As the saying goes, “we live the life we choose.” While others may argue that circumstances might prevent them from living the life they want, its been proven time and again, that there is always a way to make things better. In a nutshell, this is the message that Valerie N. Pama wants to impart to everyone. Valerie, or “Riena” as she is commonly referred to, is the president of Sun Life Asset Management Company, Inc. Her warm smile and sunny demeanor certainly reflects her company’s name. More importantly, this lady has a mission to help Filipinos achieve lifetime financial security.
Riena explains, this year is a landmark year for them, as they celebrate Sun Life Asset Management’s 15th year. “Of course its quite young, when you compare it to our parent company Sun Life of Canada Philippines, which is celebrating 120 years, and with headquarters in Canada celebrating 150 years. But the track record will tell you that we’ll be here for you through thick and thin.”
Sun Life is one of the world’s leading financial service companies. Chartered in Canada in 1865, and with headquarters in Toronto, the company and its partners operate in key markets worldwide, such as Canada, US, the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India and Singapore. The company came to the Philippines in 1895, with the appointment of H.J. Andrews and Co., a British trader, to represent Sun Life Financial in Manila. In 2000, the company was listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange, and it became a subsidiary of Sun Life Financial Services of Canada. It was also on the same year when Sun Life Asset Management (SLAMC), was incorporated and started selling Sun Life Prosperity Funds to the public.
The charming lady CEO of SLAMC says she came on board in May 2011, when the company’s assets was around P21 billion. She came from the banking industry, where she worked with Citibank until 2009. She then did consultancy work for ING Investment Management. Her long tenure in the industry, assuming different roles, including wealth management, was key, she says, in getting the top SLAMC post. Today, Riena proudly states that the company’s assets had grown to around P48 billion. She added that since she joined, they have introduced the Dynamic Fund (a tactical asset allocation fund) last year, while this year, they are introducing at least three more funds. Riena says they hope to launch the new Index Fund anytime soon. When asked why an Index Fund, she agrees its really more basic than what they have, but the rationale, she says, is because “the investment penetration is still very low. If you look at it, our Index is only P220-plus billion, while looking at our GDP, its about 300 billion dollars, so our penetration is almost only like 2-percent.”
Despite their company posting healthy growth margins, Riena says, like most wealth managers, she finds that one of her biggest challenges is the fact that Filipinos don’t seem to have an investment culture. “Everybody knows their credit card limit, the best deals, including travel deals, and its all spending. While in other countries, if you ask even ordinary people like the cab driver, ask them about their investments and they know where their money is going. They know where it’s invested, and they know what they’re going get when they retire.”
On the strategies they are taking to overcome this challenge, she says being the chairperson of the Mutual Fund Industry Association helped her a lot, because “we have a lot more exposure and interaction with the regulators. In fact, we are part of a committee that helps Congress in the passage of the Collective Investment Schemes Bill, which has remained pending in Congress for quite sometime now.” She hopes this bill will eventually be passed because this will correct what she describes as a “regulatory arbitrage that goes on between the three regulators, mainly the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Insurance Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. “If you look at it, they are collective investment schemes, but under different regulations, and as far as the investor is concerned, they’re all investments.” The goal she says is to simply make it easy for the investors.
Despite the challenges, however, Riena says she remains highly optimistic of not only their company’s growth, but that of the industry as well. “Last year we saw greater growth from our Visayas and Mindanao. But it’s still a small base. The industry itself has registered a 25-percent growth in the last five years, and that’s very good.” As for SLAMC, Riena says they intend to keep increasing their agents, which now number about 2,600 for a much wider base, while at the same time tapping into partner banks and online partners, such as the one with COL Financial, which makes it easier to buy mutual funds online.
In the end, Riena says she hopes to be able to impart the message that investing is not a get rich quick scheme. Rather, she likens it to a marathon race, where you have to train, and you don’t just wake up one day and decide to run. And the most important part is to just simply start and be consistent. It doesn’t matter if one starts small, she says, but the key is to be diligent in building your financial growth. This is the legacy that she, like her company, wants to leave, and that is to financially empower the country, one Filipino at a time.