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May 16, 2024

Manulife 20% YTD stock gain today 'years in the making,' CEO says

We are a leader in Asia and continue to see opportunity in that market: Manulife CEO

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In an interview with BNN Bloomberg on Wednesday, Manulife CEO Roy Gori said the company is now seeing notable traction primarily driven by its Asian and wealth management businesses. In 2017, Gori stepped into the job with a focus on making Manulife “the most digital, consumer-centric company in the industry” after previously helping to grow the company’s Asian operations.

Today, Manulife shares are up over 20 per cent year-to-date and Gori says Asia will continue to be a large part of the company’s focus on organic growth. 

"Asia is a really important focus area for us… It continues to grow. Insurance and wealth penetration is still very low and we see a lot of opportunity there," said Gori.

Despite the focus on Asia as a region for growth, he said the company is not relying solely on one market or geography. 

"The company’s great power comes from having a diverse business that has the ability to weather the storm if there are any (storms) in any part of the world," Gori said. 

Portfolio optimization

Apart from growing the business, Gori has also focused on portfolio optimization. Manulife recently closed two reinsurance deals to shift away from low-growth assets and free up capital. Following these transactions, Gori and Manulife have freed up $11 billion in capital since 2018.

 "We had a lot of capital dedicated to risky businesses and low returns. We have been divesting those businesses… In that process we have redeployed that capital to our organic businesses that are delivering much better returns," said Gori.

AI 

Another investment Manulife is heavily focusing on is new technologies such as generative AI.

The industry has done a "terrible job with digitizing experiences for customers," Gori said, adding that the company is using that as an advantage given it has focused on integrating new technologies to its platform over the past six years. 

 "AI is proving (to be a) a tremendous opportunity for us… We believe we can differentiate ourselves by creating a better experience through the use of digital tools," he said. 

Interest rates 

According to Gori, the company has experienced some tailwinds amid higher interest rates, but could also stand to benefit in other ways from a potential interest rate cut in July by the Bank of Canada. 

“We have hedged a lot of our interest rate exposure and even if rates go down, we stand to fare very well there,” he said. 

Culture 

Other areas of focus for Gori include workplace culture, which has been an ongoing focus for the company that has translated into better financial success, he said. 

“Culture is everything. We have not only done a lot of work on it but are also being recognized for it… It’s the only competitive advantage a company has,” Gori said.