Helping fuel ASEAN’s entrepreneurial growth

Leo Grepin, Sun Life ASEAN President

This is an exciting time for ASEAN and Sun Life. Southeast Asian economies have been some of the most dynamic in the world with significant growth and innovation.  Insurance and asset management play a critical role in securing and fuelling this growth. For Sun Life, this is a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of millions of people.

The 10 countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are home to 650 million people, with total GDP in excess of US$2.8 trillion and growth projected at a compound annual rate of around 5% through to 2030.

ASEAN’s booming young population has the most engaged digital users in the world and its middle and affluent population is expected to rise from 40% today to 65% by 2030. The opportunity to meet the needs of these new consumers is fostering a great amount of innovation. A thriving entrepreneurial economy has emerged with the potential to stimulate and disrupt business models from retail to financial services — whether they are digital or bricks-and-mortar.

Today, there are an estimated 7,000 startups in Southeast Asia and an impressive 10 unicorns — companies with a valuation of over $1 billion. The value of goods sold online across ASEAN more than quadrupled from 2015 to 2018. This is set to grow further, with a Google-Temasek report predicting a $240 billion internet economy in the region by 2025, up from $72 billion in 2018.

Insurance and asset management will be at the centre of this amazing transformation, enabling business owners to safeguard their enterprises via financial efficiency, business continuity and the welfare of employees. For families, these services provide opportunities to save towards life goals, protect against unforeseen life and health risks, and reduce the risk of borrowing.

Equally, insurance and asset management companies are being transformed by a wave of young clients who are keen to engage with providers that are easy to do business with, offer faster problem resolution and communicate in a more pro-active, personalised and predictive way.

At Sun Life, we have been in ASEAN countries for 125 years, helping our clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives. We’ve been helping ASEAN’s entrepreneurs to plan for the future and thrive, introducing new families to the benefits of investing in their financial security and health for the first time. We’re also investing in our own digital experience so all of our clients can connect with us seamlessly whenever and wherever they want.

Key to this journey has been appreciating that ASEAN is not a homogeneous bloc.  Its countries span different cultures, languages and a wide spectrum of needs. So we are obsessed with understanding the needs of our clients — striking the balance between innovating at scale across the region and tailoring our solutions to each of our markets.

While we view ourselves as a business powered by digital, we consider our employees and advisors as the heartbeat of our company because advising clients on their financial future and bridging the financial literacy gap that exists across the region requires human engagement and trust.

This is pushing us to digitise processes so our advisors can spend more time listening to and advising our clients. We are also constantly experimenting to meet clients’ needs in new ways through partnerships with other innovative market leaders such as Lazada, U-Mobile, Telkomsel and Timo.

In the coming years, we see tremendous growth across ASEAN and continued innovation and disruption in the way businesses deliver value for clients. It’s a fascinating period for these economies and for Sun Life as we contribute to the entrepreneurial growth of the region and the financial security of our more than 20 million clients across Asia.