Lee Yuan Siong, AIA’s Group Chief Executive and President, said:
“The Group has delivered strong sequential growth in the third quarter with VONB up 22 per cent compared to the second quarter, building on the strong momentum as restrictions eased. TWPI grew 7 per cent year-on-year and our in-force business continues to demonstrate resilience with strong persistency.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been well controlled in many of the markets where AIA operates, following the easing of containment measures. While remote completion continues to account for a significant proportion of new business in some markets, we have generally seen an increase in the proportion of our sales sourced from face-to-face meetings.
“Working practices have changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic. For example, the Group’s travel costs were down 75 per cent in the third quarter compared to last year while collaboration and connectivity across the Group have increased markedly. In the last 30 days, our people conducted close to 280,000 video calls and one million online audio calls, a step change from previous practices.
“Embracing technology, including the associated changes to our ways of working, is an essential part of our strategic goal to transform AIA. While still early in this multi-year journey, we are making good progress.
“Some of our businesses are already highly digital, allowing them to adapt quickly and deliver strong results even during this exceptional operating environment. For example, our joint venture in India, Tata AIA Life, generated excellent year-on-year VONB growth in the third quarter despite the continuing lockdowns, helped by wide adoption of new remote selling capabilities. Moving the recruitment process online at AIA China has also helped achieve very strong growth in new agency recruits in 2020 as we grow capacity across the business.
“We have made significant strategic progress in the last few months. Our Mainland China business achieved a landmark as we successfully completed the conversion to a wholly-owned life insurance subsidiary on 1 October.
“I am delighted that AIA China was recently granted approval by the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission to begin preparations to establish a new branch in Sichuan. This new branch will be our first branch in Western China and is the first step in our ambitious plans to expand the geographical coverage of AIA China.
“The Group also announced a long-term strategic partnership with Practo Pte. Ltd., India’s leading digital healthcare platform with a network of 70,000 top-tier hospitals and clinics, and Tata AIA Life extended our strategic partnership with IndusInd Bank Limited for a further 10 years.
“I am very proud that AIA continues to provide peace of mind and security to our millions of customers and that our businesses have adapted with speed and agility to the rapidly-changing operating environment. Our teams are working hard every day to deliver our strategic plans and transform AIA into a simpler, faster, more connected organisation. While the near-term outlook for the pandemic continues to be uncertain, I am confident that AIA is well positioned to leverage the structural growth drivers of life and health insurance across Asia, delivering long-term sustainable value for our shareholders and enabling Healthier, Longer, Better Lives for our customers.”
SUMMARY FOR THE THIRD QUARTER
In the third quarter of 2020, the Group delivered strong momentum in new business sales. VONB increased by 22 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2020, driven by sequential quarter-on-quarter growth from almost all of our markets. VONB margin was consistent with the second quarter as the reduction from economic assumption changes and geographical mix shifts was offset by reduced acquisition expense overruns as quarterly sales momentum improved. Across our agency businesses, we have continued to build future capacity with new recruits up more than 20 per cent compared to the third quarter of 2019.
While sales volumes during the first nine months of 2020 were lower than for the same period last year, the overall scale of our in-force business has continued to increase. TWPI of US$8,797 million increased 7 per cent compared with the third quarter of 2019. Persistency has remained strong and, in the third quarter, there has been an improvement in the adverse lapse experience in the first half of the year for our operations in Thailand and Malaysia. The positive medical claims experience that we reported for the Group in the first half of 2020 has also normalised in the third quarter and experience was in line with our expectations .
The third quarter of 2020 marked a historic change for AIA China, beginning with the incorporation of our new subsidiary in Mainland China on 9 July. Our people worked tirelessly on the conversion process, which included coordination with more than 2,000 counterparties and 150 government departments across the country. Within three months of its incorporation, AIA Life Insurance Company Limited assumed operational control of our business in Mainland China on 1 October. This new corporate structure is critical for delivering our ambitious expansion plans and, following regulatory approval, we are now progressing with preparations for our new branch in Sichuan. In the third quarter, VONB from AIA China was broadly similar to the second quarter before allowing for 5 per cent withholding tax, which has been applied since 9 July. AIA China remained the largest contributor to the Group’s VONB. In the first nine months of 2020, we have continued to grow our high-quality Premier Agency force and our disciplined execution has achieved a double-digit increase in new recruits, total agents and also agency leaders.
Our business in Hong Kong delivered modest quarter-on-quarter growth in VONB, driven by increased sales to our domestic customer segment. Sales to Mainland Chinese visitors remained close to zero in the third quarter given the ongoing mandatory quarantine requirement.
AIA Thailand achieved strong quarter-on-quarter growth in the third quarter as sales momentum returned to both agency and bancassurance channels. Our businesses in Singapore and Malaysia delivered excellent quarter-on-quarter growth with VONB more than double the second quarter and also significantly above the third quarter of 2019.
The easing of movement restrictions across many markets supported excellent quarter-on-quarter growth in VONB for our Other Markets segment. Tata AIA Life achieved excellent year-on-year growth on a like-for-like basis despite the ongoing disruption to the Indian economy from the pandemic and has now become the market leader in retail protection business. All of our other individual markets in this segment delivered quarter-on-quarter growth in VONB.
After the sharp contraction in the global economy in the first half of 2020, some countries have returned to growth in the third quarter, including Mainland China. Economic recovery has diverged significantly at the country level, driven by the effectiveness of pandemic containment measures and government policies as well as the importance and competitiveness of manufacturing industries. The medium-term outlook remains highly uncertain given COVID-19 infections have been rising in many countries and political and trade tensions remain elevated. However, the demand for AIA’s products and services will continue to grow over the long term, powered by the structural drivers of rising wealth, low insurance penetration levels and limited social welfare across Asia. AIA is uniquely positioned through our powerful distribution, differentiated propositions, leading brand and financial strength to capture the enormous long-term opportunities in the Asian life and health insurance market.
FOREIGN EXCHANGE VOLATILITY
AIA receives the vast majority of its premiums in local currencies and we closely match our local assets and liabilities to minimise the economic effects of foreign exchange movements. When reporting the Group’s consolidated figures, there is a currency translation effect as we report in US dollars. We have provided growth rates and commentaries on CER unless otherwise stated, since this provides a clearer picture of the underlying performance of the businesses.