"Tough times never last. Tough people do."
That is what Mercantile Insurance Company, Inc. has done—kept its poise and stayed focused even during the worst times of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. In fact, it can proudly say, to paraphrase the Bard, William Shakespeare, "COVID-19 has not withered it nor stalled its growth momentum."
Mercantile leaped in 2020 to No. 7 in terms of Net Premiums Written, from No. 26 in 2016, as reflected in the Insurance Commission's list of nonlife insurance companies. And, though difficult, it has sought to protect this ranking and continued to work to improve further its status.
Melecio C. Mallillin, Mercantile Insurance President, says, although the company had to make substantial payouts last year to victims of typhoon "Odette" (international name Rai) in Visayas and Mindanao, it still managed to register a 12 percent growth.
With the continuing reopening of the country, particularly the economy, he is very upbeat that there is nowhere else to go but up starting this year, 2022.
Mallillin notes that even in spite of the pandemic, the nonlife insurance industry remains strong and stable. Total assets and net worth of the nonlife companies amounted to Php 280 billion and Php 106 billion, respectively, as of the end of 2020.
The projected 6-7 percent growth of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), a prepandemic level, will be a definite boon to all sectors of the economy, including insurance.
"I am very happy with the way things are going now," Mallillin says, and a "big, big opportunity" is opening up. Mercantile Insurance continues to be the top of mind insurer because of its brand management and the digitized new products information.
He admits there is still a large swathe of the Philippine population that has yet to be covered by insurance, particularly at the grassroots. But recent events and catastrophes are beginning to make people reconsider the idea that insurance is a luxury only the affluent can afford.
"More and more Filipinos are now seriously considering insurance once they see its benefits. For many, the cost of COVID-19 medical care was a game changer. The need for insurance was even more heightened!"
But he says insurance companies have to be very creative in both their sales pitch and the products they offer. Mercantile Insurance is, among other things, developing products to support and promote the goal of sustainability, like innovative parametric insurance for farmers that will factor in the growing volatility of weather because of climate change.
He points out that Mercantile Insurance, like most "sellers," had to take a crash course on how to conduct its business online.
"Traditionally, 85-90 percent of our business was done face to face," he says. With things gradually going back to as close to normal as possible, Mallillin expects face-to-face interactions will increase again but virtual meet-ups will remain.
The company has set up the infrastructure to strengthen and expand digital transactions. Although "face-to-face selling or doing business, especially insurance, continues to be the best way, we now have another good alternative," Mallillin points out.
However, while he acknowledges the value of modern technology in helping grow the company, Mallillin remains a great believer in human resource. The dependability, integrity and excellence of Mercantile Insurance's work force are prized assets for him. "Excellent service," he says is a major advantage for the company.
"Many policy holders do not even read the details of their contract but rely on how trustworthy the agents they are dealing with are," he says. "Insurance selling is a very personal matter."
To keep the best people, Mallillin says he makes sure that his staff is well compensated. The company also provides opportunities for upskilling through further schooling, seminars and other means to strengthen, enhance and upgrade competencies and knowledge.
In a society where the personal touch is always appreciated, he finds the time to talk to every employee and let him/her know his/her efforts are appreciated. He also makes sure the company provides a pleasant, friendly and nonstressful working environment.
He has lost some skilled people to competitors but he does not begrudge them of opportunities for further advancement. In fact, he is very proud when former employees tell him that, thanks to the experience and training they got at Mercantile Insurance, they now occupy very high positions in their new places of employment.
He also readily welcomes back people who realize the grass is actually not greener on the other side, provided they left the company with spotless records.
The values Mercantile Insurance expects of its employees—integrity, dependability and excellence—Mallillin says the company also shows in dealing with clients. "There are those who use [so-called] small prints as escape clauses [to avoid payment of benefits]," he notes. "But we strive to be always above board. Our basic concept is to help." The company also tries to release benefits as quickly as possible.
Mallillin says he had scheduled a face-to-face meeting with the entire Mercantile Insurance staff on March 1 to plan and strategize for the months and years ahead which, hopefully, would not have a major disruption like COVID-19.
The company, he says, aims to keep its current clientele base and expand it through new business ventures, new products and projects. He is optimistic that growth figures for the year 2022 will surpass prepandemic levels and people will realize that nonlife insurance products are essential. For instance, insuring expensive digital gadgets against damage and loss will make replacement less costly.
Mercantile Insurance, Mallillin says, will continue to practice some of the things it adopted because of COVID-19, like virtual business meetings, digitalization of business operations and observance of safety protocols for flexibility, increased productivity and the mental health and well-being of employees.
Mercantile Insurance goes full steam ahead to resume its growth momentum and pursue its expansion plans.