Leading in disruptive times (Part 1)
“You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”
– Golda Meir
It’s been said that how we respond to challenges defines whether we will be a success or failure. And what challenges we’ve certainly had this year, kicked off by a volcanic eruption and sustained at length by a pandemic.
As I reflect on these challenges, I can say that it can be distilled into one: leading people. A company with a net worth of PHP89 billion, AIA Philam Life has numerous stakeholders it answers to and managing all these stakeholders is a balancing act. On one hand, the wheels of business must continue to turn, otherwise, how can it provide for the people who depend on it for their livelihood? How do we move from just surviving the pandemic to providing a livelihood for our people and even those who have lost their jobs at a time like this? And lastly, how do we move from dwelling on our own situation to looking beyond and finding purpose to help ourselves rise from the situation (which I will answer in part 2)?
On a regular day, I’m used to moving quickly, barely seeing the details and focusing only on the big picture. The pandemic taught me to be more empathetic, to slow down, and spend more time talking to our people. All of a sudden, the business became secondary and we had to react quickly and address the needs of our people first. Our brand promise of Healthier, Longer and Better Lives was never more true than at this moment, as we addressed the health, safety and financial needs of our people first: alleviating their fears, providing resources so they can work from home, while at the same time uplifting their spirit. And it was not just our employees that we had to look after, but also our agency force, our auxiliary staff who are not direct employees but depend on us for their livelihood, and our community. We had to ensure that everyone was ok before we could respond more proactively.
By this time, the Insurance Commission (IC) had approved alternative face to face selling, and we were able to shift quickly by beefing up our digital capability. April saw us move from just surviving the pandemic to swiftly making changes to ensure business continuity. We launched our enhanced digital selling system, chatbot, online claims, and webinars and online training, allowing us to be one of the first responders in the industry. People depend on us and we must adapt to survive. At a time when insurance is a necessity, we wanted to make sure that we are able to continue delivering excellent service to customers, despite physical limitations and closure of branches, at the same time strengthening our digital capabilities to ensure full backend support to our frontliners, whether they are with sales or customer service.
Come June, we began the road to recovery, completely focused on regaining our footing before it was interrupted by the lockdown. The infrastructure was in place and it was time to remind our people of our mission. With a pandemic taking its toll on the health and lives of so many people, it was evident that the value of insurance does not need explaining. That said, I don’t believe that insurance is about protection in the short term. It is—and will always be—an expression of love and responsibility for our families.
With renewed focus and sense of urgency to race against risk, it was slow going at first but encouraging as we were able to sustain our recovery into July. Then by August, with the announcement of the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), business slowed down once again, affecting our progress in our save lives commitment.
And yet, despite all these setbacks, we remain optimistic and hope for a more sustainable recovery. We closed August at 53% of our save lives target, finally breaching the halfway mark with four months left into the year. In terms of basic sum assured, we are now at 47%—still not ideal—but I am encouraged to see the progress we’ve made amid the uncertain business landscape.
The year has not been easy and there are days when the challenges can be overwhelming. On those days, I bolster my flagging spirit by taking myself back to when I was fourteen and struggling to make ends meet, and comparing my current situation to that lowest point of my life. Knowing that I have already been through the worst gives me strength to keep going. By pulling my mental bootstraps and having enough rest, I am able to wake up the next day ready to do battle again.
At this point I believe that the challenges of the past few months have made AIA Philam Life a stronger organization. Our people leaders would say that this is because I have pushed them so much that they had no choice but to demonstrate a level of agility that they didn’t know they were capable of. But I will reserve that for next time. For now, I look forward to our continued focus on our mission as we continue to bring to life our brand promise of helping people live Healthier, Longer and Better lives.
Follow AIA Philam Life CEO Kelvin Ang on Instagram @keepingupwithkelvin.
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