The life-changing ‘crash’ of PGA Sompo’s CEO
How a car accident propelled Fumihiko Harada to a career in insurance.
It took driving his self-modified car off a cliff and crashing down an embankment during his university days that drove Fumihiko Harada, PGA Sompo Insurance Corporation Director/President, and CEO to a career in insurance.
Talking with Insurance Asia, Harada-san, amusedly explained that during his university days, he had a part-time job that involved modifying second-hand vehicles, which he tried to do with his own car. But because the modifications he did were not fit for his car, he got into an accident wherein his car went off a cliff.
He was fine, but the car was another story as it was a total wreck. However, even though his car was destroyed, he managed to recuperate the losses because it was insured.
“I never realised the importance of the non-life insurance industry before so that situation was an eye-opener for me, that insurance is something that can help people. And that is the reason why I started my career in insurance.” Harada-san said.
A hands-on approach
Harada-san, who is now based in Manila, typically starts his day by catching up on what is happening with their customers, the industry, and the country. He then proceeds to talk with department heads, personally seeing that everything is working smoothly.
“I’m more of a hands-on guy. Since our office is smaller compared to other offices, it’s easier to change the direction of the company and to manage everything to support our clients,” Harada-san said.
Back in 1994, he first joined SOMPO when it was still the Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. in Tokyo, Japan. It, then, changed its name to Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. in July 2002. During his earlier career in the company, he has been specialising in handling the automobile manufacturing industry, Japan’s biggest industry sector at that time.
During his 28 years of working in the general insurance industry, he spent 16 years working outside of Japan, China, Hong Kong, and SOMPO’s regional headquarters in Singapore. Harada-san has already worked with nine SOMPO subsidiaries in South Asia and Oceania before becoming the president and CEO of the PGA Sompo in the Philippines in 2016.
“Despite having knowledge of the industry, the dynamics of day-to-day local operations are different, especially in managing teams through cross-cultural communications. It requires hands-on experience and an understanding of the local context and the story behind it,” Harada-san explained.
Since Harada-san’s appointment as CEO, PGA Sompo has prospered under his guidance with its portfolio almost doubling and profits increasing by almost 20 times. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, PGA Sompo broke its records, posting the highest gross written premiums in its history at PHP2.408m ($47k). This is 20% more than their numbers in 2019.
PGA Sompo also recorded a 34% increase in profit to PHP120m ($2.34m) in 2020 compared to 2019, a testament to Harada-san’s achievements.
Non-life insurance trends
In a market report by AM Best, an insurance ranking firm, the Philippines’ non-life market is maintaining a stable growth after signs of recovery were noted by the end of 2021.
The report revealed that net premiums increased by 7.6% to $700m. It also noted that the Philippine government's “Build Build Build” programme, which consists of around 20,000 infrastructure projects nationwide, has now resumed and is expected to drive the Philippines’ economic recovery.
This is just one of the three major trends PGA Sompo is looking to take advantage of this year.
The second trend is expanding the accessibility of insurance services led by digital services and embedded insurance services and increase in insurance awareness in the country.
According to Harada-san, PGA Sompo has a keen edge when it comes to supporting the Philippines’ infrastructure development as they have one of the biggest acceptance capacities in the market.
“Our risk acceptance capacity is backed by our head office SOMPO in Japan, SOMPO is around 13 times bigger than the entire Philippines’ non-life insurance market in terms of its premium. Our strong capacity continuously supports mega infrastructure businesses,” Harada-san said.
PGA Sompo can also provide professional indemnity (PI) that covers design risk in construction—which, according to Harada-san, only a few insurance firms can give at the moment.
“We have also started to delve into this trend by creating insurance products. An example is our collaboration with e-wallet giant GCash in providing online shopper protection,” Harada-san said
Finally, the third trend is that the country has become more interested in insurance; but Harada-san said consumers in the Philippines are just beginning to develop their understanding of the benefits of insurance in addressing risks.
This is why PGA Sompo focused on embedded insurance services so the company can reach new customers across digital touchpoints to support people’s everyday lives. It sold insurance through platforms like LAZADA, RedDoorz, and Rewire.
“If you rent a house, it’s very common to have property and liability insurance like renter’s insurance in other markets. This kind of coverage is still not popular in the market of the Philippines. As we observe growth in the development of condominiums, PGA SOMPO has started to provide a specific insurance product named CondCare to cover risks for someone living in condominiums. We are trying to best cater to the market’s needs by offering new products such as this,” Harada-san said.
PGA Sompo’s mindset that led them to excel in its industry is deeply rooted in a concept called “omotenashi,” meaning “to wholeheartedly look after guests.”
“It is an implicit understanding that there are no unnecessary tasks if the result ensures great experiences for a guest. With the Japanese rooted high-quality pursuing mindset, we have been developing our services and digital solutions. We care about the user experiences (UX) of our sales portal. Our portal is simple and easy to use with quick action. We are focusing on developing our customer experience by providing high-quality services,” Harada-san explained.
It was this kind of mindset that led Harada-san and PGA Sompo to win Insurance Asia’s Insurer of the Year - Philippines last year.
In his parting words, Harada-san said, “I am a strong believer in the functionality of insurance. Insurance is really about caring for people, or supporting someone in their time of need.”