Leadership in today’s complex, dynamic, and ever-evolving business environment has changed considerably, owing to the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective leaders need to keep their organizations on an even keel despite challenges while embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion, and encouraging collaboration and partnerships. While these leaders steer the strategic vision of the company, it is also their job to empower and inspire their teams, something that some leaders even do out of the klieg lights.
At the helm of Manulife China Bank Life Assurance Corporation (MCBL) — the joint venture between Manulife Philippines and China Banking Corporation — is Neil Bowyer. Although this is his first time overseeing a company as President, Bowyer has more than 30 years of experience in insurance and is well-equipped with extensive international experience—working across diverse markets such as the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
One of the greatest opportunities for Bowyer is to implement best practices from some of these markets into the Philippines, a country ripe and ready to embrace digitalization to help spur further economic growth. For many businesses, the right innovation and technology aid in developing products and services that can help address Filipinos’ needs so they can achieve their goals and make their lives better.
“At MCBL, our focus is grounded by putting our customers’ needs first and identifying which solutions will work best for them. That’s why our digitalization efforts span across our operations, including streamlining our processes and empowering our Financial Sales Associates (FSAs) with new digital tools and skills that can help them to offer the right solutions to meet customer needs, in a way that can be easily understood,” the insurance veteran said.
Adapting to Filipinos’ changing financial behaviors
Bowyer perceives the Philippines as a high-potential market for growth. The uncertainty and restricted economic activity during the 2020 global health crisis have certainly reformed the perspective of Filipino consumers when it comes to insurance, resulting in an increase in the number of banked individuals and heightened awareness of the importance of health and financial planning.
“Based on our research studies, as Filipinos find more income-generating opportunities or move up the income scale—with more jobs, the rise of the gig economy, as well as new businesses that have opened up during the pandemic—there is a growing interest in insurance for protection and security. In addition, in the post-pandemic era, Filipinos understand from personal experience that critical illness can lead to heavier financial implications, and are taking more proactive steps to strengthen their financial safety net by finding insurance solutions that can help shield their families from the economic burden, while financially securing their future,” he added.
Times have changed, and these deviations have greatly affected every aspect of how business is executed. With all this evolution, Bowyer underscores the importance of merging traditional and digital financial services to reach new Filipino customers and enable the delivery of a more hassle-free omnichannel customer experience. While there are numerous digital financial platforms, making transactions seamless and more convenient, there must also be high value in the credibility, security, and humanity that customers can get from financial advisors and experts from trusted institutions.
“Given the acceleration of digitalization in the industry, financial literacy has also become more crucial to help Filipinos make more informed choices. It is important that we plant the seeds of financial independence and help them grow, so we can advance financial literacy in the country,” he said.
“That’s why we encourage millennials and Gen Zs to start taking charge of their finances, as they become more conscious about their financial habits, and we are developing propositions to help them achieve their goals. We also continue to invest in our FSAs’ professional development, for instance, through the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association’s (LIMRA) International Quality Award Program. We will also be launching our mobile-first digital training platform, so they are empowered and equipped with the necessary knowledge and capabilities that enable them to continually give their clients sound expert advice,” he added.
A lifelong passion for life insurance protection
Bowyer started working in the insurance industry as a financial advisor for an international financial services company in the UK. At 19 years old, he admittedly lacked experience. But his passion drove him to develop his knowledge by making sure that he constantly practiced and sought ways to hone his capabilities in financial planning. That taught him the value of resilience, hard work, and the desire to continually improve his skills. Thus, to this day, he shares these lessons when he speaks to MCBL’s new hires, encouraging them to adopt these behaviors to set their career on the right path.
“One of my very first sales helped me truly understand the value of insurance. I sold a life insurance policy to a friend from school who tragically passed away in a traffic accident shortly after purchasing the plan. Her family duly received the claim. This experience cemented in my mind that working in insurance is my vocation. It was one of the reasons why more than 30 years later, I’m still passionate about financially protecting people, and I remain a strong advocate for the life insurance industry,” Bowyer shared proudly.
Inclusivity breeds innovation
While Bowyer acknowledges that his role is to push the strategic vision of the organization, use his ability to leverage more data, make sound and faster decisions, and be a results-driven visionary in growing the bancassurance business, for him, empowering individuals to reach their highest potential and putting a premium on collaboration are key.
