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A life-long relationship

Article - December 7, 2011
Antonio G de Rosas, President and Ceo of Pru Life UK, sees insurance not just as a business, but as a life-long relationship built on trust and a desire to benefit all concerned

Established in the Philippines just 14 years ago, Pru Life UK already ranks number four in its sector in terms of total premiums collected in the region. However, President and CEO Antonio G de Rosas is not resting on his laurels, and is keen to improve his company’s performance. Given the low penetration rate of life insurance among Filipinos, there is indeed ample opportunity for growth, not just for Pru Life UK in particular, but for the insurance sector in general – and Mr de Rosas believes the country as a whole would benefit.

“Life insurance penetration here in the Philippines is about 1%.  If we can bring that up to 2%, that’s good for the country. It is also good for us: if we bring it to 2% all insurance companies will double their sales. In Malaysia, the rate is 3.8% or so, but here in the Philippines it is still very under-penetrated.”

While Pru Life is a household name in the UK and elsewhere, and a major challenge facing Mr de Rosas is to increase awareness of the brand in the Philippines. He faces competition from other companies, some of whom have been present in the islands for over a century. The process is already underway, with high-profile advertising campaigns on cable and free-to-air TV channels, and a strong presence at air terminals, walkways, toll booths and other locations. Partnership with a major bank is also aiding brand recognition: “HSBC is working as a broker, helping sell our policies. 14 years ago, a customer might say ‘Pru Life UK, who's that?’ But now, especially in the top A and B markets, they know who Pru Life UK is. HSBC have helped us a lot in this branding campaign, just by selling to their customers.”

The forthcoming Asian Free Trade Agreement, due for implementation in 2015, offers further opportunities for the company. Though rival outfits from Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong will doubtless try to grab a chunk of the Philippines’ market, Mr de Rosas holds no fears. “It works both ways – we can also penetrate their markets.”

Furthermore, the Free Trade Agreement should help pave the way for Pru Life UK to access millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). “How do we sell to the 12 million or 15 million OFWs working abroad?  There are so many legal impediments right now. It could be a very good market – they have the purchasing power. They earn more than the people who have the same job in the Philippines. With AFTA, at least within Asia, we can say to Singaporean companies to come sell to our market, we can also sell to our OFWs in Singapore, so it really can work both ways.”

While overseas expansion may be part of the long-term plan, Pru Life UK is sincerely commited to providing the best insurance products to people of the Philippines. Many insurance companies entered the islands in the 1990s, but have since left. Mr de Rosas sees insurance not just as a business, but as a life-long relationship built on trust, and a desire to benefit all concerned, and even refers to his job as “a noble profession.” He has a point: the people of a country such as the Philippines, which has many poverty issues and suffers from regular flooding and other natural disasters, perhaps need insurance more than most.

As a consequence of this philosophy, Pru Life UK also helps deal with dire situations through its corporate social responsibility initiatives; Mr de Rosas describes how a recent project, the village of Gawad Kalinga, has worked. “First, you provide shelter; then you teach the villagers a trade. Gawad Kalinga requires its residents to devote time to help build the village, so that a slum area is converted to decent apartment blocks. People who have a roof over their heads will be able to earn their livelihood better. The village has a multipurpose center which doubles as a school during the day, so that really improves the lives of the community.  When we started the project six years ago, we had little kids attending the school and now some of them, the brighter ones are already going to college, to university. You can see that it bears fruit;  it works.

And it is in line with our business, because life insurance follows the life stages of a person. First, you have to address basic needs, then later on you can address other needs the customer has. We have life insurance packages for education, where you save money for the education of a child, and at the same time, you and the child are protected for the duration of the plan. Then later on the packages can be designed to protect you from illness and hospitalization expenses, to help you save, and help you further invest towards the ‘twilight years’ when you retire.”