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Rizalina G. Mantaring, CEO of Sun Life of Canada (Philippines) Inc.

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It was Riza Mantaring’s vision that allowed Sun Life Financial- Philippines (SLFP) to achieve a feat that it could have never accomplish before: become the No. 1 life insurance company in the Philippines, and maintain this for five consecutive years amidst aggressive competition.

Now that’s quite a feat for someone whose background is rooted in IT. In fact, Riza’s first task upon joining SLFP was turning Manila into its IT hub – a job she could successfully accomplish after only five years in the company. “I was eager to learn, and so when my bosses asked me what I wanted to do next, I asked to be assigned to a department I knew very little about, which was Operations,” she shared.

It was a brave move asking to be assigned in an unfamiliar territory, but Riza was able to use this to her advantage. “Having no background in Operations made people receptive to my questions,” she said. She then used what she learned to re-engineer SLFP’S systems and operations, and streamlining significant processes in the company.

After that, Riza took on more responsibilities in different departments within the company. “There were several instances in my career when I was asked to do things that I had no background in,” she shared. “I willingly agreed to do jobs that nobody wanted. It was a challenge, yes, but I learned.”

All these prepared her for what would be her biggest role in the company as its CEO and President.

It was in this position that Riza’s exceptional ability as a leader was dramatically demonstrated. When she stepped in as SLFP’s president, several challenges welcomed her, such as the low GDP growth, low rate of insurance ownership, and low rate of financial literacy in the country. Internally, Sun Life itself also had its own concerns to deal with, from the flat core net income to the struggle to grow the agency force.

Riza faced all the challenges head-on, empowered by two things: first, her passion to make a difference in the lives of Filipinos and help them achieve financial freedom. “We have to make the disadvantaged groups of the population grow in prosperity. In a rising tide, all boats rise. Economic growth will stop if you aren’t able to bring the bottom up,” she explained.

Second, Riza was also confident in the innate talent of the Sun Life community. “I believe in hiring very good people, then letting them run things. I don’t micromanage,” she says. “Of course it’s also important to hone teamwork. You can have the most brilliant people, but if they’re not working towards a common goal, then you won’t get far.”

Riza put into place a five-year growth plan that would push the company to pursue ambitious goals: growing its agency force to 5,000, and achieving 5 Billion pesos in annual first year premiums (AFYP), 5 Billion pesos in net income, and 50 Billion assets under management (AUM).

Considering how far below these targets the numbers were at back then, it wasn’t going to be easy. But with Riza at the helm, Sun Life built a high-performance culture in all levels of the organization, enabling flawless execution of the company’s strategies. Thus, in 2015, Sun Life concluded its five-year growth plan on a high note: 7,700 Advisors, P7.019 Billion AFYP, P5.655 Billion Net Income, and P50.668 Billion AUM.

Looking at the bigger picture, SLFP’s most significant feat is redefining the industry and bringing life insurance to the forefront. Sun Life now enjoys 77% total brand awareness in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao. In Campaign Asia’s 2016 report on the Top 100 brands in the Philippines, SLFP was the only insurance brand to make it to the list. Moreover, SLFP’s success was also honored in 19th Asia Insurance Industry Awards (AIIA), where it was the first Filipino company to be named “Life Insurance Company of the Year”; was recognized in the Customer Experience in Financial Services (CXFS) Asia Awards in Singapore for having the best customer service program in the insurance industry in Asia; and was recognized as the “Employer of the Year” by the People Management Association of the Philippines.

Without a doubt, it was under her leadership that the SLFP could unleash its brightest potential. Riza believes, the credit should go to SLFP employees and financial advisors, as they are the true key to the company’s success. “It is their tremendous work, passion, and excellence in everything they do that have fueled our rise. They are a vital cog in achieving greater heights,” she said.

