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Manulife expands into Cambodia

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Manulife general manager and CEO Robert J Elliott. Photograph: Stuart Alan Becker/Phnom Penh Post

Canadian insurance giant Manulife has made a bold move into Cambodia with an effort to train a new generation of insurance professionals and teach local people about life insurance.

Headquartered in Toronto with principal operations in Asia, Canada and the United States, the financial services giant earned US$132 million net income during 2011,  with 26,000 employees, and celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.

General Manager and CEO Robert J Elliott, a Manulife veteran, spent a good part of his childhood in British Malaya and joined Manulife in 1980 on a management trainee program.

Elliott is proud to have built up in Sheffield, Yorkshire the number-one Manulife agency in the United Kingdom during his early career.  He’s also proud that Manulife is veteran Asian company, having established offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai in 1897.  Today, Manulife has offices in Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

Manulife’s newest operation is here in Phnom Penh, which opened in June just off Russian Boulevard with fifty employees and about 290 sales staff in Phnom Penh.

“We have trainees coming in who are interested in learning more about this industry,” Elliott said.

“We are taking them on board, training them and sharing with them the whole concept of life insurance.”

Elliott said all of Manulife’s policies in Cambodia are life insurance policies.

“We’re starting out very simply with a protection term plan which runs for ten years, and we will be building on that and introducing life insurance policies with savings components as we start to build up the expertise and knowledge,” he said.

Manulife is the first wholly foreign-owned life insurance company operating in Cambodia.  

“It is a great honor to be the first such wholly foreign-owned company,” he said.

“We are challenged to find actuaries, finance people and IT people.  We are committed to helping people develop these skills and work with the regulator and the government to develop a viable industry here in Cambodia,” he said.

“What’s interesting about Manulife is our association with Asia goes back so long and when you think of the foresight of the people who did that, it’s a great testament to their vision and  it is a great demonstration of the commitment that the company has got to this part of the world.”

Elliott said Manulife received the approval in principle to setting up an insurance company in Cambodia from the Ministry of Economy and Finance in October, 2011,and Manulife had the operating license granted on June 28, 2012.

“We are here to stay and that is important to our clients.  Manulife is a company that is committed to this territory.”

Elliott said Cambodia presented an opportunity to help people build security in the long term for themselves.

“People can start planning their own financial independence,” he said.

Elliott said one of three things would happen to every person: either they would live too long, die to soon or get ill.

“In the Western world people are living thirty years after retirement and running out of money and the governments cannot look after them.  They have to tax the working population to look after them so financial independence is important.”

If people die too soon, it means they are not going to earn the money they thought they were going to earn to take care of their families, Elliott said.

“You start out in life young and healthy with a young family.  Most people don’t understand what their potential income is, but it is at least ten times their annual income.  You get the opportunity to underwrite your life financially, so if anything happens to you there will be money to look after your loved ones.”

For those who get ill, Elliott says, insurance can cover their expenses.

“You have the opportunity to protect your family, and if anything happens to you, your family will be looked after. If you live a long time, you have the opportunity to cash out,” he said. “In time, we will develop this suite of products.”

He said the most important thing was to get the life insurance industry established.

“We will establish this industry by working with the regulator ad helping people understand the value of life insurance.  We will have a program of educational seminars and invite the public to learn about the concept and how it works.”

Elliott said Asia was Manulife’s growth engine.

“Our medium-term goal is to be a premier pan-Asian life insurer, and expanding into Cambodia fits well into our pan Asian growth plan. We are confident that we can repeat our success in Cambodia just as we have in other ASEAN countries in the region.”

He said given that the Cambodian life insurance market was in its infancy, Manulife was we committed to work with Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance and other industry participants to establish a healthy and strong life insurance market in Cambodia.

“As part of establishing the life insurance industry, we are committed to continuous consumer education and developing the industry through training in concert with the local universities. It is a very exciting opportunity and I am very much looking forward to it,” he said.

Elliott was appointed to his Cambodia position in August and takes up the permanent position starting in October.  He previously served in Hong Kong for five years, Singapore for three years and the United Kingdom for 13 years.

He and his wife Karen will be taking up a residence in Tonle Bassac.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at stuart.becker@gmail.com

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