Sun Life Financial (SLF.TO) president and CEO Dean Connor has been named Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year for 2017.

Connor was recognized for his leadership in successfully integrating recent company acquisitions, as well as growing the company’s new wealth and asset management businesses.

Connor sat down with BNN to discuss Sun Life’s recent successes and his outlook for both the company and the sector.

CONNOR ON SUN LIFE’S GROWTH IN ASIAN MARKETS:

“Asia is really an unbelievable opportunity for Sun Life and for our industry. Take Indonesia, for example. [it’s] the fourth most populous country in the world and 80 million people can now afford what our industry has to sell and only about 15 million people have actually bought anything.  So, the opportunity to grow is enormous as so many people - millions of people - move into the middle class and now have enough money and the wherewithal to buy what our industry has to sell.”

Dean Connor, Sun Life CEO and Outstanding CEO of the Year: Part Two

BNN sits down with the 2017 Outstanding CEO of the Year Dean Connor for a look at the company’s outlook for the coming year as well as the challenges of managing a financial institution in a low interest rate environment. We also look at how Canada compares to the U.S. when it comes to business red tape.

CONNOR ON THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING IN ASIA:

“There is a dearth of talent in our industry in Asia. So, we have been growing talent internally, we have been moving talent across from North America – that’s a great advantage by the way, coming from Canada, which is so multicultural. There are so many people from those Asian markets that can go and go and help us build those businesses there.”

“The second [challenge] is regulatory change. Nothing in Asia seems to go in a linear line and so just as one market is storming ahead, something is changing in another market: a new president gets elected in a market that can help or can hinder, or there are new limits on foreign direct investment. There is always something changing – it’s one of the things that makes Asia such a dynamic place.”

CONNOR ON RED TAPE IN CANADA VS. THE UNITED STATES

“Canada is an easier environment in terms of red tape. The U.S. is a complicated environment.  In our business when we file a new product we need to get approval from all 50 states. There is age discrimination and employment acts – these are well meaning pieces of legislation, with good social purpose – we like them and we respect them but, oh my gosh they are complicated to administer. And it’s not just one, it’s a lot. So, I think to the extent that [the Trump] administration can unravel some of that red tape without getting rid of the principal behind it, but trying to streamline it, make it simpler, I think that will be a big step forward.  The one thing that will be difficult though, is the powers that states have to regulate insurance businesses are not likely to change anytime soon and that just makes for a more complicated environment.”

Dean Connor, Sun Life CEO and Outstanding CEO of the Year: Part Three

BNN sits down with the 2017 Outstanding CEO of the Year Dean Connor for a look at the insurance executive’s management style, what he does to relax, and managing a diverse talent pool amid the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandals.

CONNOR ON THE FUTURE OF BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY IN THE INSURANCE SECTOR

“We are examining a number of use cases. One that we are working on with a number of financial institutions is verification of identity. It’s just a pain for clients to open up an account: you go to a bank and you show all of your identification, and then you come to open an RRSP with Sun Life or buy an insurance policy and you have to show all of that same identification over again. So, imagine a blockchain application where one institution could rely on the data that is in the blockchain that has been verified by other insurers and there is a single record that everyone could leverage.”

CONNOR ON MANAGING TALENT IN THE POST-WEINSTEIN SCANDAL ERA

Creating a culture that’s safe where people can feel respected, treated with dignity and respect where there is inclusion from people of all walks of life and all backgrounds is hugely important. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s really important for our business success because our business is all about attracting top talent and getting them to work in a collaborative way. So, all of those things around feeling safe to speak up on different issue – that’s actually critical to our success as a business.

The Outstanding CEO of the Year award was established in 1990 and supported by presenting partner Bennett Jones, media partners National Post and BNN, and founding partner Caldwell Partners. The award recognizes Canadian business leaders who exemplify integrity, trust and excellence in a globally competitive organization.

Connor will receive the award at a dinner held on Feb. 22 in Toronto.