Sun Life Eyes Efficiency Bump Taking Covid Habits Back to Office

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Sun Life Financial Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dean Connor can’t wait to get his employees back to the office -- but that doesn’t mean he wants everyone working how they did before the pandemic.

The technology investments Sun Life made to help workers during the crisis will make them even more productive after they return to the office, including in sales-intensive businesses including the MFS Investment Management unit, Connor said Thursday.

“Their wholesalers are more productive with virtual contacts with clients, rather than jumping on a plane, flying to Chicago for the day, meeting two distribution partners and then flying home again,” Connor said in an interview. “The sales productivity has taken a giant step upward, and so a lot of those productivity gains we think we can lock in and will persist as markets reopen.”

Sun Life won’t return to face-to-face work five days a week and will instead leave decisions about office and remote time up to employees and their managers, the CEO said. The life insurer and asset manager hasn’t set a time line for bringing employees back, and dates are likely to vary by geography, Connor said.

Even before Covid-19 struck, Sun Life was moving toward a more-flexible work environment, said President Kevin Strain, who’s set to succeed Connor as CEO in August. The firm decided it can reduce its North American office space by 15%, Strain said.

Read more: Sun Life Profit In Line With Estimates as Canada Unit Rebounds

That plan contributed to a C$57 million ($47 million) charge against first-quarter earnings to break leases and invest in technology, Strain said. Sun Life on Wednesday reported first-quarter net income more than doubled to C$937 million, or C$1.59 a share. Profit excluding some items was C$1.45 a share, just missing analysts’ C$1.46 average estimate.

“There are times when it’s more efficient to be working in the office, where that collaboration is needed,” Strain said in an interview. “So we’ll be doing some technology work in our space as well to recognize that we’ll likely increasingly be in an agile work environment.”

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