Having worked with diverse teams throughout his career, Bowyer strongly believes that a diverse team leads to better ideas, better decisions, and better outcomes for customers. However, diverse teams don’t just happen, he said, and they need to be created by fostering a work environment that makes everyone feel valued, appreciated, and respected. In this regard, he places a lot of importance on promoting allyship.
“I prefer working alongside others rather than in isolation. By actively supporting my team and helping them succeed, they will feel valued and realize their true strengths and potential,” he explained. Bowyer is one of the Executive Sponsors of Manulife Philippines PROUD (Professionals Reaching Out for Unity and Diversity), Manulife’s employee-led organization for LGBTQIA+ members, and was previously a sponsor of the Global Women’s Alliance (GWA) in Manulife Singapore. “I remain committed to helping reinforce programs that can educate people to become stronger allies and DEI champions.”
Driven by ambition, capability, and execution, Bowyer constantly communicates how everyone’s role contributes to achieving the organization’s bold ambition to be the most customer-centric company in the industry. So he works closely with the team to develop their capabilities and empower them to execute the organization’s strategy for the benefit of customers. He also believes that the bancassurance business is all about partnership, so being a positive collaborator and possessing strong relationship skills are paramount to helping develop partnerships to their true potential.
Living and working in the Philippines
Bowyer shared that coming to the Philippines is a new adventure for him and his wife and he shares that he is enjoying working with Filipinos who are fun-loving, collaborative, and hardworking. “My experience so far is that Filipinos are extremely open to new ideas, and they are keen to communicate them in a way that would make it more meaningful and relevant to our customers, partners, and all our stakeholders. I should stress that this is not just me passing on my experience to my leaders to implement, but rather me passing on ideas for the team to adapt to what will work best here in the Philippines. So, we work together very collaboratively, and I’m always learning from my team,” he beamed.
He also relates to Filipinos’ great regard for family, as he has been happily married for 29 years. Quality family time is important to him. “Despite the distance, we make it a point to set annual family gatherings that we all commit to, and in between, we visit the children, or they visit us fairly regularly,” he shared. Bowyer and his wife have two children—one currently studying in the UK, the other in Australia. Being in a leadership position demands one’s time and energy. While people ask him about work-life balance, Bowyer prefers the term “work-life integration.” He emphasized, “It takes planning, but I do try to integrate key areas of my life and avoid juggling or trading between work and family priorities.”
Celebrating MCBL’s 16th Anniversary
Launched in October 2007, MCBL has now grown into a business of significance for both Manulife and China Bank. In 2014, the partnership was further reinforced when China Bank raised its equity stake in MCBL to 40%. Since its inception, MCBL has continuously provided a wide range of innovative insurance products and services to customers of China Bank as well as the bank’s thrift arm, China Bank Savings (CBS).
MCBL currently has almost 400 Licensed Financial Sales Associates present in 640 China Bank and China Bank Savings branches, and tens of thousands in customers and active policies serviced. Even with these numbers, MCBL continues to ensure that every client receives holistic life, health, and wealth solutions to address their individual needs, leveraging its commitment to be the best bancassurance business in the Philippines, and delivering value to Manulife China Bank Life and its customers. This is differentiated through extraordinary customer experience and systematic engagement of all channels and segments with relevant solutions and products, including Health, Protection, Savings, Wealth, and Group insurance plans.
MCBL is setting its sights on its next growth phase and reaffirming its goal to be the most professional bancassurance company in the industry. It strives to deliver extraordinary customer experience founded on its vision of achieving its full potential as a customer-centric market leader, enabled by digital, that’s trailblazing the change in customer demand.
“This year, we are celebrating MCBL’s 16th anniversary, thanks to our longstanding partnership with China Bank and China Bank Savings, which we built on trust, shared values, and a strong commitment to jointly enhance the financial security of more Filipinos. Even as digitalization transforms the landscape, the value of genuine relationships remains indispensable,” Bowyer concluded.
Bowyer believes that in this post-pandemic scenario, now more than ever, MCBL will remain bullish in its efforts to provide products that fit every individual customer’s lifestyle and needs. The company aims to tap more customers and take bolder steps to power up MCBL’s growth — making every day better for Filipino families, including the younger generation, and helping them lead more fulfilling and financially secure lives.
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