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Ingrid Johnson, photographed at Sun Life's Toronto office building on Nov. 15, has stepped down as President of Sun Life Asia to take a newly created position as the company's vice-chair of strategic partnerships.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Sun Life Asia president Ingrid Johnson has stepped down to take a newly created position as Sun Life Financial Inc.’s SLF-T vice-chair of strategic partnerships, leaving the region as insurance sales continue to boom after lengthy pandemic lockdowns in early 2023.

Chief executive officer Kevin Strain announced Ms. Johnson’s move during an earnings call Wednesday, saying he will be conducting an executive search among both internal and external candidates for the new president of the Asia division and expects to announce a replacement within a month or so.

“Ingrid’s wealth of experience in global relationships and her relationship management skills, her work in supporting several Asia strategic partnerships, combined with her many years in profit and loss leadership, makes her an ideal leader to take on this executive role,” Mr. Strain said.

“We have relationships with different banks across Asia, as well as digital partnerships globally, where I see the opportunity to really look at how we can leverage these partnerships differently and to push growth.”

Ms. Johnson joined Sun Life at the end of 2021, just as Hong Kong declared a citywide lockdown as the number of COVID-19 cases began to spike. In addition to Hong Kong, Sun Life operates in mainland China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Together, the Asian operations account for more than 16.5 per cent of the company’s profits, up from just 6 per cent in 2011.

Sun Life profit surge driven in part by Asian economic recovery

Mr. Strain – who also spent five years leading Sun Life Asia – said he will oversee the Asian operations on an interim basis, along with chief financial officer Manjit Singh and chief client and innovation officer Chris Wei, who is located in Singapore. Ms. Johnson will also help in the transition.

The shift in executives comes after Canada’s second-largest insurer slightly missed analyst expectations Tuesday, reporting third-quarter “underlying” net income of $930-million, or $1.59 a share, down slightly from the $934-million, or $1.62 a share, reported in the same period last year. Analysts expected income of $1.63 a share, according to Bloomberg data.

Underlying net income strips out investment losses and makes other accounting adjustments.

Despite the small dip in earnings, Mr. Strain said the company continues to benefit from its diversified business model, which included strong net income in Canada, higher fee revenue at the insurer’s asset-management arm, SLC Management, and “good growth” in Asia.

“We are firing on all cylinders in Asia, and our intention is to keep Asia moving in the right direction,” Mr. Strain said during an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Total individual insurance sales for Asia were $521-million in the latest quarter, up 60 per cent year-over-year. The increase was largely driven by higher sales in Hong Kong, a region that has surpassed prepandemic sales levels since the border with mainland China reopened earlier this year.

Mr. Strain told The Globe he plans to focus on boosting sales in the other seven Asian regions. He said Hong Kong has seen “a lot of pent-up demand” coming out of the lockdown, but it won’t remain “at that level forever.”

The insurer’s U.S. business saw a 19-per-cent decline year-over-year in underlying net income, down US$33-million to US$140-million. The group-benefits business alone was down US$24-million, as it saw individual dental insurance sales drop after a change in Medicaid rules during the pandemic.

“During COVID-19, the public-health emergency made it so people could not be disenrolled from Medicaid – and that came to an end on May 11,” Sun Life U.S. president Dan Fishbein said during an earnings call.

Mr. Fishbein said the insurer had initially estimated a 12-per-cent drop in Medicaid membership over a 24-month period. But it’s closer to a 13.5-per-cent drop over 12 months. However, he said, about US$400-million of Medicare and Medicaid sales will see future additional premiums “added to the books during the first three quarters of 2024.″

Two other divisions that brought in positive growth were Sun Life’s Canadian division, which reported underlying net income of $338-million, up $45-million from the prior year, and Sun Life’s asset-management division, which reported underlying net income of $330-million, up 11 per cent year-over-year.

Follow Clare O’Hara on Twitter: @oharaclareOpens in a new window

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