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Executives at Sun Life Financial Inc. see the COVID-19 pandemic as a major force for modernization.

Dean Connor, Sun Life’s chief executive officer, talked about the effects of the pandemic on the company’s operations last week, during a conference call the Toronto-based company held to go over its first-quarter earnings with securities analysts.

“When a crisis of great proportion occurs, there is often a rush to judgment about how the world will be permanently changed,” Connor said. “There’s one thing we believe to be absolutely true: The acceleration of everything digital, from how we advise clients, to how we sell to clients, to how we pay claims and provide service, will be a permanent benefit coming out of the crisis.”

Resources

  • A recording of Sun Life Financial’s analyst call is available here.
  • An article about Sun Life Financial’s latest earnings is available here.

Most retail clients will still want to work with advisors, but advisors will boost their productivity and effectiveness with use of new sources of data and new analytical tools, Connor said.

Kevin Strain, Sun Life’s chief financial officer, said use of digital tools and processes helped the company push individual sales in April to 80% of the April 2019 levels, in spite of the shelter-in-place rules.

The digital tools helped Sun Life push sales of individual wealth products to about 90% of the year-earlier levels, Strain said.

Insurtech in Asia

Sun Life has operations all over Asia.

Leo Grepin, president of the company’s Sun Life Asia, said the status of return-to-the-office rules differs from market to market.

“Advisors are out meeting with clients and client demand is actually quite strong,” Grepin said. “The demand for our products have never been stronger.”

In China and other markets that had tough, effective pandemic-control lockdowns, “we saw a very sharp rebound in sales,” Grepin said. “And so, in markets in North America where that may be the case, I think there’s some potential for optimism.”

Grepin said he’s also seen the pandemic lead to increased use of digital systems.

“Clients are using our applications our portals a lot more than before,” Grepin said. “Our advisors are also leveraging our capabilities a lot more, and I’d expect that that behavior will continue after the crisis.”

Grepin said one factor affecting sales during work-at-home periods is how a jurisdiction regulates use of electronic signature systems. Another is whether a jurisdiction requires face-to-face meeting for the sale of certain products.

“You’ve got markets where you can do an e-signature, but you need the advisor to witness the e-signature face-to-face,” Grepin said. “So, it’s a little bit more complicated than just having e-signature.”

In Vietnam, he said, regulators allow both use of e-signatures and non-face-to-face sales.

In Hong Kong and the Philippines, regulators allow use of e-signatures but restrict non-face-to-face sales.

The Philippines has started to allow non-face-to-face sales, but, for now, only until June 30.

Hong Kong regulators allow remote sales for universal life insurance, but not for investment-linked products, like variable universal life, Grepin said.

“Then you’ve got Malaysia, where e-signatures are authorized, but you need a physical copy of the documents,” Grepin said. “The regulators have loosened the requirements for a temporary period of time, but it’s not clear whether they’re going to make that permanent or not.”

Technology in the United States

Daniel Fishbein, president of Sun Life’s  Sun Life US, said the company was using e-signature technology for some matters in the United States before COVID-19 came along.

“We expanded it pretty dramatically since we’ve gone to work from home,” Fishbein said.

Sun Life US can now accept an e-signature for almost anything, Fishbein said.

U.S. Sales Pipeline

Fishbein said that, in the United States, the number of group insurance sales opportunities in the pipeline is down significantly, but that the number of health insurance stop-loss insurance opportunities has been stable.

The stability in the stop-loss pipeline “suggests that that’s a business where sales activity may very well continue,” Fishbein said.

— Read 7 Things the Senate Is Hearing About Covid-19, for Agents, on ThinkAdvisor.

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