Here are few insurance technology executives better equipped to discuss international markets than Robert Mansbridge. As EVP and CIO of Sun Life Financial (US$428 billion in total assets), a Toronto-based financial services firm, Mansbridge has oversight and governance responsibilities for the IT and information security operations of the entire company, which has a significant presence in Asia, Canada and the United States. As a result, the firm's "technology has grown from different perspectives," Mansbridge notes.
Fortunately, in his three years with Sun Life, Mansbridge has proven his ability to negotiate the unique technology demands of the multinational carrier's different markets. Sometimes that has meant identifying areas in which Sun Life's various international groups can work together. "Increasingly, as we look at the business opportunities for Sun Life Financial going forward, these are shared opportunities," he explains. "How we are able to share technology is increasingly important."
At other times, it's meant tailoring initiatives to local markets -- particularly in Asia. "Asia represents much more of what I'd call a greenfield advantage," Mansbridge relates. "We're really looking at Asia as an opportunity to implement a true regional strategy -- multilanguage, multicurrency."
Last October, for example, Sun Life launched Lakbay ProTXT and Family ProTXT -- two prepaid-card-style personal accident insurance products that can be purchased through text message -- in the Filipino market. "We're using it quite successfully," Mansbridge reports. "Penetration of text messaging in the Philippines is the highest that you'll find anywhere in the world. So that's one of the reasons it made sense to use text messaging for fast, effective communication with our insurance agents in the Philippines."
Opportunity in the Great White North
In Sun Life's home market of Canada, Mansbridge says, he's proud of a single sign-on project that has served the company's group services business there. "We offer a unique capability [that is] Web-based and driven to our customers," Mansbridge details. "They get their retirement services and group benefits services all coordinated. It looks like they are signing on to their own company site -- the logo and everything else -- while we're actually in the background providing that entire service."
While Mansbridge says there are many similarities between the U.S. and Canadian markets, the U.S. has a "richer mix of competition," he notes. "In the Canadian marketplace, you've got an industry that I think is much more consolidated than in the United States -- there are three big players and a bunch of smaller ones [in Canada]," Mansbridge explains. "Therefore, we have to strike a balance in where we put our investments in the United States, versus some of the concentrated work we're doing in Canada."
Based in Toronto, Mansbridge, who is a native of England, also has lived in the United States. This worldliness has proved to be an asset for the CIO. "I really am fascinated by cultural differences and how to draw teams together across boundaries, which I think is an increasingly [important] element in what we need to do both from a business point of view and from a social or societal point of view," Mansbridge comments.
But while it's important for insurance CIOs to be in tune with the differences among geographic markets, Mansbridge suggests that it could be more important to focus on one commonality across the enterprise -- the importance of communication. "Communication is absolutely key, especially in the technology function, where we tend to have our heads down and [just] talk about technology," he asserts. "We forget about all the change management aspects that are involved in any change of technology; understanding how the technology is going to impact the individual employees is absolutely key in being able to help those individual employees make the change that you need them to make."