President, Sumitomo Life Insurance Company
Career: Sumitomo Life Insurance Company, 1966–1997, various positions; 1997–2000, managing director; 2000–2001, vice president; 2001–, president.
■ Shinichi Yokoyama was employed for most of his life at the same company—Sumitomo Life Insurance, rising from an entry-level position to become the president of the company. He gained so much respect from colleagues as he climbed the company ladder that when the head of the Life Insurance Association of Japan stepped down, Yokoyama was immediately asked to fill the position. As head of the association, Yokoyama was the spokesman for all five major insurance companies in Japan. When the Japanese economy began to decline in the late 1990s and the Japanese government passed laws to allow insurance companies to lower their yields to insurers, Yokoyama took a strong stand by calling the change "socially and legally unacceptable" (Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, July 19, 2002). His first concern was always for his company's customers.
Yokoyama joined the Sumitomo Life Insurance Company in 1966. There he worked his way up through the company, showing such an instinctive understanding of the insurance industry that by 1997 he had become the managing director of Sumitomo. At that time he decided to purchase the most advanced software for company business, leading the way for other Japanese insurers.
A NEW PRESIDENT
Yokoyama was promoted to vice president of Sumitomo Life in April 2000. He held the position for only a year, however, as he became the company's president in 2001 when Koichi Yoshida retired. Yokoyama was quoted in the Japan Weekly Monitor as saying that he aimed "to make the company 'reliable and strong' while increasing its profitability by pursuing in-house reforms" (May 14, 2001). Yokoyama took charge of Sumitomo Life at a time when its customers had been made anxious by lower rates of return on their policies. He saw his first duty as strengthening the company so that customers could purchase life insurance without fear. He was also true to his interest in technological advances in that he learned more about mobile communications devices in order to improve sales. The Yomiuri Shimbun said that Yokoyama "got off to a good start in his new post" (July 10, 2001).
At the same time that Yokoyama became president of Sumitomo Life, the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation was launched as a joint venture of the Mitsui and Sumitomo Groups. The Mitsui Banking Corporation had an affiliated life insurance company known as Mitsui Mutual, and some observers suggested merging Mitsui Mutual with Sumitomo Life. Yokoyama, however, told the press that his company would not participate in a merger that held no benefits for it. He stated that Sumitomo Life would not object to future cooperation with Mitsui, but had no intention of a formal merger. He was confident that his company could stand on its own.
The Life Insurance Association of Japan announced in 2002 that it was replacing its current vice-chief Yuzuru Fujita, who wished to leave, with Yokoyama. The position had always been held on a rotating basis by the presidents of the five major life insurance companies in Japan. It was an honor to be chosen for the job, which had the side benefit of giving Yokoyama more frequent opportunities to promote his ideas.
PROBLEMS WITH THE GOVERNMENT
In 2003 the Japanese government intervened to help life insurance companies threatened with financial ruin due to the combination of a troubled stock market and high-yield insurance settlements. The law permitted the insurance companies to lower yields on existing accounts and make lower payouts. Most companies, however, did not approve of the government's measure. Yokoyama, as the new head of the Life Insurance Association, was adamantly opposed to the law, choosing to protect his insured customers instead. Despite falling stock market prices, Yokoyama told insurers that he did not think it was either right or possible for life insurance companies to lower guaranteed yields. He told the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire that "Cutting yields would mean breaking promises to policyholders" (September 20, 2002). This statement was con sistent with Yokoyama's position throughout his career. He was reported in the Europe Intelligence Wire as having said, "Japan's life insurers should resolve not to use the new law…. 'Management must be determined not to use it'" (July 31, 2003). Yokoyama was afraid that a cut by one insurer would result in a wave of policy cancellations. He told the Jap anese House of Representatives that "… discussions about a law revision should be conducted from the standpoint of in vestor protection," according to the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire (June 4, 2003).
As head of the Life Insurance Association, Yokoyama also asked the Bank of Japan in 2003 to buy banking shares owned by insurers and nonprofit companies to help stabilize the country's weakened stock market. According to the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, Yokoyama "stressed that the health of do mestic life insurers remain sound despite recent weakness in stock prices" (November 15, 2002). Although the markets had not improved significantly by 2004, Yokoyama was still protecting policyholders across Japan.
See also entry on Sumitomo Life Insurance Company in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
"BOJ Should Buy Bank Shares: Life Insurance Ind. Head," Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, April 18, 2003.
"Company Heads Face Challenges with Optimism," Yomiuri Shimbun, July 10, 2001.
"Guaranteed Yield Cut Impossible: Japan Life Insurers' Leader," Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, July 19, 2002.
"Guaranteed Yields Cannot Be Lowered: Life Insurance Ind. Leader," Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, September 20, 2002.
"Industry Head Urges Insurers Not to Cut Guaranteed Yields," Japan Weekly Monitor, June 24, 2003.
"Japan Life Insurers in Sound Health: Yokoyama," Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, November 15, 2002.
"No Problem in Japan Life Insurer's Solvency Margins: Ind. Leader," Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, October 18, 2002.
"Paying a High Price?" Europe Intelligence Wire, July 31, 2003.
"Sumitomo Life Not to Join Holding Firm Eyed by Sumitomo Mitsui," Japan Weekly Monitor, July 22, 2002.
"Sumitomo Life Pres. Says No Merger Planned with Mitsui Mutual," Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, July 2, 2003.
"Sumitomo Life to Promote Yokoyama to President," Japan Weekly Monitor, May 14, 2001.
—Catherine Victoria Donaldson