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Partnership Tour - Interview with John Trotter - Head of Digital Partnerships & Fintech Sun Life Financial Asia

Partnership Tour - Interview with John Trotter – Sun Life Asia, Head of Digital Partnerships & Fintech

June 6th, 2018 | Hong Kong. As part of our “Partnership Tour”, Sia Partners had the pleasure to learn more about Sun Life’s focus on digital distribution partnerships and other topics including:

  • Reaching new and existing clients through digitization;
  • Building offerings and partnerships around client needs;
  • Developing a pipeline of innovative partnerships in APAC.

1] Sia Partners (S.P.): What is your background and responsibilities within Sun Life?

John Trotter (J.T.): I’ve been in Financial Services my entire career, working across a few sectors: retail banking, general insurance and life insurance. My home town is Edinburgh, Scotland and I started my career there with Standard Life working in a variety of roles, including launching a licensed retail bank. It was here I developed a real passion for setting up new ventures, and I was lucky enough to be able to combine this with another passion I have, travel, and forge a career in International business development. At the last count, I’ve worked in 19 countries doing this, and that’s what eventually led me to Sun Life where I am Head of Digital Partnerships and Fintech. As the job title suggests, my role has two main responsibilities: helping our seven business units in APAC to develop strategic digital partnerships through our distribution excellence work stream, and also innovation, which includes dealing with and mentoring Fintech and InsurTech companies.

2] (S.P.): What is your view on the InsurTech and innovation set-up in Hong Kong?

(J.T.): Hong Kong is an exciting and dynamic market for multiple reasons. Two recent examples are the launch of a sandbox by the Insurance Authority and the setting up of the Fintech Association of Hong Kong (FTAHK[1]) around a year ago, and together these show that both industry and the regulators are thinking about the next generation of financial services. We are very confident that the rate of innovation will continue, and even pick up pace over the coming months and years.


3] (S.P.):  Is Sun Life through its partnerships focused more on creating a customer centric journey or being an innovative company?

(J.T.): In our area, we focus on offering new channels and products to help make the client journey very efficient and convenient, and it’s here that innovation – especially in digital tools and processes – can help enormously. Ultimately it’s about offering our clients a variety of choices – we want to be there for them when they need us, regardless of their channel choice, and to make the experience with us easy and helpful.

So for me it’s both, but it’s not really about the innovation itself, but innovation as an enabler.


4] (S.P.): Regarding partnerships, have you developed specific frameworks to select partners in Asia?

 (J.T.): We look for partners with similar outlooks and client-focused strategies, and often brands that are perceived as disruptors. One of the main factors that attracted me to Sun Life was that partnerships are a core part of the strategy - we have about 20 partnerships already in the APAC region, including bancassurance. Given we already have a core capability in this space – we can use this to further develop expertise with other industries.

As you can imagine, the specific benefits or objectives are different for each partnership, but we always look to create genuine synergies - where we create a win/win/win between the client, partner and Sun Life. It’s very exciting, and we’re always looking for new opportunities in Asia - we are keen to collaborate with other companies who share our focus on clients to develop and offer digital based insurance solutions.

5] (S.P.): Could you share examples of recent partnerships in Asia?

(J.T.): Yes of course. I’ve chosen a sample of some very different types of our partnerships across the region – a Telecom company[2], a digital bank, an E-wallet business and a retailing marketplace. All of these offer us the opportunity to improve access and reach new groups of clients.

Gaining learning and insights from different types of partnerships can really be complementary, even though the solution for each one can be very different. It’s not a one size fits all model of course, but there are similarities that can be leveraged.

6] (S.P.): Sun Life is actively interacting with InsurTechs, could you give us a taste of your commitments?

Sun Life held a joint Expo in November 2017 in Toronto with Plug & Play to help connect with highly innovative start-ups to explore possible new solutions, pilot opportunities, and mutual growth.

(J.T.): In fact, Sun Life was the first Canadian insurer to partner with Plug and Play in 2016, focusing on the areas of Insurance, Health, IoT (Internet of Things), Media & Mobile and Fintech & Security. We have also partnered with MaRS Discovery District, one of North America's largest urban innovation hubs.

In Asia, we are a principal partner of the Fintech Innovation Lab Asia Pacific, a 12-week accelerator program that brings together Fintechs and financial institutions. This programme that gives us an excellent platform to meet startups in the fintech and InsurTech streams and explore collaboration and innovation opportunities.

We are also active members of industry associations like FTAHK and Fintech Indonesia, which are building great communities for startups, corporates and students, and we are regularly exploring how new technologies like AI and Blockchain can improve the client experience we offer.

7] (S.P.): With growth of new distribution channels (partnerships, online), do you see the role of agents and brokers reducing over time?

(J.T.): Definitely not. We have different clients with different needs.  It’s all about offering our clients more choice to connect with Sun Life. Technology helps to enhance our business and complements existing channels. There is an important place for agents and brokers to help guide and advise clients to help them to achieve their goals.

8] (S.P.): With tech giants like Amazon and Tencent entering the insurance space, how do you think the insurance landscape will change?

(J.T.): It’s a really exciting time with lots of opportunities, and I know that we will continue to team up with non-traditional partners and continue to leverage innovation and data & analytics capabilities to reach new clients and enhance the client experience. It’s great to be with a company at the forefront of this.

I genuinely believe that providing clients with choices and access to insurance will drive insurers’ future growth.

9] (S.P.): Any last words you wish to share?

(J.T.): We’re really excited about how innovation and new technologies are transforming the way we do business.  We are collaborating with new partners to offer our clients more choice and access to insurance in new and easy ways, including buying on their mobile devices. As we look ahead, Sun Life will continue to take a leading role in using digital data and analytics to find new ways of enhancing our clients’ experiences with us.

John Trotter joins the Sun Life Team in their agile office, designed to fuel creativity and collaboration on innovative initiatives.


[1] Sia Partners is a founding member of the FTAHK, and member of a number or its committees, including the InsurTech Committee.

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