Davos view: Manulife sustainability leader on an ageing challenge

People are living longer, but not always healthier, lives

Davos view: Manulife sustainability leader on an ageing challenge

Life & Health

By Jen Frost

People are living longer – but not necessarily healthier or more financially robust – lives and the World Economic Forum (WEF) has cautioned that the aging population phenomenon threatens to add to strain on economies and individuals across the globe.

The longevity economy challenge is one of many issues – from artificial intelligence (AI) to geopolitical strife – tackled by world and business leaders at the WEF Davos summit in January, and executives from global life insurer and asset manager Manulife were at the forefront of discussions.

“This is a global issue, no matter what market that you look at, and frankly people of all socio-economic backgrounds are dealing with this concept of longevity,” Manulife global chief sustainability officer Sarah Chapman (pictured) told Insurance Business on her return to North America from Davos, where the insurance and asset management business announced its investment in a longevity innovation initiative.

Life expectancy is increasing but health and financial outcomes are not keeping up – WEF

Life expectancy in most countries has doubled since 1900, and by 2050 2.1 billion people are expected to be aged 60 or over.

The shift in age demographics, buoyed by decades of declining birth rates, has been labelled an inevitability by the WEF.

Meanwhile, WEF research has found that many people are not ready or able to fund the latter years of their extended lifespans, something that the forum has sought to tackle through six key principles.

From financial instability and unexpected career breaks to social isolation and medical expense burdens, individuals and societies face a raft of barriers to living healthier and economically sustainable longer lives.

What are the WEF’s six principles for the longevity economy?

The WEF has set out six principles for the longevity economy:

  • Ensure financial resilience across key life events
  • Provide universal access to impartial financial education
  • Prioritise healthy ageing as foundational for the longevity economy
  • Evolve jobs and lifelong skill-building for a multigenerational workforce
  • Design systems and environments for social connection and purpose
  • Intentionally address longevity inequalities, including across gender, race and class

Manulife seeks to build longevity solutions through WEF UpLink partnership

Toronto-headquartered insurance and asset management giant Manulife hopes that its collaboration with the WEF on the three-year longevity UpLink initiative, which is set to support innovators to build longevity-focused solutions across finance, health and well-being, will allow it to play a part in tackling global gaps that threaten to pile pressure on people and economies as the ageing population trend continues.

“We are addressing this through our products and our services and our engagement with our customers, but we feel it’s important to be invested in all stages of the innovation ecosystem,” Chapman said. “But we’re likely only going to address the longevity challenge with technology solutions that we don’t even know are possible yet – and so for us, it’s really important to be a part of that early-stage innovation cycle as well.”

It is the second year running that Manulife has partnered with WEF open innovation platform UpLink, having in 2023 supported 21 early stage ‘ecopreneurs’ through two streams looking at forestry and the connection between planetary and human health.

Shared value – why Manulife’s WEF UpLink longevity partnership is not just about altruism

The latest multi-million-dollar UpLink longevity investment is not entirely altruistic. As a life and health insurer, a healthier population should prove more beneficial for Manulife’s future bottom line than an unhealthy one, and Chapman pointed to the concept of “shared value”.

Companies have, in recent decades, increasingly looked to shared value and collective-impact initiatives to effect change, not just for potential reputational and trust-building benefits but also because far-reaching problems at a societal and global level threaten to impact their businesses and may be of such a scope that private-sector investment is needed to tackle them, the Harvard Business Review has reported.

Manulife’s work on longevity, then, fits into this broader trend.

“It’s no secret that, as a licensed health insurance company, it is in our interest to help people be healthier and live longer,” Chapman said. “It’s better for our business, it’s better for communities and it’s better for the world.”

Public trust dynamics driving businesses to effect change – Manulife’s Chapman

Recent research has suggested that the public sees a strong role for business in driving change, with both high-income and low-income earners across the globe more likely to put their trust in business over government, NGOs or the media when it comes to integrating innovation into society, the Edelman 2024 Trust Barometer, the results from which were debuted at Davos, found.

“Trust in businesses has been increasing year over year for a long period of time, as trust in government, media and non-profit organisations either stalls or declines depending on the year,” Chapman said. “What that tells you is that people are looking to businesses to help drive that change, and that changes the role of companies – not only do we need to have a voice in the right and credible areas, but we need to help drive change.”

World leaders convened at Davos under the overarching theme of ‘rebuilding trust’, with the world facing geopolitical and economic turmoil.

For Manulife’s Chapman, there appeared to be “two spheres of conversation” at Davos: one focused around the world’s fragility, with more than two billion voters set to hit the polls across 50 countries this year, and another full of “examples of innovation, hope and inspiration” that suggested, in at least some cases, humanity may be on the right track.

Do you have an idea that might help tackle the global longevity economy challenge? What were your key takeaways from the WEF at Davos this year? Share a comment below.

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