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Asia Adapts To COVID-19 Norm, But Health And Financial Concerns Linger

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DigitalCFO Newsroom | 19 January 2022

Almost half of people living in Asia have accepted that COVID-19 is here to stay for another year or more and have changed their habits to match the new normal despite certain concerns.

Almost half of people living in Asia have accepted that COVID-19 is here to stay for another year or more and have changed their health, digital, and financial habits to match the new normal, amid continued concerns about their income and overall wellbeing, according to new research from Manulife.

Manulife Asia Care Survey 2022 Infographic

More than one in three people (35%) surveyed as part of Manulife’s third Asia Care Survey say that they think the pandemic will last at least another year, with an additional 14% of them thinking that it will never end. Regionwide, 44% say their income has dropped as a result of COVID-19, with about two thirds (64%) having savings to last less than one year if they lose their income. However, while concerns about the economy and longevity of the pandemic persist, the public has learned to adapt and take control of their overall health and finances, especially in the face of Omicron and other variants.

“Unsurprisingly, people across Asia are fatigued by more than two years of living through a pandemic, with many unprepared for how long COVID-19 has lasted,” said Anil Wadhwani, President and CEO, Manulife Asia. “Our survey findings reveal that there have been profound adjustments in people’s behaviour, lifestyles, and broader physical, mental, and financial habits since last year.”

Mental Health Concerns On The Rise

Findings of the survey reveal that mental health issues are more prevalent this year than last year with more than two thirds of respondents experiencing symptoms of mental health concerns in the past six months, including sleeping difficulties, inability to concentrate, excessive worrying, and mood swings. Depression ranks fourth among health concerns across all markets (25%), with anxiety (18%) and burnout (14%) also included. Apart from COVID-19, the top health concerns worrying people in Asia include cancer (41%), heart disease (33%), stroke (29%) and diabetes (22%).

A third of respondents also note that their main concern about COVID-19 is that the local economy will take a long time to recover (33%). Other concerns include worsening mental health (18%), high medical costs (17%) and lack of insurance to protect themselves and their family (15%).

The need for greater understanding and awareness of some of the issues around COVID-19 was one of the more interesting findings in the survey. It is worth noting that some of the symptoms of mental health problems overlap with those of Long COVID or the long-term effects of coronavirus. Familiarity with Long COVID is surprisingly low at 35% across Asia. However, interest is high, with 94% wanting to know more about it and find insurance solutions to help protect them.

Household Savings Low, Despite Better Saving Habits

The financial implications of the pandemic continue to be felt across the region, exposing disparities in the savings patterns and long-term wealth planning of people in the region. While two in five (43%) respondents in Asia say they have saved more since the start of the pandemic, two thirds (64%) say they have savings that can only support them for a year or less, if they lose their jobs.

The primary reason for this is an overall limit on the amount of money that people can actually save. Nearly half (44%) of the respondents say they saw a decline in their monthly incomes as a result of COVID-19. Interestingly, about one in five (18%) people living in Asia say they have started their own businesses on top of their full-time or part-time jobs.

“The growing concerns about physical, mental, and financial health are understandable given the pressures people have been under to protect their health, family, and finances since the start of the pandemic,” said Julie Nestor, Chief Marketing and Experience Design Officer, Manulife Asia. “It’s now more important than ever for us to help ease those concerns, for example, with simple, affordable insurance products that can go a long way towards building a foundation for resilience and security.”

Appetite For Insurance Remains High, With More Exercising And Using Health Apps

Interest in buying new and additional insurance remains high, with 71% of respondents saying they plan to purchase an insurance product this year. A variety of products are in demand with the more popular insurance products being life (28%) and health (28%), followed by hospitalisation and critical illness (each at 26%). In Asia, 66% see retirement planning as important since the pandemic, which is reflected in 19% of respondents being interested in buying retirement products in the next 12 months.

The survey found that the main barriers for people to buy insurance are affordability (39%) and finding products too complicated to understand (37%). Ideally, people are looking for simple insurance products that can be purchased quickly online (64%), particularly among consumers from emerging markets.

Mobile apps to monitor and track health status are popular, with nearly nine in 10 people (89%) saying that they are using, or are open to using, health and wellbeing apps. In the region, two in five people (40%) also say they are exercising more since the start of the pandemic. Over half (52%) of the respondents in Asia prefer outdoor exercise, with walking (57%), jogging (50%), and cycling (27%) among the three most common physical activities. Interestingly, a majority identified the benefits of regular exercise as a means to boost immunity (67%) and improve mental health (64%).

“What this survey ultimately shows is that we are all in this together,” Wadhwani added. “While people in Asia have adapted pragmatically by staying healthy and getting insured, there is more we can do to proactively help them live better every day with simpler health and retirement solutions, easier access to digital health offerings, like telemedicine, and meaningful rewards to motivate healthier lifestyles with our home-grown behavioural insurance platform, ManulifeMOVE.”

About Manulife Asia Care Survey

This research undertaken by Manulife takes a deep dive look into the concerns, priorities, and aspirations of people living across Asia amid COVID-19. Two previous surveys were conducted in November 2020 and May 2020. This latest version was conducted in November 2021 via online self-completed questionnaires in eight markets across Asia, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam. A total of 8,276 people, aged 25 to 60 years old, were surveyed. The respondents included insurance owners and those who did not own insurance but intend to purchase it.

About Manulife

Manulife Financial Corporation is a leading international financial services provider that helps people make their decisions easier and lives better. With our global headquarters in Toronto, Canada, we provide financial advice and insurance, operating as Manulife across Canada, Asia, and Europe, and primarily as John Hancock in the United States. Through Manulife Investment Management, the global brand for our global wealth and asset management segment, we serve individuals, institutions and retirement plan members worldwide. At the end of 2020, we had more than 37,000 employees, over 118,000 agents, and thousands of distribution partners, serving over 30 million customers. As of September 30, 2021, we had CAD$1.4 trillion (US$1.1 trillion) in assets under management and administration, and in the previous 12 months we made CAD$31.6 billion in payments to our customers.

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