Your Life, Our Strength – Jude Gomes, CEO of Union Assurance PLC

With over 27 years of rich experience across Asia Pacific markets, Jude Gomes, the Chief Executive Officer of Union Assurance PLC, is a senior financial services professional in the Life Insurance and Banking industry.

As a founding member, he was instrumental in launching Canara HSBC Life, India’s only Bancassurance Life company, and was a core team member to launch India’s first privatised Life insurer, HDFC Standard Life. Jude launched Bancassurance in Vietnam, first with HSBC and the leading insurer, Bao Viet, and then with Manulife, where the organisation gained market leadership under his stewardship. His last appointment was as CEO and President of Manulife China Bank Life Assurance Co, a joint venture with one of the largest Banks in the Philippines. Based in Hong Kong, as part of the Regional Business Development of HSBC Insurance (Asia-Pacific) Holdings Limited, he has worked across multiple APAC countries, growing Bancassurance.

Moreover, Jude has many significant milestones in his career. He was one of the business strategists who shaped the path for Manulife’s path to the market in Myanmar. Adding to his accolades, he was recognised as CEO of the Year 2020 by UK’s CEO Monthly. He also won the Manulife Global Star of Excellence in 2013 and 2015 and the Standard Chartered APAC Award in 1999.

Since 1987, Union Assurance, one of the country’s largest providers of life insurance solutions, has been committed to protecting lives and empowering people to make their dreams come true. Under the banner ‘Your Life, Our Strength,’ it has nurtured the dream of Sri Lanka in unique and personal ways to support its policyholders and the people they love.

Union Assurance offers a range of life insurance solutions covering areas such as protection, retirement, education, health, and investment. 

Speaking of the success of Union Assurance in the industry, the CEO said that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was successful due to its ability to transform into a digitally enhanced, customer-centric life insurer with tech-enabled platforms, services, and products, leading the way for the Sri Lankan market in helping its customers to achieve their financial goals and live comfortable, protected lives.

Our progressive investments in cutting-edge digital technology are coming to fruition. Our transition to a digital operating model has been rapid, not forgetting the fact that over 500 employees are working remotely and supported by digital platforms to perform their respective duties while ensuring the best client online servicing.” 

“It was a difficult year for many companies last year. The insurance industry endured the implications of volatility exacerbated by a legacy of slow product innovation, servicing capabilities, and distribution compared to our regional peers.

“Companies that led innovation and customer satisfaction emerged successful despite the pandemic, and we are fortunate to have many successes in 2020. We recorded the highest number of qualifiers for the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT). We also received coveted accolades – Domestic Life Insurer of the Year, Best Brand, Best Employer Brand and GPTW award for the eighth consecutive year among many others. Today, we are recognised as the #1 Most Awarded Insurance brand in Sri Lanka. These achievements stand testament to our relentless focus on customer service and innovation.

“Innovation can successfully happen in an environment where employees feel safe and trusted. In the most challenging of times, we have been quick to adapt to unfamiliar territory and change our operating model largely because of our innovative mindset, customer-centric approach and digital preparedness.”

Explaining the challenges faced by the Insurance industry in recent years, Jude stated that it continues to be a “push industry” with extremely low rates of uptake and adoption.

“The nature of the industry is long-term commitment, and this is an impediment in most developing markets. The concept of ‘pure risk’ mitigation is also alien as the common man demands a return on the premium paid, making it a significantly more expensive proposition.”

However, he said that although the industry has faced challenges of transparency, complexity, and tedious processes, as a conservative and prudent organisation, Union Assurance has addressed most of the challenges.

“The recent COVID-19 pandemic affected the livelihoods and thus the paying capacity of the customers. Social distancing under the new normal has created its own set of challenges. At Union Assurance, however, we were much better prepared to face the impact of the pandemic due to our customer-centricity and digital mindset.”

When questioned about the factors contributing to the current state of the industry, Gomes referred to three factors: Economic Growth, Socio-cultural Factors and Financial Literacy.

Economic Growth

Life Insurance is considered the last item in most customer’s priority list. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the growth of an economy and insurance penetration. As the economy flourishes, insurance penetration increases, and vice versa. 

Socio-cultural Factors

The second issue relates to socio-cultural implications of attitudes and risk perception. Various studies have shown that national culture and the socio-political environment influence insurance pervasiveness. Unlike many years ago, penetration is now greater, as there seems to be more awareness and a need to maintain independence at the later stages of life.

Financial Literacy

Our financial literacy is low compared to the developed markets where insurance penetration is high. This is an important factor for improving insurance consciousness and awareness across society.

Insurance is an important part of financial planning, and Jude, in conclusion, disclosed that it is best to purchase an insurance cover when young.

“As far as consumers are concerned, insurance becomes affordable if you buy it when you are young and healthy, and work to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Buying early also means your premium is extended over a longer term, so you lock-in an affordable rate.  It also eliminates the concern to obtain insurance coverage in the event of a medical incident later in life.

“Insurance also becomes affordable, especially as we move from investment to protection. There is a need for a shift in the market paradigm of how insurance is perceived. It should be seen as a way of managing risk or, in other words, protecting things that matter to you, such as providing for your family in the event of death, maintaining your current standard of living in the event of disability or critical illness, or ensuring higher education for the child. Such a shift will allow for higher penetration and make such products more affordable for the masses.”

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