It was Riza Mantaring’s vision that allowed Sun Life Financial- Philippines (SLFP) to achieve a feat that it could have never accomplish before: become the No. 1 life insurance company in the Philippines, and maintain this for five consecutive years amidst aggressive competition.

Now that’s quite a feat for someone whose background is rooted in IT. In fact, Riza’s first task upon joining SLFP was turning Manila into its IT hub – a job she could successfully accomplish after only five years in the company. “I was eager to learn, and so when my bosses asked me what I wanted to do next, I asked to be assigned to a department I knew very little about, which was Operations,” she shared.

It was a brave move asking to be assigned in an unfamiliar territory, but Riza was able to use this to her advantage. “Having no background in Operations made people receptive to my questions,” she said. She then used what she learned to re-engineer SLFP’S systems and operations, and streamlining significant processes in the company.

After that, Riza took on more responsibilities in different departments within the company. “There were several instances in my career when I was asked to do things that I had no background in,” she shared. “I willingly agreed to do jobs that nobody wanted. It was a challenge, yes, but I learned.”

All these prepared her for what would be her biggest role in the company as its CEO and President.

It was in this position that Riza’s exceptional ability as a leader was dramatically demonstrated. When she stepped in as SLFP’s president, several challenges welcomed her, such as the low GDP growth, low rate of insurance ownership, and low rate of financial literacy in the country. Internally, Sun Life itself also had its own concerns to deal with, from the flat core net income to the struggle to grow the agency force.

Riza faced all the challenges head-on, empowered by two things: first, her passion to make a difference in the lives of Filipinos and help them achieve financial freedom. “We have to make the disadvantaged groups of the population grow in prosperity. In a rising tide, all boats rise. Economic growth will stop if you aren’t able to bring the bottom up,” she explained.

Second, Riza was also confident in the innate talent of the Sun Life community. “I believe in hiring very good people, then letting them run things. I don’t micromanage,” she says. “Of course it’s also important to hone teamwork. You can have the most brilliant people, but if they’re not working towards a common goal, then you won’t get far.”

Riza put into place a five-year growth plan that would push the company to pursue ambitious goals: growing its agency force to 5,000, and achieving 5 Billion pesos in annual first year premiums (AFYP), 5 Billion pesos in net income, and 50 Billion assets under management (AUM).

Considering how far below these targets the numbers were at back then, it wasn’t going to be easy. But with Riza at the helm, Sun Life built a high-performance culture in all levels of the organization, enabling flawless execution of the company’s strategies. Thus, in 2015, Sun Life concluded its five-year growth plan on a high note: 7,700 Advisors, P7.019 Billion AFYP, P5.655 Billion Net Income, and P50.668 Billion AUM.

Looking at the bigger picture, SLFP’s most significant feat is redefining the industry and bringing life insurance to the forefront. Sun Life now enjoys 77% total brand awareness in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao. In Campaign Asia’s 2016 report on the Top 100 brands in the Philippines, SLFP was the only insurance brand to make it to the list. Moreover, SLFP’s success was also honored in 19th Asia Insurance Industry Awards (AIIA), where it was the first Filipino company to be named “Life Insurance Company of the Year”; was recognized in the Customer Experience in Financial Services (CXFS) Asia Awards in Singapore for having the best customer service program in the insurance industry in Asia; and was recognized as the “Employer of the Year” by the People Management Association of the Philippines.

Without a doubt, it was under her leadership that the SLFP could unleash its brightest potential. Riza believes, the credit should go to SLFP employees and financial advisors, as they are the true key to the company’s success. “It is their tremendous work, passion, and excellence in everything they do that have fueled our rise. They are a vital cog in achieving greater heights,” she said.

But of course, her brilliant leadership has not gone unnoticed. In 2010, on the 100th anniversary of the University of the Philippines College of Engineering, Riza was selected as one of the 100 Most Outstanding Alumni of the past century. In 2011, she was named by MoneySense magazine as one of the 12 Most Influential in Personal Finance. She was bestowed the 2011 CEO Excel Award given by the International Association of Business Communicators; Go Negosyo named her as one of the country’s Top 50 Inspiring Women of Passion in 2014; and, in 2015, she was named a finalist in Asia CEO Awards for the category SMART Global Filipino Executive of the Year.

Amid the professional success, however, Riza is proudest of having raised, together with husband Chicho, three children who are successful on their own: daughter Tina is a member of Apple’s engineering team; son Gijo is in finance like herself, working in GM’s regional hub in Shanghai; while son Ino worked on special effects at DreamWorks and is now a data scientist.

In her spare time Riza runs, and has completed the New York, Chicago, Berlin, Paris, and Tokyo marathons over the last five years. Riza also actively participates in Sun Life’s CSR programs, where she travels to different parts of the Philippines to join donor-build programs and give the beneficiaries the moral boost they need.

Riza’s passion for helping others attain financial security has not diminished to this day. She believes that for every Filipino who can achieves financial freedom, the Philippines is one step closer in creating a brighter future for itself.

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