Jef Lacson

The Maestro Orchestrating Financial Success in the Insurance Industry

Jef Lacson

Regional/Group Deputy CFO, Controller (Asia),

Pacific Cross

Jef Lacson’s journey began with a dream of becoming a computer engineer. However, life took an unexpected turn due to his demanding role as a student assistant and scholar. These responsibilities steered him towards the path of accountancy, setting the stage for his eventual rise to the role of Regional Deputy CFO/Controller (Asia) at Pacific Cross.
In his current role at Pacific Cross, Jef, who assumed this position in 2021 in the Philippines, oversees diverse financial functions, including financial management, planning, tax strategies, accounting, and comprehensive financial reporting. Within two months, he transitioned to the Regional Office, where he manages territories spanning the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Samoa, Thailand, and Vietnam, with a focus on IFRS 17 and operational excellence.
Before joining Pacific Cross, Jef held leadership positions in finance at various insurance organisations, including AIG, where he managed regional insurance operations and finance functions across the Philippines, Guam, and Micronesia. His career also included local leadership roles at QBE Insurance and Nat-Re, where he oversaw finance and led functions like transformation, IT, compliance, and internal audit.
Jef’s career began at KPMG Advisory, offering exposure to high-profile engagements across Asia. He holds several certifications and accreditations, such as CPA, CIA, CISA, CLSSGB, FICD, CII (Award), and ACPA, along with a master’s in business economics from the University of Asia and the Pacific, with a thesis focusing on InsurTech. His contributions to the insurance industry earned him recognition as one of the 12 up-and-coming professionals under 36 by Insurance Business Asia in 2020 and as one of the 25 most inspiring young professionals in the Philippines by Professionals of the Future in 2018. Beyond his career, Jef is a passionate advocate, engaging in speaking and training programmes in various countries, emphasising leadership development, insurance, and financial awareness.
TradeFlock interviewed Jef to understand his journey, challenges, strategies, and learning.

What are some of the challenges that you face, and what is your strategy to tackle them?

There are several, but I would like to focus on the health insurance ones.
A key challenge we face is rising healthcare costs, especially post-pandemic, leading to higher premium prices. To tackle this, we’re enhancing agility by boosting productivity, reshaping our portfolio, innovating new models, and optimising resource allocation.
In regions with limited public health coverage, mainly in developing countries, we’re creating tailored, affordable health insurance products. Our ESG initiatives focus on community well-being through health education and crisis response.
The rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, driven by demographics, technological advancements, and infrastructure limitations, poses another challenge. We respond with digital transformation and advanced tools for improved service.
In summary, my strategy involves staying informed, using technology, fostering collaboration, and customising financial management. Continuous learning and adaptability are vital in the dynamic health insurance sector.

How do you manage cultural and regulatory challenges in Asia while ensuring financial compliance and integrity?

Navigating the intricacies of cultural diversity and regulatory variations across Asian markets is a paramount challenge. To address this, we employ a multifaceted approach. Firstly, we prioritise a deep understanding of each market’s idiosyncrasies and preferences, relying on extensive market research and analysis. This knowledge helps us customise our offerings to align with local demands, whether it involves traditional medicine, hospitalisation coverage, or digital channels.
Secondly, we maintain strict compliance with local regulations and policies. This entails close collaboration with local authorities and our internal experts to ensure that any changes in controls or processes meet the specific regulatory requirements of each territory.
Lastly, we leverage regional resources and capabilities to achieve synergies and best practices while respecting cultural sensitivities and regulatory intricacies. This approach not only facilitates economies of scale but also enables us to effectively navigate the challenges presented by cultural diversity and regulatory complexities, all while maintaining unwavering financial compliance and integrity.

How can the right culture be cultivated to nurture CFOs capable of influencing the largest continent with their leadership?

Certain critical elements are essential to foster CFOs who can impact Asia positively. Firstly, instill a global mindset and cross-cultural awareness, as Asia’s diversity demands an understanding of varied markets, regulations, and cultures. Effective communication and collaboration across functions and stakeholders are vital. Secondly, cultivate an innovative and agile culture to adapt to rapid industry changes driven by factors like the pandemic, technology, and evolving customer expectations. Lastly, invest in talent development and retention through competitive compensation, growth opportunities, flexible work arrangements, and skill nurturing. These elements empower CFOs to thrive in Asia’s diverse markets.

Which financial metrics and KPIs are your top priorities to ensure stability and growth in various Asian regions?

In our current health insurance landscape in Asia, we prioritise several key financial metrics and KPIs to ensure both stability and growth, especially considering the impact of COVID-19.
The pandemic significantly increased the demand for healthcare services, disrupted supply chains, and introduced operational challenges for health insurers. Consequently, we closely monitor the claims/loss ratio, including reserve adequacy, to gauge the profitability and sustainability of our underwriting and pricing strategies, as well as our risk management capabilities. This metric is assessed alongside the combined ratio, providing insights into our overall efficiency and performance.
COVID-19 also accelerated the growth and diversification of the health insurance market, presenting opportunities and challenges such as expanding our customer base, digital transformation, product innovation, and competition from new entrants. Therefore, we keep a keen eye on our revenue growth rate and customer retention rate to adapt to the evolving and expanding market.
Furthermore, the dynamic regulatory and policy environment significantly impacts our products and services, along with the associated incentives and penalties from regulatory agencies. These factors are integral to our financial decision-making, ensuring compliance and strategic alignment in each of our Asian territories.
These critical indicators enable us to make informed resource allocation decisions, ensuring financial stability and fostering growth across the diverse regions within our Asian group.

How do you assess and manage the financial health of your company's global supply chain and vendor relationships?

In my role, ensuring the financial health of our regional supply chain and vendor relationships is paramount. This involves regular financial audits and performance reviews, assessing key metrics for efficiency, effectiveness, profitability, and sustainability. Drawing from past experience, I’ve implemented strategic sourcing aligned with our goals, aiding supplier selection, favourable terms negotiation, and performance monitoring. Digital tools streamline processes, enhancing efficiency and compliance.
By combining financial analysis, risk management, compliance oversight, and proactive vendor relationship management, we ensure the financial robustness of our global supply chain and vendor partnerships, fostering financial stability and driving sustainable growth for our organisation.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring CFOs?

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform of spreading ideas that work” – Seth Godin.
Being a CFO is like being an iceberg; what others see is the tip of the role, but underneath it is an enormous responsibility to carry a company’s future.
For aspiring CFOs, my advice is to think big, start small, work hard to establish yourself, and then work smart to maintain your success. Regardless of your path, approach it with dedication and wholehearted effort.