Philippines Insurance Market Insights

A conversation with Manulife Business Processing Service’s Jonathan Matthew Bondy, FSA, FCIA, CERA, AASP Interview by Dhani Pannacasey
Jonathan Matthew Bondy, FSA, FCIA, CERA, AASP


Jonathan Matthew Bondy, FSA, FCIA, CERA, AASP, is assistant vice president and head of Actuarial Services for Manulife Business Processing Services (MBPS) in Quezon City, Philippines, providing leadership and oversight for global offshore actuarial functions for a team of 150. Prior to his current role, he was chief actuary of Manulife Cambodia, where he led the valuation, pricing and product functions; served as interim chief financial officer; and supported the development of the Myanmar actuarial function while the business was being operationalized. Bondy also has experience in Singapore leading the high net worth pricing team and launching the first indexed universal life product in the market. He originally joined Manulife in Canada and held various roles across Canadian lines of business and group functions.

Bondy is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA) and of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (FCIA), as well as a Chartered Enterprise Risk Actuary (CERA) and Associate of the Actuarial Society of the Philippines (AASP). He holds a Bachelor of Science in actuarial sciences with a specialization in Finance from Concordia University (Montreal).

Tell us about your current role.

I lead the actuarial function for MBPS, the captive global shared service center of Manulife. Our team of 150 supports global actuarial operations across many markets and functional areas, including valuation, liability and asset modeling, experience analytics, retirement, reinsurance and more. In MBPS Actuarial Services, we strive to develop world-class actuarial talent through our exam support program, job rotations, hybrid working arrangements and a highly engaging and collaborative culture.

What motivated you to move across the globe?

My first move out of Canada was unplanned and intended to be short term. Since then, I have made several moves across Asia. Learning about and integrating into new cultures has helped broaden my perspective and given me confidence in adapting to new environments. It’s helped me learn about different ways of operating a life insurance company. I’ve observed different product portfolios, distribution channels, regulatory frameworks and local cultural nuances. I remain motivated to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

How has the insurance market developed in the Philippines?

The insurance market in the Philippines is one of the most varied and has one of the longest histories across Southeast Asia. The first life insurance company was introduced in 1898, and since then, more life and nonlife companies (both foreign and local) have entered the market. As of 2022, more than 130 insurance companies are registered with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

One interesting thing about the Philippines is how fast it let foreign insurance companies enter the market. For example, Sun Life and Manulife have been in the country for more than 100 years now. (Note: Based on new business annual premium equivalent in 2022, the top three life insurance companies in the Philippines are all affiliated with foreign insurance. BDO Life Insurance, which is a local insurance company, sits at number four.) This long history gave the Philippines early exposure to foreign insurance experience and knowledge, which helped its insurance industry become more developed than its neighbors.

Are there any interesting market trends you’ve observed recently in the Philippines?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, universal life (UL) or products with long-term investments were the leading products in the market. Like other Southeast Asian countries, products that prioritized account value development were the norm. Products that offered survival benefit or payback of the accumulated value also were popular because a pure life protection product was not seen as a necessity for most people.

While these products are still doing well, there has been a shift in the market as the public has gained a heightened awareness of the importance of health benefit products. As in other countries, there is increased attention on health products, with a critical illness (CI) rider attachment increasing post-COVID-19.

Other measures introduced during COVID-19 continue to allow for innovation in non-face-to-face and digital distribution methods. It also helps that the government is pushing for digitalization and the use of technology, including in the insurance sector.

What do the demographics of insurance buyers look like in the Philippines?

The Philippines has a population of more than 110 million. There’s room to grow insurance penetration due to limited financial inclusion and awareness of insurance in some segments of the population. However, there is steep competition for the primary target demographic (upper middle class to affluent), and frameworks are in place to support microinsurance and other products that target lower-income customer segments. Agency is the dominant distribution channel in the country followed by bancassurance partnerships. Recently, companies are increasingly investing in digital channels.

While this isn’t a complete list, Figure 1 shows some of the top insurance companies in the Philippines.

Figure 1: Major and Emerging Players in the Philippines Insurance Market

Major Life Insurance Companies Emerging Life Insurance Companies Major Nonlife Insurance Companies
Sun Life FWD Malayan
Pru Life U.K. Allianz Pioneer
AXA Insular Pioneer
Manulife BDO FPG
AIA Pacific Cross
HMOs, including Maxicare, Intellicare and Medicaid

With respect to product development, commercial insurance—such as investment-linked policies (ILP), traditional life, HMO and fire insurance—are mostly purchased by middle class and affluent consumers.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered when developing new products in the Philippines? Is the Philippines currently experiencing any changes?

Some of the challenges of developing new products in the Philippines are similar to other markets in the region, but the Philippines has the advantage of a cohesive regulatory framework fitting the current market product portfolio. Regulatory updates for International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) 17 and product innovation are expected.

As financial inclusion and consumer appreciation for insurance continue to grow, there will be opportunities to increase insurance penetration in the market and tailor products to new customer segments. As more sophisticated products enter the market, such as multipay CI, there will be a continued focus on consumer awareness, product training materials and optimizing claims management.

Speaking of regulators, how do new accounting standards affect the Philippines market?

The Philippines will start to implement the newest IFRS standard in 2025. While international insurers have the backing of their head office, some local players rely on local consultancies that are dedicated to the Philippines’ IFRS 17 implementation. Currently, the market is waiting for updates from the local tax authority regarding the tax implications (e.g., how will they recognize reserves, will they follow IFRS 17 or not, how will it impact taxation).

Are insurance players in the Philippines using big data and machine learning?

While there currently is no dedicated project, conversations around big data and machine learning are certainly happening in the Philippines. For example, there was a presentation on using machine learning as an underwriting tool. International consultants drive most of these talks, however, and not much has been implemented in the market up to this point.

How will the landscape of the Philippines’ life insurance adapt? Do you expect rapid growth?

The current insurance penetration level in the Philippines is low due to the general poverty level, lack of technology for some parts of the population and prioritization of other sectors to boost gross domestic product (GDP). Nevertheless, it is expected that the Philippines will continue to see rapid growth in the broader economy and in the insurance space due to the rising middle-class population. In addition, the pandemic highlighted the country’s health insurance gap, which increased the general public’s awareness of the need for insurance.

Do you have any advice for aspiring actuaries in the Philippines, or those thinking about moving to the Philippines (or the Southeast Asia market)?

To aspiring actuaries, my advice is to stay optimistic and persevere. The path to qualifying as an actuary is difficult and requires a long-term commitment. However, it is rewarding. There are great career opportunities that are expanding, and actuarial roles in general tend to promote continuous learning, development and challenging oneself. The actuarial community has strong bonds because of the common path we take to qualify and is supportive and encouraging.

To actuaries considering an international move, I would say that it can be an incredibly fulfilling experience and there are great opportunities out there. It can be scary but worthwhile.

At the same time, there are trade-offs—it isn’t easy to be away from family and friends or adapt to new cultures and build new social circles. Most roles with international mobility generally expect substantial commitment, effort and impact in the role. There are many differences between living in developed and emerging markets, and doing your research to know what to expect will help you settle in.

With the right support network in place, an international move can be a fantastic experience—I recommend taking the leap. As they say, risk is opportunity!

Jonathan Matthew Bondy, FSA, FCIA, CERA, AASP, is assistant vice president, head of Actuarial Services, for Manulife Business Processing Services (MBPS) in Quezon City, Philippines.
Dhani Pannacasey, ASA, CERA, is a senior actuarial analyst at Reinsurance Group of America, Incorporated. He is based in Tokyo, Japan.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

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