insurance industry

Why BDO Life’s insurance agents act like missionaries – and why it’s working

Lance Spencer Yu

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Why BDO Life’s insurance agents act like missionaries – and why it’s working


BDO Life believes that it hasn't even tapped half of its potential in selling life insurance products to the bank's enormous customer base

MANILA, Philippines – BDO Life, the life insurance arm of BDO Unibank, has emerged as one of the country’s top life insurance companies – all by spreading what it calls “the gospel of life insurance” to the bank’s massive customer base.

Data from the Insurance Commission shows that BDO Life ranks fourth in terms of new business annual premium equivalent or NBAPE – the most common performance metric for new sales used by insurance companies. BDO Life may not be at the top, but it’s a marked improvement from the seventh spot where it lingered in 2017, 2018, and 2020.

The secret to BDO Life’s growth? The bancassurance firm thinks of itself as a missionary.

Picture this: you walk into a bank branch, and a life insurance agent approaches you to talk. Your immediate reaction might be to shake your head right away, but wait – BDO Life’s head would argue that you might need it more than you think.

“We’re missionaries trying to spread the gospel of life insurance,” BDO Life president and chief executive officer Renato Vergel de Dios told Rappler on Thursday, April 4. “It is a philosophy, and it’s a way of thinking that I got to put into you.”

Vergel de Dios said the biggest challenge in life insurance is that they are “trying to sell a product that nobody wants to buy, that everybody needs.”

The insurance industry veteran explained it this way: everyone has a Plan A – savings that go into investments that eventually accumulate into wealth. But while it’s exciting to plan for the things you want to achieve in life, most people neglect to plan for contingencies – their Plan B.

“When premature death strikes and disrupts Plan A, Plan B springs to action to inject the needed cash into Plan A that helps empower our loved ones to move on. Life insurance is your Plan B,” Vergel de Dios said.

The BDO Life president said the pandemic was a grim reminder for many about their mortality, and that they needed financial protection before focusing on the accumulation of assets.

Immediately after COVID-19 restrictions loosened in 2021, BDO Life’s new sales as measured by NBAPE jumped by 49%, while the life insurance industry as a whole went up by 15%. By 2022, BDO Life’s business was back to pre-pandemic levels, with NBAPE growing at 14% for the year.

‘Large potential ahead’ for bancassurance

BDO Life also remains optimistic about its growth aspects, especially as a bancassurance firm.

Bancassurance refers to life insurance companies that sell products through a bank’s branches. Because the General Banking Law prohibits banks from directly offering insurance products, financial institutions usually get around this by partnering with or setting up separate insurance businesses.

In BDO’s case, it has BDO Life, which it wholly owns. BDO Life’s insurance agents are based in the bank’s extensive branch network and cater mostly to BDO’s bank clients.

“We see for ourselves a very, very large potential ahead of us. If you ask how far have you gotten in terms of saturating whatever is available to you, ni hindi pa ako nakakakalahati eh (I haven’t even reached half),” Vergel de Dios said.

Sy-owned BDO is by far the biggest bank in the Philippines, owning more than P4.28 trillion in assets as of December 31, 2023. That also means that BDO Life has a massive bank customer base to sell its life insurance products to.

“From the very beginning, I’m focused on marketing to BDO clients,” Vergel de Dios said. “You market lang (just) to BDO clients, but that’s a whole universe in itself.”

The BDO Life president said that at a later period, they will also consider selling products to those beyond BDO branches, but for now, the focus remains on serving clients who physically visit the bank.

In particular, BDO customers in the provinces represent the biggest opportunity for the life insurance business.

“Our provincial branches have done much better than our Metro Manila sales. And that’s because they’ve been able to go down to the middle income,” Vergel de Dios said. “The people that walk into the branch that we sell to, nobody has approached them…and this is the first time that somebody has bothered to approach them.” –

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.