Amid A Crisis, Cocolife Wants to Ensure That No One is Left Behind
When the national government declared a Luzon-wide lockdown in mid-March, Cocolife President and CEO, Atty. Jose Martin Azcárraga Loon, decided that he would keep working from the company’s Ayala Avenue office rather than from home. With him was a team that comprised the company’s skeleton staff, and together, they took up the task of ensuring that Cocolife could continue serving its policyholders, despite the limitations.
Even then, they acknowledged that these limitations were necessary to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But Cocolife’s policyholders depended on the company’s approvals for their healthcare and life insurance claims. Moreover, Cocolife had its employees to think about. The company had to keep running.
So for the first few days, he and his team manned the fort. They traded their dress shoes for slippers and set up camp at the office, where they would stay 24/7. This allowed them to attend to client concerns effectively, and to coordinate with other Cocolife employees who had already been asked to work from home. In this time, the team was also able to establish, for the whole company, a sustainable working arrangement befitting the new and unpredictable nature of the economy and of everyday life. It was a significant undertaking, and a necessary one, to adapt to the crisis. But Cocolife is nothing if not resilient.
“We had to make sure service continued. We had to make sure our employees were healthy and well. We had to make sure no one was left behind.”
Founded in 1978, Cocolife is the biggest Filipino-owned stock life insurance company, and as such, it has seen its fair share of crises: natural calamities; political unrest; the 1997 Asian financial crisis; and the global financial crisis in the late 2000s. The company weathered all these, but Atty. Loon—who prefers to go by just Martin—admits that COVID-19 is by far, the greatest challenge that the country and the world has faced in recent times, “because of its duration and its direct threat to human lives.”
“The crises and calamities we’ve overcome in the past, at least for my generation, didn’t last this long,” he says. “Also, we are affective human beings. Therefore, the inability to personally connect with each other is really a challenge. Thank God for technology.”
But the 33-year-old chief executive does believe that while this pandemic is unprecedented, it isn’t insurmountable. For his part, he's counting on the very reason Cocolife has been resilient through 42 years: its core principle of "Believing in the Filipino."
“It’s the values we share, the empathy we have for each other, for the Filipino,” Martin says. When the coronavirus outbreak worsened, he drew from these values, which have kept Cocolife strong all these years. “Our priority is to take care of our people and policyholders,” he says. “We had to make sure service continued despite the lockdown. We had to make sure our employees were healthy and well. We had to make sure no one was left behind.”
“We thought that the best way to move forward is to emphasize the faith and trust we have in the Filipino: Filipino talent, Filipino values, the Filipino dream.”
Coincidentally, these values were the very same that Martin grew up with. Early in his life, he saw his parents raise seven children while simultaneously doing work that made the country and its people part of their lives.
Martin’s father, retired Marine Colonel Ariel Querubin, is a recipient of the Medal of Valor, the highest award given by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to soldiers who go beyond the call of duty. His mother, Pong, raised the children and stood by her husband in their family’s most trying times.
Martin went to Ateneo de Manila University, which honed in him the creed of being a “man for others.” While he didn’t choose to pursue a military career, Martin developed a particular interest in law, and was guided by the belief that justice should be accessible to all and not just a privileged few. He believed, early on, that no one should be left behind.
So Martin took up law at the University of the Philippines, where he was a member of the Order of the Purple Feather (the UP Law Honor Society), the University Student Council, and the Sigma Rho Fraternity. Then, he went to Georgetown University and earned his Master of Laws.
After graduating from Georgetown, Martin would go on to build a prodigious legal career. With some partners, he set up a law firm that, in 2019, was named the Best New Law Firm in the country by the Asia Business Law Journal.
By then, Martin had also become the youngest member of the Consultative Committee that, in 2018, reviewed the 1987 Constitution. As part of this committee, Martin was able to work alongside some of the country's most prominent legal minds.
"It’s what the insurance business is all about: helping people capture their dreams no matter what happens, the best way we can."
At Cocolife, Martin is guided by the experience and knowledge of seasoned colleagues. With him on the board are fellow lawyers, executives, a media practitioner, an accounting expert and former Supreme Court Justices, including former Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, who is now the Chairman of the Board.
But Martin also relies on a dynamic new generation of leadership at Cocolife. The company’s departments are led by a mix of seasoned Cocolife veterans and new recruits from top local and international universities—many of whom Martin personally invited to join the team. In fact, all the fresh young talent has placed the average age of company management at just 30 years old. They are young Filipinos who recognize the importance of Cocolife’s role in Filipino society, and are well-equipped to carry out the company’s vision and mission.
“I want our policyholders to feel that we’re there for them, that they can rely on us even during the darkest, most difficult, and trying times.”
The coronavirus outbreak has made everyone at Cocolife adjust to a new normal, to think beyond the box, and to go an even further extra mile for their clients and their own colleagues. “We were so used to the convenience of personally being present in the workplace, coordination and meetings,” says Martin. “We depended much on personal interaction. This time, we relied heavily on technology, which took some time to get accustomed to, but after a week, Cocolifers got the hang of it. We’re performing optimally despite the work from home system.”
Wasting no time, Cocolife established 24/7 helplines and a special ground force to provide clarity and assistance when people needed it most. The company also made sure that customer service facilities and payment systems are available online.
But perhaps most meaningfully, Cocolife was quick to grant its health card members full coverage for COVID-19-related hospitalizations, subject to policy terms and regular reviews. The company has also provided hospital income benefits to affected life insurance policies, and has extended the grace period for all premium dues from March 1 to April 30, from 31 days to 61 days.
“I just want our policyholders to feel that we’re there for them, that they can rely on us even during the darkest, most difficult, and trying times,” Martin says. “We do our best to make sure that we take care of their needs and their situation in life. If nothing else, that’s what empathy is about, after all. You have to think of their welfare.”
Naturally, the same empathy extends to Cocolife’s employees. Early into the crisis, without delay, the company released its employees’ 13th-month pay and offered financial assistance packages and emergency loans, among other forms of support. "We had to make sure that everyone was okay," Martin says.
Cocolife turned 42 this year, and for the first time, the company cancelled all its corporate activities for the rest of the year. The amount the company was able to save will be used to address the effects of the pandemic. "The resources were diverted to helping people,” Martin says. Particularly, these resources were channeled to the financial assistance for the employees, sales force, partners, and beneficiaries.
Cocolife also donated to the UP National Institute of Health for the purchase of a Real Time-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) machine that would help efforts for COVID-19 testing. On top of that, Cocolife has also made significant contributions to the efforts of both the government and non-government organizations in the frontlines, sending donations such as food, disinfectants, and face masks.
“We thought that the best way to move forward is to really emphasize the faith and trust we have in the Filipino: Filipino talent, Filipino values, the Filipino dream,” Martin says. “It’s really what the insurance business is all about. It’s about helping people capture their dreams no matter what happens, the best way we can. I am optimistic that humanity will come out of this better and kinder to one another.”
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