‘IF you make each day count and do your best to make today better than yesterday, opportunities open up to you and these can lead to something good.” This has been the guiding principle of Philam Life CEO Ariel G. Cantos.
More popularly called Aibee in the insurance industry, Cantos was an out of school youth who worked his way through various tasks and menial jobs, and when given the opportunity to resume his education, graduated valedictorian in high school, attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics Honors from Ateneo de Manila, and worked hard at Philam Life while pursuing higher education and licensing programs in and outside of the Philippines.
And the rest, as some say, is destiny—with Cantos becoming Philam Life CEO and Philam Foundation Chairman—in July this year.
“The truth is—I focused on just doing my job well and learning from it, not because I wanted the highest post. But this is it. As CEO, this is the greatest opportunity that was given to me after years of hard work and dedication,” Cantos said.
With over 30 years in Philam Life—rising up from management trainee, sales promo assistant, executive assistant, profit center head of A&H, head of agency distribution to CEO–Cantos recalls his humble beginnings with fondness.
He was the third in a brood of 10 children growing up in the busy area of Palanan, Makati. After elementary, he had to stop schooling and gave way for his siblings to study.
After two years of earning meager income on errands such as cleaning neighbors’ houses, cleaning cars parked at the church, assisting commuters to cross flooded streets, or doing friends’ homework, a relative offered to jumpstart his high school education.
“I made the most of that opportunity, studying hard to earn scholarships in both high school and college. I was determined to make something out of my life. From that day on, I have always believed that education can transform the life of an individual. Give him a shot at life,” Cantos said.
Focusing on Education
Today, as CEO of Philam Life, Cantos remains passionate about education. For the last 10 years (2004 to 2015), Philam Life has delivered over P10 billion in education benefits. In May 2016, 50,000 scholars received their education payout for the first semester (school year 2016-2017). And as of October 2016, 51,000 benefit payouts were released for the second semester.
“This means we are helping around 100,000 students for their education this year alone. We deliver what we promised. So whatever happens, our policyholders are assured that they will receive what is stipulated in their educational plans,” he affirmed.
Concurrently as Philam Foundation Chairman, Cantos is committed to the Philam Paaralan classroom project. Established in 1997, the Foundation has embarked on Philam Paaralan as its flagship program that aims to help improve the quality of education in the Philippines through the construction of classrooms in underprivileged communities including typhoon-devastated provinces.
During its 65th Anniversary in 2012, Philam Life committed to construct 65 classrooms in time for its 70th year in 2017.
“To date, we have surpassed our target. We have 120 Philam Paaralan classrooms across the country. In fact, we can even reach 130 classrooms by the end of the year,” said Cantos. “Through these classrooms, the company and our partners are able to contribute in providing a conducive learning environment for children, especially in areas affected by calamities. It is our belief that, as a big part of nation building, education should be prioritized even during disaster recovery efforts.
“The first sign that a calamity-stricken community is on its way back to normalcy is when children go back to school. When a child enters a Philam Paaralan classroom that is fully-furnished and made from sturdy, calamity-resilient materials, he can dream again because there is an institution like Philam Life who can help,” Cantos stressed.
Cantos is also excited on the latest development for Philam Foundation. Starting this year, Philam Life and affiliate companies now allocate a certain percentage of their annual income to Philam Foundation to fund worthwhile CSR programs.
Cantos brings with him more than three decades of experiences in people management as the new CEO of Philam Life. He has a great sense of responsibility, huge respect for people and is committed to team aspirations and talent development of employees and financial advisors nationwide.
The amiable CEO credits his past bosses and colleagues that led to his success. “I am blessed to have worked for and with very good and talented people. They’re the best in the industry. Through them I saw that leaders win their people by having both the heart and the mind. Just one of these is not enough.”
He has always been people-focused. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he was with BPI-Philam as president and CEO (Jul 2013-Jun 2016) and maintained an open door policy to welcome employees to his office. He also dedicated at least one evening a week to reach out to his people who are based outside the head office.
“Now in Philam Life, I commit at least two hours a week in informal dialogue with randomly chosen small group of staff. This way, employees can open up if they have concerns and come up with good ideas for their own good and the company as well. I lead by example and I live by heart and mind. But I have to make tough decisions as well because that’s what leadership is all about.
“I will continue to challenge people to be best that they can be. Aside from the demand for good performance, people should feel that the company cares for them. It is my vision to see the company in the next level of excellence in the years to come.”
Leading through Innovation
With his people-oriented leadership, Cantos is committed to achieve Philam Life’s vision to become the undisputed leader in life insurance and wealth management in the Philippines.
“Philam Life has to innovate to delight our customers and to move the company to its premier status to be the best in class, by driving agent productivity, agent recruitment and retention, and development of agency leaders. We do this by implementing various transformation initiatives,” said Cantos.
In April, Philam Life launched Genesis, a modern state-of-the-art facility for financial advisors to provide them sales support tools, technological tools and development programs to help fast track their journey to become premier agency leaders and ultimately become members of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT).
In September, Philam launched SPARK, a state-of-the-art customer service center that offers fully digital and personalized services. SPARK makes use of technological platforms to make services faster and easier for customers amidst the sleek interiors of a modern-day office. It showcases the company’s latest technological capabilities such as the online customer portal called e-Plan, the Agency Portal for Philam Life financial advisors; and My PAMI Investor Portal, for the company’s mutual fund customers.
Going digital, Philam has introduced the iPoS or ‘interactive point of sale,’ wherein customers are engaged in an interactive sales process using a tablet, making policy application fast and easy. Introduced along with the iPOS is the Interactive Mobile Office (IMO), which gives Philam Life advisors and leaders office functionality in their iPads, including activity management system, e-recruitment, business planner, training videos, and leads and campaigns management.
The company has also started modernizing the look and feel of agency offices through the Agency Office Transformation program, providing technologically-enabled facilities to support recruitment and boost growth and productivity of its agency force.
“By transforming our facilities, we are sending a strong message—that we are fully committed to address the changing needs of our stakeholders and delight our customers and advisors.
“We also need to do a lot of influencing especially for today’s millennials. That is why we have these facilities. The more millennial agents we have, the more we would be able attract young people to get insurance and enjoy their benefits. For this, we are taking advantage of social media to make our stories exciting and compelling,” Cantos said.
Looking Ahead into the Future
“Philam Life is the most trusted brand in the life insurance industry. We have a wide presence across the country and we’d like to build and continue on this legacy. We will expand our financial advisor network and give them the best training so that they will be able to educate and help their clients through financial planning. We will continue to introduce new products to address the changing financial and protection needs of the Filipino, to support the thrust for financial inclusion. And we will not stop raising the bar with respect to delighting our customers in service delivery,” he said.
Life insurance is relevant not only when one passes away, but also when someone lives longer, or when someone needs to get back to good health. With the help of the media, Cantos wishes to promote life insurance consciousness and healthy living among Filipinos. According to him, today is a good time to consider buying insurance when people have more capacity to set aside funds for long term needs.
“Best to start an insurance program while young when the rates are lower, when one is healthy and the investment portion of the policy has more time to earn and grow. Insurance is also not a one-time purchase because financial needs change over time and the coverage must adapt to these changes,” he explained.
“In addition, we will align with the government’s focus on creating health awareness. We have launched the Philam Vitality program as our campaign as we venture into the health space. We have also introduced a critical illness product, Health Invest Plan, which covers 55 major illnesses.
“With our vast resources and strong support from our parent company AIA, the world’s second largest life insurer, we will continue to invest to create more positive changes in the years to come,” Cantos concluded.