The chairman of the Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association (Pira) was unanimously chosen to head the Asean Insurance Council (AIC) during the 41st AIC Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia , last week.

Michael F. Rellosa, 54, and president of Fortune General Insurance, succeeded Mr. Chua Seck Guan, chairman of the Persatuan Insurans Am Malaysia or the General Insurance Association of Malaysia. He would serve a term of one year.

On top of being the new AIC head, Rellosa also chairs the AIC’s Education Committee, a post he has held since last year.

Rellosa said the AIC is facing major challenges as the region enters the period of economic integration. He expressed concern over the growing risks from climate change which he believes must be addressed by the AIC as a united front.

“The need to unite and collaborate with each other is felt now more than in any point of AIC’s history. It is my goal to see a more active collaboration among all of us in the region,” he said.

Asean becomes a single economy by January 2016, creating a region with a population of over 600 million and a combined GDP of $2.4 trillion.

Rellosa said there are still significant work to be done to fully integrate the insurance business in all of Asean.

Yet, he believes the need to integrate has taken on a greater urgency now.

“Cities are expanding and people are prospering. We have more at stake—more at stake not just in each other’s success, but also in each other’s failure,” he said.

Rellosa noted that the region is very vulnerable to natural catastrophes. Extreme weather conditions are not only a bane of agriculture, which remains a major economic activity in Asean, but can also be severely disruptive to global manufacturing and supply chains that keep the region’s factories humming.

“In the past four years alone, we have witnessed three major catastrophes—the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, floods in Thailand, and the Supertyphoon Yolanda in our country. Economic losses resulting from these natural catastrophes have been a severe financial strain,” he said.

He said these natural catastrophes should be enough reason for insurers in the region to work hand in hand in promoting insurance to their respective countries.

“We have realized that we have more similarities than differences, that the problems confronting insurers in countries like the Philippines are the same problems confronting those in Cambodia or Vietnam,” he said.

One major challenge the AIC will address under Rellosa’s leadership is the low penetration rate of insurance in the region which, as studies show, is due to the lack of knowledge and appreciation of people on the importance of insurance.

“There is a need to educate people about the value of insurance and that need is true not only for the Philippines but in all Asean member-countries. And that is what we will prioritize this coming year,” he said.

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