And the winner is…

And the winner is…
It is in difficult times that we identify the best managers. In good times it is much more complicated to find out which insurers have outstanding executives since the whole industry tends to show strong figures not only in terms of sales but also in terms of profit. According to me an outstanding Chief Executive Officer (CEO) should gather – among others – the following skills: Humility: Managing an insurance company (of any kind, midsized or large) is a complex mission and nobody can achieve great performance alone. Therefore CEOs need to structure their organization optimally and find the right people for each strategic position. The choice of adequate human resources is particularly important in core areas such as risk management and IT since the main business of insurance consists in managing different types of risks and analysing risk requires mastering data qualitatively and quantitatively. Vision: The most important key role of a CEO consists in defining a relevent strategy, communicating it appropriately at each level of the hierarchy and delegating optimally the implementation of corresponding actions. There are many ways to define a strategy but there are not many executives combining outstanding reasoning ability with a deep vision of the future. Understanding (or feeling) what the future holds is a strength that only a handful of CEOs in the insurance industry have been able to demonstrate in the past decade. Focus: As soon as a long-term strategy has been determined and appropriate goals defined, CEOs should keep focused and avoid changing their perspectives if no external factors alter significantly their actions plan. Of course, a high level of reactivity is necessary when parameters influencing a business model become very volatile but overall insurance companies that have meticulously evaluated all external factors through different scenarios do not generally need to change drastically their plans but will be just required to proceed with tactical adjustments. “Focus” means also being determined to achieve long-term objectives. In other words, CEOs should avoid getting trapped in a logic consisting in guessing only what the company figures will be at the end of the next financial quarter. This is certainly one of the most difficult constraints today’s CEOs in all industries have to face: impatience of shareholders. In summary, a great CEO should be at least a great visionary demonstrating outstanding skills at finding the best people and appointing them where they can bring the highest value for the organization. In addition, he/she should demonstrate a strong ability to articulate logically a strategy and to communicate it appropriately down the hierarchy levels. Finally, he/she should keep a strong focus on established plans and long-term objectives. Since the beginning of the financial crisis back in autumn 2007, I have been thinking many times about which financial companies will get out of this crisis as the winners and the losers. As months have passed, we have seen many CEOs in the financial services industry being under pressure, stepping down or even being sacked. Even though it might be too early to give awards taking into consideration that the economic crisis we are currently experiencing could generate additional surprising news, I strongly believe that Zurich Financial Services (ZFS) is one of the insurance players that have managed to take advantage of this difficult and uncertain environment so far. According to me, its CEO – James Schiro – represents a good example of an executive demonstrating a high level of humility, vision and focus.

The Web 2.0. attitude and the insurance industry

The Web 2.0. attitude and the insurance industry

When discussing with most of my friends about my job and the insurance industry, I am often told that insurance is not interesting or is one of the least innovative sectors among the financial services industry. Of course, I don’t agree with them and sometimes I have to argue fiercely to demonstrate that their perception is exaggerated. Web 2.0. and its related-technologies are good examples where some insurance companies have already launched interesting initiatives. Based on contacts I have established so far, I have decided to work on a research, whose objectives are to provide some examples of Web 2.0. initiatives launched by insurers and to understand how the sector perceives and evaluates the value of Web 2.0. initiatives in the long-run. While the first objective seems to be relatively easy to achieve, I expect some difficulties with the second one.

In a report published last year called “Capturing the Strategic Value of IT: A Review of IT Investment Evaluation Methods”, I have tried to analyze how insurers can prioritize IT investments and better evaluate the strategic impacts these types of investments can have on their business. Some projects related to social networking launched by insurers are typically the kind of investments, where the question of value is of highest relevance. Of course, entering the blogosphere or a presence in Second Life contribute to launching a signal of modernity and dynamism to potential clients. But do these initiatives really generate new sales or can the new perceived image of an insurer following such initiatives indirectly trigger more referrals? How do insurers evaluate the results of these projects and what factors and criterias are particularly important to them when deciding to adopt the Web 2.0. attitude? Even though insurers’ Web 2.0. initiatives give me some interesting stories to tell to my friends when they tease me about my job and the insurance industry, they do not answer the most important question: what value can they bring to insurers? You will therefore understand that I am very excited and curious to hear what CIOs, marketing managers or other people responsible for such projects within insurance organizations will tell me when I will raise this question! My expectations are high and I hope I will be able to provide interesting findings to my future readers.

Celebrities meet insurance: Is insurance really that cool?

Celebrities meet insurance: Is insurance really that cool?

It is January when Christmas parties are over, belts a little tighter (metaphorical and physical) and you’re running out of recipes for the re-use of Turkey. Here in the UK, the television schedule can often be relied upon to cheer you up with festive specials of your favourite show (and who can forget the hypnotic draw of the Queen’s speech). What one doesn’t expect is to be entertained by adverts for insurance.

I will make a confession to having a little soft spot for the mascots of UK insurance television ads with the notable exception of the talking bulldog who makes me channel swap with alacrity. The animated phone (who now has a cute little friend when selling pet insurance) and the dapper little blue mouse who has unlimited energy and enthusiasm all bring a smile to my face. Do they make me buy insurance? Well, I’ll leave that to the marketers to debate but I will concede that these cute little tykes do help keep the brand on top of mind at renewal.

Not to be out-done by the compelling seasonal schedules of BBC, or perhaps because of these schedules, a handful of the top insurers have splashed out on celebrity based ads. Aviva has outdone themselves and have several big names including Elle McPherson, Bruce Willis, Alice Cooper, Dame Edna, Ring Starr to support the company’s change of name (from Norwich Union to Aviva). Each celebrity poses the question as to whether they would have been successful had they not changed their name. Enough said.

Direct line, Esure have made similar investments in UK celebrities – notably Julian Barrat, Paul Merton, Michael Winner. It is the new advert from Swiftcover with an exuberant and semi-naked Iggy Pop that is the most startling to watch. Does such a pop icon really buy insurance at all, or even on line? Don’t famous people have people who do those sort’s of things? (If you have time on your hands and need a giggle in the dark months of January, check out Iggy Pop dancing to entice you to buy Swiftcover – http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=yYnydYrZPp8.

Perhaps the choice of celebrities tells us more about the target buyers than the insurance product. With the exception of the Aviva advert where the celebrities could arguably have a broader generational appeal, the other celebrities would suggest the insurers are targeting the baby boomer rather than the generation X’er. This may be a sensible marketing move betting on the fact that the mid-generations will continue to buy insurance in this current climate whilst the generation X and Y’s, who look to be most severely hit by the redundancies, will not be active buyers. Was this prescience on the part of marketing or another pandering to the celebrity culture that envelops us.

But back to the question of insurance and the coolness factor. When the Beckham’s, Paris Hilton, Gordon Ramsey or Prince Harry are enticed to smile and dance for a UK insurance brand, will that surely be the time to declare insurance as the ultimately cool product. Until then, and certainly for 2009, we will have to comfort ourselves with the dulcet tones of middle-aged UK celebrities doing their best to make insurance cool.