But of course, her brilliant leadership has not gone unnoticed. In 2010, on the 100th anniversary of the University of the Philippines College of Engineering, Riza was selected as one of the 100 Most Outstanding Alumni of the past century. In 2011, she was named by MoneySense magazine as one of the 12 Most Influential in Personal Finance. She was bestowed the 2011 CEO Excel Award given by the International Association of Business Communicators; Go Negosyo named her as one of the country’s Top 50 Inspiring Women of Passion in 2014; and, in 2015, she was named a finalist in Asia CEO Awards for the category SMART Global Filipino Executive of the Year.

Amid the professional success, however, Riza is proudest of having raised, together with husband Chicho, three children who are successful on their own: daughter Tina is a member of Apple’s engineering team; son Gijo is in finance like herself, working in GM’s regional hub in Shanghai; while son Ino worked on special effects at DreamWorks and is now a data scientist.

In her spare time Riza runs, and has completed the New York, Chicago, Berlin, Paris, and Tokyo marathons over the last five years. Riza also actively participates in Sun Life’s CSR programs, where she travels to different parts of the Philippines to join donor-build programs and give the beneficiaries the moral boost they need.

Riza’s passion for helping others attain financial security has not diminished to this day. She believes that for every Filipino who can achieves financial freedom, the Philippines is one step closer in creating a brighter future for itself.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Ray Ferguson, Founder of Caber Partners

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Ray Ferguson left the banking world and returned to Asia to explore exciting fintech opportunities.

What’s your story?
I am the Founder of Caber Partners, a Singapore based MAS Licensed Fund Manager and Financial Advisor investing and working with companies focused exclusively on the intersection of finance and technology. I work specifically in the areas of payments, insurance, wealth management, alternative lending and blockchain.

I am also Chairman of Singapore Life which was founded last year. It is the first new local life company in Singapore. Concurrently, I chair Youtap a business which is creating a cashless e-money processing backbone providing real-time interoperable settlements of all consumer e-money payments to the merchants, e-money providers, retail and FMCG distribution groups, and banks across emerging markets.

My 30 year journey as a banker had its main leg with Standard Chartered Bank, where I held multiple country chief executive and regional leadership roles across four continents. I spent 6 years as Regional CEO, South East Asia and Chief Executive, Singapore. After Standard Chartered, I moved to Bank ABC, Bahrain and assumed the role of Group Chief Banking Officer where I took care of the group’s banking businesses worldwide.
Last year, I decided to step down after 3 years from my role with Bank ABC to return to Asia to pursue interesting and exciting opportunities that fintech disruption was providing.

What excites you most about your industry?
The sheer pace of technological innovation in the financial sector, and how it is up-ending the traditional models and traditional players. There are huge implications and benefits for efficiency, transparency and importantly financial inclusion which will drive growth in emerging markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have lived in and worked in Asia for more than 30 years. I first came to Singapore in 1994 and today I am a proud Singapore citizen, and to me Singapore is home.

Its an invigorating environment. Asia is in the middle of an historic transformation. If it continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise sixfold in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms to reach Europe’s levels today. It would make some 3 billion additional Asians affluent by current standards. By nearly doubling its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 percent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution. This is a big deal and I’m excited to be part of it!

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore! Singapore is known for being a business-friendly country and it was crowned the best country in World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business List” and ranks as the top 3 in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitive Index.” Singapore is an attractive hub, for both businesses and has a great community to live in.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Listen intently and you will know what you don’t know.

Who inspires you?
Nelson Mandela

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That the global mobile wallet market was valued at approximately USD 594 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach approximately USD 3,100 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of around 32% between 2017 and 2022.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have learnt to code.

How do you unwind?
Exercise, golf and sailing large catamarans.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket. Easy to reach, Thai people and service, breadth of choice of locations/accomodation and great sailing weather.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Good to Great – Jim Collins. It’s about how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how and why most companies fail to make the transition.

Shameless plug for your business:
Caber Partners team is uniquely connected with our networks and experience in fintech markets, investing and banking and business growth solutions throughout Asia and across the emerging world.

How can people connect with you?
Come connect with me through my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rayfergusonscb

Twitter handle?
Rayferguson888

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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