Sun Life Opens Global HQ, Positions Itself as Fintech Leader

Sun Life Financial officially opened its new corporate headquarters in Toronto’s south core financial district. The new location is now home to the insurance leader’s 2,000 Canadian based employees.

Occupying 17 of the 35 floors in the One York Street 800,000 square-foot tower, Sun Life customized their multi-floor office to house more than 400 breakout rooms and meeting spaces.

At the opening, Sun Life CEO Dean Connor noted how the area was “once a sea of parking lots and free way ramps” and today is a vibrant beehive of activity that he said reflects who Sun Life is as a company. Each floor has ceiling-high windows and collaborative spaces, and the office is embracing environmentally friendly features.

Sun Life is reducing energy use during peak hours, leveraging solar panels on the roof, and using less paper—which Connor quipped he knows is “hard to believe” for an insurance company.

Speaking about the bright and sustainable building, Connor said the office aligns with Sun Life’s transformation as a digital leader in the insurance industry as the company is leveraging the latest in data, analytics and digital innovation to create solutions for their clients.

Those changes are reflected in the Ignite Studio, an entire floor dedicated to digital and client innovations, including AI and machine learning initiatives.

Alice Thomas, Sun Life’s chief digital technology officer, said they traveled to Silicon Valley and toured Google, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as startups to get inspiration for the design of the company’s very own innovation hub.

Thomas said that when she first joined Sun Life a decade ago, she thought of it as an “old insurance company.”

“When I saw the creative, innovative projects we were doing, I was totally blown away,” she said. “We are—I would say—one of the best-kept secrets in the market. I think we are a bit conservative…innovation and new technologies are really our competitive edge.”

Sun Life leveraged natural language processing to create a smart digital coach dubbed Ella which integrates with Google Home to help clients. They’ve also launched chat bots and are applying AI and analytics to big data to find customer patterns.

Thomas said that while they are compared to other insurance industry, she sees her real competitors are tech giants like Google and Facebook.

“Comparing ourself to insurance companies is not a good marker. We have to be looking outside. When we visit startups and companies in Silicon Valley, you get such inspiration,” explained Thomas. “The kinds of things they are doing, we can be doing. They are cultural. They are physical spaces. They are about how you hire. We can duplicate those things easily.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory also attended the opening and remarked how Sun Life’s new office is truly a global headquarters.

“There are not too many genuine Canadian-based multinational companies, and Sun Life is one of them,” said Tory. “I think that’s something we can be very proud of.”