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Culture is authentic; it cannot be fast-tracked: Mona Lisa de la Cruz

Coming from a family known for their commitment and service to their native Philippines, Mona Lisa B de la Cruz developed a love for mathematics from a young age. “My mother had a friend who was Chief Actuary of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). She was well-respected, intelligent, rich and pretty – so naturally, my mother wanted me to be an actuary,” she laughs. “What matters most to me, however, is that I make the best of my God-given talents to contribute value.”

Following her bachelor’s degree in statistics, Lisa completed her master’s in mathematics majoring in actuarial science. “As a government scholar, originally my plan was to become an actuary for GSIS as a way of giving back to the Filipino people. But as fate would have it, I ended up at the biggest Filipino life insurance company in the country. I came to Insular Life fresh from school, armed with a lot of idealism as to how I could contribute. I actually began my journey at the company as a Technical Assistant, but I soon earned professional recognition as a Fellow of the Actuarial Society of the Philippines and an Associate of the US Society of Actuaries.”

Mona Lisa de la Cruz, President and CEO of Insular Life
Mona Lisa de la Cruz, President and CEO of Insular Life

Throughout World War II, Insular Life was one of two insurance companies that remained open in the Philippines. It continues to give out loans and pay benefits to its policyholders and accepts premium payments. At war’s end, Insular Life honoured its pre-war and occupation commitments – even though it meant sustaining huge losses.

Established in 1910 at the beginning of the Philippines’ national growth, Insular is the country’s first and largest Filipino life insurance company, managing more than PHP130 billion in assets. Never in her wildest dreams did Lisa expect to become its President and CEO, this year celebrating 38 years with the company. “As I grew into my role, I found fulfilment not only in actuarial work, but more so in seeing our formulas translate into real-world results.

I was amazed by the impact we had on the lives of our policyholders and their beneficiaries,” she recalls. “I saw firsthand the value of what I was doing in protecting family members and beneficiaries throughout their times of need. The job is very complex and it certainly has its challenges, but at the end of the day it’s all worthwhile.”

Cultural strength

One of the changes she’s most proud of is establishing a new customer service program called Magandang Araw – meaning ‘beautiful day’ in Tagalog – in 2008. “Filipinos are a very caring people and we decided to capitalise on this cultural strength and make it our brand of customer care. For us, Magandang Araw is not simply a greeting, but a commitment to make each customer touchpoint a pleasant and memorable experience. The dramatic shift in perspective from being policy-centric to customer-centric required every customer encounter to be not just transactional but also relationship-building. This paved the way for creating a whole new experience under our customer relationship management program.”

“Filipinos are a very caring people and we decided to capitalise on this cultural strength and make it our brand of customer care.”

Last September, Insular launched Adrenalin, a global human capital management solution – internally rebranded as I-CON – that will help digitise the employee experience and accelerate the company’s digital transformation. “To be able to deliver world-class customer experience, we are transforming our systems and processes so our services are faster and more accessible, convenient and efficient, without losing the personal touch,”

Lisa explains. Through data consolidation, reduction in paper use, and an increase in the efficiency of human resources processes, more than 780 employees across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will benefit from a single source of employee information.

Insular uses an Automated Underwriting System that cuts the processing time of insurance applications down to as little as 30 minutes. “We continue to expand to reach a wider segment of our target market by strengthening our agency distribution channel and developing new distribution channels such as bancassurance and ecommerce. By doing so, we aim to raise the country’s insurance penetration rate and reach both the cities and provinces, the young and the old,” explains Lisa.

Insular Life

In 2016, Mona Lisa de la Cruz was recognised as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipina Women Leaders in the World by the Filipina Women’s Network, and last year was awarded the University of the Philippines Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Lessons learned

Having been around since 1910, Insular has endured the outbreak of World War II, a host of economic crashes, an increasingly competitive market, and the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the second strongest in recorded history, which caused US$4.55 billion in damages. Despite these adversities, the company remains resolute in its mission. “These challenges also became our greatest victories,” explains Lisa.

“Standing by our commitments to our policyholders is engraved in our corporate culture. You can depend on Insular Life. Our assets, net worth and net income are bigger than that of all other Filipino life insurance companies combined. As the only 100 per cent Filipino-owned insurance company among top life insurance companies, we are the flagbearer. We have a significant role to play – we work for the good of our policyholders and customers; for the good of the nation and, at 107 years old, we are still growing; we are here for good.”

“These challenges also became our greatest victories.”

One of the most important lessons the company has learned over the past century is that culture is king, and it’s something the management team is always trying to maintain and improve. “In this age, it is easy to copy products and even the services you offer your clients, but you can’t copy culture. Corporate culture is authentic; it cannot be fast-tracked,” says Lisa. “I operate with full delegation, but without abdicating the accountability for results. Building teams laterally is the only way to get things to move faster and I feel so rewarded when I see my people move to higher levels of responsibility. I feel I owe it to the company to produce competent employees and professionals to carry on our mission.”

Ingrained in this culture is giving back to the community and helping the unserved and underserved. “Through the Insular Foundation, we give disadvantaged college students enrolled in Education and Maths access to quality education through full college scholarships. After graduation, the scholars are required to give back to society
by serving as teachers for two years anywhere in the country. To date, we have helped 30 scholars employed in various schools throughout the Philippines,” explains Lisa.

In the campaign for greater financial literacy, Insular Life engages with elementary and high school students through the production of educational storybooks and videos that have become part of the school curriculum. “Inspiring as well are the employees active in our Employee Volunteerism Program,” adds Lisa. “Once a month, they teach values education to a partner NGO, and have been for six years now. They also participate in tree planting, fundraising marathons, visits to homes for the aged and to children’s hospitals.”

Insular Life

After the Philippines was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, Insular Life is helping to build disaster-resilient school buildings in typhoon-prone municipalities around the country.

As a successful female C-suite executive with a family of three and a husband who was in the military, Lisa is one of many chasing that desired work–life balance. “When I started my career, I was driven and passionate about my work, but it was clear in my mind that I would always prioritise family over my career. I am so blessed that the working environment at Insular allowed me to raise a family while pursuing a fulfilling career. Through the years, I have tried to use the same behavioural guides at home and at work. These are: progressing without compromising values, putting others first and personal gain last, working towards a purpose, sharing big dreams while keeping my feet on the ground, and sharing my blessings. Living by these values has helped me manage work–life integration.”

Looking ahead, Lisa says the goal is to further improve Insular’s market share in the face of increased competition not just from traditional competitors, but also from start-ups using fintech and insurtech to directly enter the market with simple products and processes.

“We are increasing our digital offering not just because it’s the ‘in’ thing, and not just because we want to prove that, at 107 years, we are as young the start-ups. We are committed to innovation and going digital because that’s how we will be able to serve our customers faster, more cost-effectively and efficiently. We are working to become the most digitally connected life insurance company within the next three to five years.”

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