The life insurance industry is still in its infancy in Cambodia. Arriving in Phnom Penh four years ago at the helm of Canadian-based life insurance giant Manulife, Briton Robert Elliott has watched the industry grow from nothing into a large and vibrant market, with Manulife as a key player.
Life insurance is, at its heart, a relatively simple proposition. You pay a certain amount to an insurance company, which in turn promises to pay a lump sum to you or your beneficiaries either on your death or at a certain date in the future. Within this, there are various categories. You can pay in to ensure that your children’s university fees are paid for. You can insure your home loans, or your basic income.
As Elliott says, a key part of the job is educating the public in Cambodia regarding the value proposition of life insurance. “In Europe and America, the industry is over 300 years old, in Asia it’s at least 150 years old, and in Cambodia it is just four years old.”
“A successful life insurance industry genuinely has a hugely positive impact on a country, because there are social benefits. If people become ill or are unable to work, life insurance can provide support, without creating a financial burden on the country. We are here to build a better financial future for the families of Cambodia. We offer life insurance and savings products that help people protect their family and save for their future, including for their children’s education.”
The genial Elliott says he loves his time in Cambodia. “It’s an exciting time to be here, and that’s one of the main reasons why I decided I wanted to do this. It’s a very rare opportunity to be able to create a new industry in a new market for Manulife.”
Manulife has had a great deal of success since it first opened its doors for business in Cambodia in 2012. “We now have around 22,000 lives that we’ve insured for over $400 million and that’s going to grow even faster over the next few years. We’ve also continued to expand and now have four branches in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang City and earlier this year we opened in Kampong Cham City.”
Life insurance companies can play an important part in the financial well-being of the countries in which they operate, he adds.
“There are a number of studies that highlight the positive correlation between the development of the life insurance industry and economic growth. As premiums are collected from customers, capital is mobilized and then invested by the life insurance company into various long-term assets classes, including government and corporate bonds. This, in turn, fuels economic activity. As such, the life insurance industry becomes a very important supplier of capital to the economy of their host countries.”
Elliott views taking out life insurance as a very altruistic thing to do. “It’s important to realise that life insurance is for the living. It’s actually a very selfless act as you’re doing it for someone you love.”
“If something happens prematurely, I want to be able to protect my family, and I want it to be Manulife’s problem. I don’t want it to be my wife’s problem and I don’t want it to be my childrens’ problem,” he explains.
Manulife’s products and solutions are not just for the wealthy, says Elliot. “Life insurance really can be accessible for everyone. But if you’re the main breadwinner in your family and have people who are dependent on you, then clearly your income is very important.”
Elliott says he is very proud of the way Manulife helps communities in Cambodia.
“We’ve distributed over 3,000 helmets to children and teachers as we strive to encourage road safety here. We support childrens’ hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap including the Angkor Hospital for Children, and we’re the main sponsor for the Angkor Wat half marathon, which goes hand in hand with our focus on health and wellness. Because we’re an industry that focuses on the long-term, we build long lasting relationships with local communities.”