TORONTO — Sun Life Financial Inc. is increasing its focus on partnerships as it looks to further expand, especially in Asian markets.
The insurance giant said on Tuesday it has created the new role of vice-chair of strategic partnerships, and named Ingrid Johnson, current president of Sun Life Asia, to the role that will report to chief executive Kevin Strain.
The new position comes as Sun Life sees more opportunities to leverage partnerships globally that the role could help it close in on, said Strain on an analyst call.
"Having a senior person who thinks globally about that, we think is going to be a benefit to our strategy," he said.
"If you think about how quickly the world is changing in different areas, having these partnerships and understanding how to leverage them, we see being important to the strategy."
Sun Life, a major insurer and asset manager that is also increasingly pushing into health care services, has many global partnerships. They including Bowtie, Hong Kong's first virtual insurer, a deal with Scotiabank to distribute alternative investment options in Canada, and several in U.S. health care.
During the quarter, the company also launched a 15-year partnership with Dah Sing Bank in Hong Kong that makes Sun Life the exclusive insurance provider for the bank's 570,000 retail clients.
The deal helps Sun Life keep its options open across sales routes whether it's through agents, a brokerage or partners like banks, Strain said in an interview.
"To be successful in any market in Asia, it's important you're in all distribution channels."
The deal with Dah Sing, which brings its bank partners in the region to 28, helped boost insurance sales for its Asian division 57 per cent in the third quarter, which the company reported Monday after market close.
The growth in Asian insurance sales, along with growth in assets under management, also got a big boost from the reopening of the border between China and Hong Kong in February.
Strain said he expects growth to normalize once the pent-up demand from China tapers, but continues to be optimistic on the region. There are also concerns about China's economy as sectors like real estate suffer under high debt loads, but he said there's also growth in areas like green investments in electric vehicles and infrastructure.
“We've seen some slowing in the Chinese economy, but it's a diverse economy.”
Sun Life Asia isn't just dependent Hong Kong, with operations in eight markets in the region, including India, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
The Asian division in total reported $101 million in net wealth sales and asset management net flows in the third quarter, compared with a decline of $468 million last year. Individual protection sales came in at $521 million, up from $325 million last year.
Overall, Sun Life reported a net income of $871 million, up from $111 million a year earlier thanks in part to favourable market-related impacts from interest rates.
Underlying net income was $930 million, slightly down from $949 million a year earlier.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2023.
Companies in this story: (TSX:SLF)
Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press