There is an infectious excitement in the air when one speaks with Robert J Elliott, the CEO and General Manager of Manulife Cambodia. And with good reason too.
The veteran insurance professional is on a mission to build a better financial future for Cambodian families. Having arrived in the country in 2012, when it opened its maiden office in Phnom Penh, his passion for insurance and improving the lives of the native people has not waned. If anything, he is even more convinced he is on the right track.
“This is a young nation with a vibrant and well-educated urban and semi-urban population. Cambodians are digitally savvy and willing to use technology for banking and other transactions.
“The people have a tremendous future, and in time, they will buy insurance policies online too. Manulife is ahead in this sense as the company has a 90% public awareness rate, so when people think of insurance, they think of Manulife,” he says, with great exuberance.
Elliott says Cambodia presents a unique opportunity for the company as the industry in the Kingdom is still in its infancy and has vast growth potential. Besides, Manulife is the first international life insurance company to operate in the Kingdom.
The life insurance industry in Cambodia, he says, has the potential to make a huge impact on the social well-being of its people and protect their long-term financial security.
“Most Cambodians will live long and healthy lives, and use their money to care for their families, purchase cars, houses and fill their other needs. But to achieve their dreams and that of their families’, they need to ensure that their financial health is protected.
“Manulife has a range of products that help achieve this. For instance, we have savings and education policies and even policies to cover critical illness.”
“As Cambodians transition from being young men and women to become husbands, wives, fathers and mothers, their financial needs change. Anticipating this, we offer a range of products to help plan every stage of their lives, like education policies that pay for their children’s university fees.”
“This is important because all the parents don’t want to tell their children that they cannot pursue further education due to a lack of funds,” Elliott says.
He certainly knows what he is talking about. Having built a 36-year career in insurance, 26 of which has been with Manulife, Elliott has helped realise the dreams of thousands of insured across several countries.
Growing up in Malaysia, where his parents lived, the Irishman built his insurance career in the United Kingdom where he worked for 13 years from the 1980s, rising up to be a member of the UK Executive Management.
He joined Manulife in Hong Kong in 2005 as Vice-President, Agency Operations. During his five years there, he helped deliver record sales and recruitment results apart from leading agency development initiatives and key projects.
In 2010, Elliott was appointed Senior Vice-President and Chief Distribution Officer for Singapore, where he was responsible for everything from overseeing agency and partnership distribution to quality assurance.
Moving to Cambodia two years later, he did not hesitate to take up the challenge despite the contrast between the Kingdom and the countries he had previously served. This, he says, is because of the unique opportunities Cambodia presents, where Manulife partners the people to raise their standard of living.
With the company’s character being strong, reliable, trustworthy and forward-thinking, Elliott says: “We listen to the people and make all our new products and policies relevant to them. Cambodians want to start a family, go into business and do so much more.”
“A single insurance policy cannot fulfil all their needs, so we constantly increase our product range to suit their ever-growing needs,” Elliott says.
For instance, he says if people calculate their potential earnings over 40 years, they would realise that they need to protect their long-term financial goals and interests.
That said, Manulife currently insures some 60,000 Cambodians with a total sum assured of over US$1.4 billion. The insured are made up of staff of companies it insures and a growing number of individuals.
A large number of the company’s insurance advisors are playing an important role in making life insurance accessible for Cambodians.
“We also have about 3,000 insurance advisers in Kampong Cham, Battambang, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey and Phnom Penh who serve customers. Thanks to them too, we are growing at a rapid rate and business is doubling each year.
“Cambodia has a population of around 16 million with an average of 24 years, and the emerging middle class and affluent are very concerned about health issues,” he says.
Elliott says even his Cambodian staff have discovered the relevance of life insurance and protecting their long-term savings and financial future, and they have become the company’s best ambassadors as they speak with other Cambodians on the importance of being insured.
But that’s not all. The company which was founded in 1887 in Canada is always keen to play its part in corporate responsibility.
Since entering the Cambodian market, it has served local communities through its corporate social responsibility and sponsorship activities, having made donations of over US$600,000 towards them.
This includes donations to Angkor Hospital for Children, Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital, bicycle and helmet donations to underprivileged children, parents and teachers, sponsorship of the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon and many more.
Road safety is another area that Manulife is committed to since entering the Kingdom. It has worked with Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIP) to promote and contribute to the reduction of deaths, injuries, disabilities and damage caused by traffic accidents.
The company also provides education on the importance of helmet usage and road safety knowledge for Cambodians. Over the past five years of its collaboration with AIP, road safety education and skills have been delivered to six schools, 4,057 students, 219 teachers and 6,911 parents. It has also donated over 5,000 helmets.
In recognition of Elliott’s and Manulife’s achievements, they have been conferred several awards this year alone. They include:
• Best Corporate Brand of the Year: Reflecting a great milestone for efforts to build the Manulife brand and raise public awareness about life insurance in Cambodia over the last six years;
• Customer Engagement Programme of the Year: Representing the efforts of the company’s staff and sales force to provide much-needed financial protection products and services to customers. Manulife Cambodia also won this award last year;
• Corporate Social Responsibility Leadership of the Year: Representing the company’s commitment to support local communities through sponsorship and CSR programmes. Manulife Cambodia also won this award last year;
• CEO of the Year in the Insurance Category: A special award from the Asia Pacific Customer Service Consortium (APCSC)
recognising Manulife Cambodia CEO and General Manager Robert J Elliott.
Receiving such awards and accolades, it is no wonder that Elliott is bullish on Manulife Cambodia’s prospects for a long and bright future in the Kingdom. With an ever-growing portfolio of products to serve every Cambodian, this fact is more than assured.