INSULAR LIFE Assurance Co., Ltd. (InLife) has seen challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic, but its top official said the firm remained strong and will continue to modernize amid a shift in consumer behavior.

InLife Executive Chairman Nina D. Aguas said during the fifth part of BusinessWorld’s One-On-One online interview series on Thursday that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has presented the company and other businesses “unprecedented” challenges as it reshaped consumer behavior and the overall economic outlook, testing the insurance industry’s resilience.

“Economic compression resulting from lockdown limited our agency force as well as our bancassurance relationship managers to underwrite business despite our digital capability,” she said. “While we were very prepared for some degree of disruption, I must admit like everyone else globally that we did not foresee the complexity or the severity and the many layers of the pandemic.”

“Everything will be guesswork if we say a number out there right now. That said though, if this is any metric at all, we’re keeping our staff. They are being paid full salaries, whole benefits. We’ve been able to give assistance to our agency force. It’s not even a loan — they were assistance to support them during the lockdown,” Ms. Aguas said when asked for how much the pandemic has affected InLife’s business.

The official said amid the varied levels of community quarantine in the country, only a limited number of InLife’s staff are reporting for work in their offices and branches.

“And I think this will continue…until the end of the year and we are not in a rush to reopen primarily because of the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

She, however, said they expect the industry and demand for life insurance products to remain resilient amid the pandemic.

Ms. Aguas said “a rainbow in the horizon” is how the pandemic has fueled demand for their healthcare business, particularly for its prepaid insurance products, as virus fears have highlighted the importance of healthcare coverage.

She added that InLife did not see a surge in insurance claims even as they included coronavirus coverage in their products, contrary to expectations that payouts may escalate amid the ongoing public health emergency.

“I think they (consumers) are more particular on something to rely on in case they are infected, so if they have to save for something…, they have set aside and bought insurance [instead].”

“(Moving forward), we have to accelerate even more the modernization of our technology platform as well as our digitalization. We are in the journey since three to four years ago in a rather aggressive way, but I think we need to even intensify the way we do things and that will require us to revisit our business models and see how we can streamline even more. We also need to train and skill up our people,” Ms. Aguas added.

She also urged consumers to buy insurance from Filipino firms to support them amid the entry of foreign players in the market.

“I’d like to say to our countrymen to buy Filipino. We are at par with any other foreign player. In fact, when you look at it, in the last three years, we have been awarded by international awarding bodies as the best domestic insurance company. That alone puts us head to head with any other foreign player in the country,” Ms. Aguas said.

She noted that InLife earned lower premiums last year partly due to more foreign players entering the market. Insurance Commission (IC) data showed InLife’s total premiums dipped to P12.67 billion in 2019 — the eighth highest in the life insurance sector — from P13.98 billion in 2018.

Ms. Aguas said despite its flat premium income, InLife still retained its high rankings in other metrics such as net income, net worth and total assets last year to “signal to everyone that we’re here and we’re able to pay claims as they come, going forward.”

The life insurer recorded a P2.94-billion net income last year, P1.91 billion in new business annual premium equivalent and P133.02 billion in total assets, making it part of the top ten insurance firms in all of the three metrics.

BusinessWorld’s One-On-One online interview series is made possible by BDO Unibank, Inc.; Manila Electric Co.; PLDT; Smart Communications, Inc.; Globe Telecom, Inc.; and San Miguel Corp. in partnership with Ayala Corp.; Ayala Land, Inc.; InLife; J&T Express; Metro Pacific; MG Philippines; Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp.’s Strada Athlete; PayMaya Philippines, Inc.; UDENNA Corp. and Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc.; with the support of the Management Association of the Philippines, Asia Society Philippines, Olern and The Philippine STAR. — BML

Watch the one-on-one interview with Ms. Nina D. Aguas at <>.