1 on other financial measures where we currently rank as second or third.
In addition to financial stability, Inlife is also gaining attention for innovation. We are thankful for the awards and
recognition we earned from prestigious organizations here and abroad. In 2017, we earned the “Trusted Brand Gold
Award” from Reader’s Digest and was recognized as the “Best Domestic Life Insurance Company in the
Philippines” in the Insurance Asia Awards 2017 held in Singapore.
The same regional award-giving body also awarded InLife for Digital Insurance Initiative of the Year Award for our Automated Underwriting System (AUS), a first in the local industry. Clearly, the AUS is a worthwhile investment we have made that has already starting to bear fruits. It gave us the technical edge we needed to seal the bancassurance partnership with Union Bank of the Philippines in 2017. To this day, we are proud to say Inlife is the only insurance company in the country that can process and deliver a policy decision in just 30 minutes when others take three to four days to process alone. As of end-2017, AUS users already accounted for 48 percent of our sales force. Our target by the end of 2018 is 100 percent adoption.
On the physical infrastructure side, we finished the renovation of the Insular Life Building in Makati City in 2017. This historic building is an icon reimagined as it has stood the test of time for the past 50 years. It also embodies our environmental responsibility as the building has a Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which means its construction methods and materials, coupled with energy-efficient building equipment, make it a sustainable building. We have also opened the Inlife Learning Center on the mezzanine floor where our agents can hold cozy meetings and attend career opportunity talks and sessions for potential agency recruits in our Wi-Fi and Internet-enabled training rooms.
We have faced many challenges in 2017, particularly in the second half, due to competitive pressures. But we remain more courageous, bolder, and stronger as a result. However, we realized that we could only stay this way as an institution, determined to forge forward, if we look after the people who take care of our policyholders. This is why we broadened the definition of a “customer” — not only to refer to our policyholders, but also to every member of the Inlife family.
"…the quality of our human capital – the Inlifers – will continue to be our key differentiator in the industry."
Studies show the Philippines is entering a “sweet spot” as its young population enters the workforce and starts contributing to the economy. How does InLife plan to reap its share of this demographic dividend?
Millennials currently comprise about half of the Inlifers. We find that they work as hard, if not harder, than other generations, and are optimistic about their career paths. They also know their priorities when it comes to money, people, and purpose. So harnessing their youthful energy is both interesting and exciting for a 107-year institution like Inlife.
We are also increasingly seeing millennials comprising our customer base. We really find them a different breed: quite opportunistic, more financially savvy, and data-driven when it comes to making decisions. They have the luxury of having information at their fingertips, so they can benchmark and compare various investment options. While this new market segment presents vast opportunities for us, it also poses a certain challenge. We have to learn from the young to stay relevant. We have to use technology, too, to meet their demand for speedy service as they have the penchant for instant gratification. Thus, we have come up with campaigns like #Adulting and investment-linked products like the First Million Fund that cater to the growing millennial market.
How do you plan to make Inlife a greater force for good in society?
We have always been on the lookout for ways to help improve the lives of Filipinos. Beyond business profitability, Inlife has to cast a wider net to reach out to the uninsured and unserved. If there is an insurance company in the Philippines that embraces this philosophy, it is Inlife. And there is no more opportune time to reach out to our countrymen than now. Digital technology enables us to find innovative ways to create meaningful and sustainable impact.
In 2017, Inlife forged a partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank to educate and offer risk-mitigating solutions for women in the country. A 2015 report released by the IFC, entitled “She for Shield: Insure Women to Better Protect All,” showed that women represent an untapped $1.7-trillion opportunity, mostly in emerging markets. It has since been exploring partnerships with insurance companies in various countries to raise the uptake of insurance by women.
We are privileged to join IFC in this cause to help women become self-reliant and financially independent. Inlife became the first insurance company in Asia to partner with IFC on this program, which we branded as “Empowering the Filipino Sheroes.”
We believe this program will bring Inlife to a higher level of significance as we empower Filipinas for good through insurance. Not only will this strengthen our brand’s positioning and revenue diversity, it will also raise women’s financial literacy and health awareness. More importantly, the potential to create a positive ripple effect in society is vast. When you insure mothers and working women, they will effectively look out for the welfare of their family so more people benefit.
How do you ensure that Inlife’s gains will be sustained for good?
We remain bullish and hopeful that the Philippine economy will sustain its growth momentum and Inlife will continue to ride on this trajectory. Competition in the insurance industry is going to be more intense as stronger economic growth creates wider opportunities.
At Inlife, we always look for ways to expand our reach and going digital is one way to go. Technology will enable us to be more agile, more accurate, and more engaging. However, we know that we are an insurance company: face-to-face human interaction is still the best way to serve our customers better. This means the quality of our human capital — the Inlifers — will continue to be our key differentiator in the industry.
Building Inlife as an institution of enduring greatness, defined by its mission of delivering good, continues to be my hope for this Company.
As they say, it takes a village to become a company like no other. For this, I must thank many people — our Inlifers, who root for our success in every step of the way; our smart and committed Board of Trustees, who provide wisdom, guidance and support; and our dear policyholders, who help us learn and open our minds to constant learning and relearning. No matter the challenge, they bless us all with the grit, passion, compassion and class to brave it all. This makes me prouder to serve InLife for Good.