This former insurance outsider became one of Asia's top industry executive
Damien Green recently took the helm of Manulife Asia as its new chief.
Damien Green never planned to hold a high position, let alone have a career, in the insurance industry. He first started working in an Australian superannuation fund, improving and enhancing his client’s retirement savings. There he learned a great deal about the importance of insurance, particularly insurance for mortality and morbidity.
Now, he is the CEO of Manulife Asia, after being promoted in 2022 from being the CEO of Manulife Hong Kong.
In an exclusive interview, Asian Business Review got to know more about Damien and his experiences as an insurance leader in Hong Kong, his thoughts on the issues in the industry, and how he plans to lead Manulife Asia to become the number one pan-Asian life insurance company.
What is the most interesting thing about the insurance industry?
What I've come to learn was that the Asian life insurance industry is extremely exciting. It's a balance of mature and high-growth markets with powerful distribution. It’s really motivating to participate in a key financial services segment in Asia.
Life insurance is a people’s business. Our job is to give people a piece of paper with a promise written on it. From our advisors, agents, and the people on the frontline—everybody's passionate about our purpose, which is to make long-term promises and to keep those promises by ensuring we've got the right solutions for people that resonate with their inner need to protect their income like our Manulife Health Resilience Program for the Elderly with Christian Family Service Centre. It provided 1,000 online medical consultations for needy seniors in the Kwun Tong and Wong Tai Sin districts, with end-to-end support to help them rebuild their health from home. The program includes online consultations with Chinese and western medical practitioners and the delivery of medicine.
Can you share with us the things that you learned as you worked with the top firms in the industry?
I could just sum it up into one. Culture wins. If I look at the difference between major life insurers today, the products are generally the same. They’re all very competitive. What differentiates everything is culture. We’re focused on supporting and energising our people by breaking down the hierarchy and making sure that people are comfortable with who they are. We are also constantly driving diversity in Manulife, as well as launching programs to support our employees' career developments like our Employee Resources Group (ERG) in Asia. This program plays a critical role in the development and implementation of our diversity, equity and inclusion or DEI Strategy. Globally, we have 13 ERGs, with 31 chapters and over 13,000 members.
Our ERGs give us line-of-sight to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues that are top of mind for our employees as well as help us identify opportunities where we can play a stronger role, and let us hold ourselves accountable to our strategy and commitments.
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What do you think are the top issues insurers should prioritise?
The most important is that the industry moves to have a post-pandemic mindset. In Manulife, we are now looking to significantly accelerate growth, invest heavily, and focus on opportunities before us like the large protection gap in Asia.
Another obvious priority would be the protection gap in Asia. According to Swiss research, Asia Pacific expects a $120t mortality protection gap in 2030. To give you a sense of how much that is growing, back in 2019, it was first calculated at $77t. But what’s driving the gap? It’s the rising middle-class. Right now we are expecting the middle class to grow from 2 billion people in 2020 to about 3.5 billion in 2030 and within Asia, that’s a 70% increase.
Because standards of living are higher and incomes are higher, the cost associated with the loss of a primary source of income through an untimely event like death is much higher.
Can you tell us about your days as Manulife Hong Kong’s CEO? What are the key achievements you are most proud of?
Manulife Hong Kong and Macao is celebrating its 125 years in the insurance business and it’s the longest continuously operating life insurer in Hong Kong. What I’m proudest of in terms of what Manulife Hong Kong has achieved is record agency growth. We now have over 11,000 agents, with a growth rate of 8% to 10% year-on-year since the beginning of the pandemic whereas the market is going backwards, with the number of agents declining in our key competitors.
This was achieved through employee engagement programs such as the CEO program for our young agents, aimed at bringing in potential high-performing agents from other industries. The other thing I’m proud of is our high record high net worth insurance sales. We have exceeded the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, with new business value reaching $115.93m (HK$910m) and an annual premium equivalent at $170m (HK$1.31b). We’ve done that by creating great products and outstanding partnerships like our exclusive partnership with DBS in Hong Kong.
With you at the helm of Manulife Asia, what are your goals?
We’ll be aiming to be the number one pan-Asian Life Insurance Company. Currently, we’re top three and we are the strongest growing of the three. We’re present in 13 markets with 30 million customers and over 100,000 agents. We have 100 bancassurance partnerships, with 10 exclusive partnerships with the 16-year partnership with DBS as the jewel in the crown.