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Letter to shareholders from John Cassaday 
Chairman of the Board

John M. Cassaday
Chairman of the Board

Read more about John

Fellow shareholders,

Last year in this letter, we highlighted how Manulife was focused on achieving success while always doing the right thing. This year, against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic, another of Manulife’s values serves as a helpful lens through which to reflect on the year that passed: sharing our humanity.

In a year like no other, your Board is proud of Manulife’s many accomplishments achieved under the strong and empathetic leadership of Roy Gori, President and CEO, and your company’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT). We are also humbled by the resilience, agility, and passion shown by every Manulife employee around the world who continued to serve our company’s customers through the uncertainty and upheaval unfolding around them on a daily basis.

Even as our businesses had to adjust quickly and dramatically in response to the pandemic, we ensured that everyone at Manulife understood the importance of human kindness—to our customers, communities, and colleagues alike—and that we never lost sight of a simple but powerful fact: we are all in this together

We were thrilled to be able to offer a thank-you day off to employees, as well as a “pay it forward” grant, through our Act of Kindness program, which enabled employees to make a monetary donation to a charity of their choice in their local communities. We also saw the importance of making a range of mental, physical, and other supports available to our employees. We were gratified to see employee engagement scores rise substantially across the organization in 2020. 

Sharing our humanity also encompasses our strong commitment to diversity, equity, and the inclusive culture and workplace we are building. As the fight against racism took on heightened urgency in 2020, Manulife responded with a meaningful financial investment to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, in addition to establishing concrete leadership and recruitment goals to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour across its North American businesses. 

Manulife also introduced substantial enhancements to our maternity leave program and added parental and adoption leave, leading surrogacy and fertility benefits, and coverage for gender affirmation services.

Your Board’s activities in 2020

While the pandemic showed us how a global crisis can upend even the best laid plans, your Board’s top priority was ensuring we could continue to provide oversight and guidance to the management team virtually. 

We successfully leveraged technology to continue to interact with each other during our Board sessions. We gathered ongoing director feedback to confirm that our effectiveness was not being impacted and that all directors still felt their voices were being heard. While we will eventually meet again in person, once it is safe to do so, we’ve also learned that there’s no need for every meeting to be in person, and that avoiding lengthy travel could make us a more effective group without sacrificing the connectedness that we currently value and enjoy.

John M. Cassaday
Chairman of the Board

Read more about John

Manulife’s Board of Directors met virtually in 2020. From top left: Nicole Arnaboldi, Guy Bainbridge, Joseph Caron, John Cassaday, Susan Dabarno, John Palmer, Sheila Fraser, Roy Gori, Julie Dickson, Donald Lindsay, Tsun-yan Hsieh, Andrea Rosen, Jim Prieur, and Leagh Turner.

As Chairman, it was critically important to maintain personal contact with our independent directors and executive leaders—and we did so with an even greater frequency than is usual. This helped ensure that our directors’ voices were heard and that the tone at the top was appropriate. It also signalled to management that there was always a way to be heard by the Board.

As the pandemic unfolded, we set up frequent briefings with management, as well as informal updates with Roy, to ensure that your Board had a clear line of sight into the company’s COVID-19 response, its approach for an eventual return to the office, and overall progress on its strategic priorities. 

We also continued to leverage your Board’s diverse mix of skills to conduct focused deep dives into topics of key importance to Manulife, such as IFRS 17 implementation, customer centricity, macroeconomic trends, and strategy. These sessions were attended by a subset of directors having expertise in the relevant area and who provided context and input into our deliberations with the full Board.  

The Board maintained close oversight of Manulife’s near- and long-term strategy throughout the year, in particular the large and compelling growth opportunity presented by the company’s business in Asia and Global Wealth and Asset Management. We also held a number of virtual in-depth sessions focused on leadership succession and talent to help ensure Manulife maintains an exceptional level of bench strength in terms of management leadership and Board stewardship alike.

Our shareholder outreach and annual meeting also became virtual, but we remained as dedicated as always to discussing what matters to our investors. Among other matters, we held fulsome and robust conversations with shareholders on the topic of executive compensation and our preparations for the adoption of IFRS 17.

Your Board continued to take an active role in Manulife’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance. The Board’s Corporate Governance and Nominating Committee reviewed the progress being made against Manulife’s sustainability framework and stayed informed of ESG trends, risks, and opportunities through management reporting.

Two new directors joined the Board in 2020, each with expertise in areas critical to Manulife’s ongoing growth. Nicole Arnaboldi, former Vice Chairman, Credit Suisse Asset Management, is an accomplished financial services executive with a depth of critical wealth and asset management knowledge. Leagh Turner, President and Chief Operating Officer at Ceridian HCM Holding Inc., brings extensive experience in leadership, technology, and driving transformational change, and is a passionate supporter of diversity. 

We are proud to report that six of our 13 independent directors are women, effectively reaching our aspiration of gender parity in representation among independent directors.

Thank you

In closing, we would like to thank the Honourable Rona Ambrose, who resigned as a director in August 2020 to accept a full-time employment position. We valued the advice and counsel she provided during her three years on the Board.

We would also like to express our appreciation to Roy and the ELT for delivering a year of solid results during the worst global crisis in recent history, all while continuing to go above and beyond for customers and engaging and inspiring the team with values-driven leadership. 

We want to send a special thank you to every Manulife employee. Your unwavering commitment to our mission and values, and the passion you’ve shown in the face of intense adversity, is what makes Manulife’s success possible, day in and day out. The Board sends you its unreserved gratitude for your continued service.

And last but certainly not least, we want to thank you, our fellow shareholders, for your trust, support, and candor. While the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Manulife are united by a powerful sense of togetherness and a firm belief that we will come out of this crisis stronger than ever.


John Cassaday
Chairman of the Board

Download Manulife Financial Corporation’s 2020 Annual Report