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Life Insurance: Sunrise industry or sleeping dragon? |

Lifestyle Business

Life Insurance: Sunrise industry or sleeping dragon?

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores -
Despite the tumultuous crises that hit two major pre-need firms and the daunting challenges confronting the Philippine economy, the crucial and often neglected Philippine life insurance industry continues to register robust growth and is considered a sunrise industry. A vast majority of the Philippine population still has no life insurance protection, representing one of Asia’s paradox situations – a huge but largely untapped potential life insurance market but one which can only be unleashed if government and the private sector can initiate reforms, lessen corruption and energize the Philippine economy to grow much faster, and if the life insurance industry’s professionalism can be upgraded.

Throughout the past century, some Philippine commercial banks, pre-need firms and even governments fell by the wayside, but no Philippine life insurance companies has ever gone bankrupt or closed according to Sun Life Philippines president Esther Tan. All Philippine life insurance firms – without exception, whether local or foreign-owned – have proven to be the strongest in terms of resilience, financial conservatism due to the strict regulatory supervision by the government’s Insurance Commission, which requires auditing of all life firms every two years.

The life insurance industry is considered a pillar of any nation’s economy due to its stability and ability to generate national savings and long-term capital for economic development. Proof of the enduring durability of all Philippine life insurance firms is the success of Sun Life of Canada (Philippines), Inc. president and CEO Esther Tan said that the Philippine firm is supporting the operations of Sun Life’s various Asian subsidiaries, and that it posted a 16-percent growth in total revenues in 2004 with P15 billion compared to P12.9 billion in 2003.

On the state of the nation’s economy, Tan is cautiously upbeat. "We will continue to look for opportunities for growth, may it be an acquisition, a joint venture, alliance with strategic partners, or affinity tie-ups."

Fluent in Hokkien and Mandarin, Tan will soon be promoted as chairman of Sun Life Philippines on July 8 and attending to new duties as senior vice president for the entire agency of Sun Life Financial in the Asian region. She is the first ever female CEO in all Sun Life operations worldwide. Former Philippine National Bank (PNB) president Nestor Tan (not a relative of hers) will take over on July 8 as incoming Sun Life Philippines president and CEO.

Sunlife has been in the Philippines for 110 years, insuring VIPs such as the Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon and the late President Ferdinand Marcos. Tan said, "The heirs of President Marcos may have forgotten, but they have not yet claimed his life insurance benefits from Sunlife. We hope they read your column in The Philippine Star, because their money is still with us."

On the raging controversies plaguing two major pre-need firms, she said, "It is tragic what happened to CAP and Pacific Plans, but the public should know that life insurance firms in the Philippines are totally different from the pre-need companies. We have a separate pre-need firm too." Their pre-need firm, Sun Life Financial Plans, Inc. (SLFPI), ended the year 2004 with total revenues of P246.8 million pesos, registering phenomenal growth of 68.6 percent growth.

SLFPI now ranks as the fifth largest in the pre-need industry despite only four years in operations. Tan emphasizes that Sun Life pre-need firm’s contribution to their trust fund is on average at 68 percent of gross contract price based on the more popular 5-pay plans, but the government’s Securities and Exchange Commisssion (SEC) required only 51 percent. She reveals that the pre-need industry is a unique Philippine invention and exists only here in this country. Despite the problems of two big pre-need firms, Tan believes the pre-need industry will weather the crisis.

Sunlife recently celebrated with a Boracay sunset concert by singer Kevyn Lettau, arranged by National Broadcasting Corp. (NBC) president Francis Lumen. The concert was held at the breathtaking beachfront of Pearl of the Pacific Resort owned by Greg and Marilou Sanson, and managed by children Rita and Albert Sanson. It coincided with the location shooting of Kevyn Lettau’s TV video advertising campaign for Sunlife in Boracay’s world-famous White Sand Beach. The romantic concert was attended by foreign and local tourists, Sunlife executives and bankers of from the top five banks which will soon launch a joint "bancassurance" tie-up with Sunlife nationwide.
Lettau Urges Aid For Street Children
Before and after the Sun Life concert, Kevyn Lettau told this writer that she is very concerned abouth the rapid increase in street children all over Metro Manila in the years that she has been visiting the country. She and her husband, drummer Michael Shapiro, told us that she hopes to someday do a major civic project for the streetchildren to express her love for the Philippines.

Commenting on the Philippine economy, singer Kevyn Lettau urges the leaders of the Philippines to consider some form of effective nationwide family planning program, although she is aware of and respects the Catholic Church’s objection to contraceptives. She revealed that she might even adopt a Filipino street kid to manifest her deep concern for their plight. When I asked why her concern for the Filipino street kids, she replied that she has never forgotten her own childhood poverty in West Berlin, Germany, so she empathizes with their sufferings.

Lettau said two places on earth she loves the most are Brazil and the Philippines, and she said Filipinos are warmer, more hospitable and love music more. Discovered by Brazilian legend Sergio Mendes, Lettau was a spokesmodel for a San Miguel drink for years. This was her ninth visit to the Philippines and she wowed the crowds at the Boracay beach concert with a repertoire of exciting songs, including Gary Valenciano’s Sana Maulit Muli in flawless Tagalog. Her latest recording in the Philippines is now on sale and entitled "Bye Bye Blackbird."

Kevyn Lettau is not only endorsing Sun Life Financial with her new TV campaign, she also believes in the promising future of the Philippine economy, the vast tourism potential of world-class destinations like Boracay.

When shall our Philippine economy go beyond mere survival and really aim for fast-track double-digit annual economic growth – thus allowing the "sleeping dragon" of the Philippine life insurance industry to flourish and to secure the future of 84 million people?
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Thanks for all your messages. Comments and suggestions are welcome at or or or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

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