Bruce Bowers, regional CEO of Allianz in Central and Eastern Europe in an interview on business development, growth areas and the significance of business in Central and Eastern Europe for the Allianz Group.
You have been regional CEO for Central and Eastern Europe for six months. How has your experience been with the region so far?
Bruce Bowers: In the first months I have been to all the operating entities and held a number of town hall meetings. I am impressed how highly dedicated and motivated our staff and distribution partners are. I am proud to lead this growth region for Allianz and to build on the success to date that has been achieved.
How do you see the business development in the first half of 2011?
Bowers: I am very satisfied with the positive development of the region this year. We were able to increase momentum from the first quarter and continued to grow. Total premiums rose and so did our operating profit. That is not easy considering the economic environment in the region as well as political issues in some countries. Now we need to make sure that we continue on this path of sustainable growth. To summarize: It is time to grow profitably again.
What can we expect from Allianz in Central and Eastern Europe going forward?
Bowers: The region is still a growth story and we will be part of it. I particularly see a lot of potential in the Life business. People are starting to realize that they are getting older and if they want to maintain their standard of living they now have to start to invest and look ahead. For example, in Croatia, people last year spent nearly 80 euros each per year on life insurance, while in Germany the figure is over 1,100 euros. This clearly shows there is potential for growth.
Any other growth areas you see?
Bowers: The Asset Management and Pension Fund business is very promising. Since we started this business we have seen constant growth, and today we are one of the market leaders across the whole region. One of the reasons is that we benefit form the expertise and know-how of Allianz as a worldwide group and the investment scale it can offer.
What about your customers in Central and Eastern Europe?
Bowers: From a customers point of view we remain the partner of choice. This summer parts of Slovakia faced storms and floods. Alone in June more than 40,000 claims were reported. In such cases of emergency the main goal is to help as quickly as possible. To support our affected customers, our colleagues of Allianz in Slovakia helped with advanced payments or an enhanced claims settlement procedure. For the time being we spent 1.8 million euros.
In terms of customer figures we have also grown this base. Today we have 7.5 million customers compared to the first half year of 2010, which translates to an increase of nearly 6 percent. This shows customers in the region see us as a trusted and reliable partner.
Where will you be focusing?
Bowers: To keep up this successful trend, we will continue to focus on our core business and leverage Allianz's global lines. In addition, we will further develop our multi-channel distribution strategy. Providing our staff in the region with training and career development opportunities is also essential to our success.
In Russia we started the process to consolidate our Allianz entities into one company. The goal there is to simplify things for our customers by giving them a single point of entry under one brand and create a more effective platform for further growth.
Compliance, risk management, governance and strengthening of our internal control systems are also in focus as we build our franchise in Central and Eastern Europe.
What is the significance of business in Central and Eastern Europe for the Allianz Group?
Bowers: In the first six months of this year our entities in the region brought in revenues of two billion euros, which equals four percent of the Allianz Group's total while five years ago the region delivered two percent. This demonstrates the growth in our Central and Eastern European business – despite the complex business environment. And it remains an attractive growth region, too: market penetration is still fairly low, and economic development is relatively strong across the board. So I'm glad we entered this region so early and were able to establish and keep our leading position there.
The statements contained herein may include statements of future expectations and other forward-looking statements that are based on management's current views and assumptions and involve known and unknown risks and uncertain-ties that could cause actual results, performance or events to differ materially from those expressed or implied in such statements. In addition to statements which are forward-looking by reason of context, the words "may", "will", "should", "expects", "plans", "intends", "anticipates", "believes", "estimates", "predicts", "potential", or "continue" and similar expressions identify forward-looking statements.
Actual results, performance or events may differ materially from those in such statements due to, without limitation, (i) general economic conditions, including in particular economic conditions in the Allianz Groupfs core business and core markets, (ii) performance of financial markets, including emerging markets, and including market volatility, liquidity and credit events (iii) the frequency and severity of insured loss events, including from natural catastrophes and including the development of loss expenses, (iv) mortality and morbidity levels and trends, (v) persistency levels, (vi) the extent of credit defaults, (vii) interest rate levels, (viii) currency exchange rates including the Euro/U.S. Dollar exchange rate, (ix) changing levels of competition, (x) changes in laws and regulations, including monetary convergence and the European Monetary Union, (xi) changes in the policies of central banks and/or foreign governments, (xii) the impact of acquisitions, including related integration issues, (xiii) reorganization measures, and (xiv) general competitive factors, in each case on a local, regional, national and/or global basis. Many of these factors may be more likely to occur, or more pronounced, as a result of terrorist activities and their consequences. The company assumes no obligation to update any forward-looking statement.
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The company assumes no obligation to update any information contained herein.
Seven lessons from 2020
Rebeca Ehrnrooth, Equilibrium Capital and CEMS Alumni Association President
Attending a New Year’s luncheon on 31 December 2019, we played a game that involved predicting the world in 2020. Some of the questions included: would Uber become profitable? Would the three-decade bond rally finally come to an end? Would the US hit a recession?
Unlike any of our predictions based on a traditional approach to business and predicting, we now know that 2020 became the year where business, professional and personal plans were turned upside down, reshaped and put-on hold. The proverbial black swan had arrived.
As revealed in a new CEMS Guide to Leadership in a Post-COVID-19 World, to which I contributed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deficiencies in the 20th Century vision of leadership, giving a rare opportunity to question the status quo.
So, what are the main lessons from 2020?
- Humans are enormously adaptive. This is not an extinction scenario. The world is getting used to dealing with global human disaster which may become a recurring event. Life continues guided by new parameters.
- No sector or country is immune to rapid change. Just as the leveraged finance and equity markets ground to a halt during the Global Financial Crisis, we have seen a disruption in the financial markets (including M&A) in 2020, including a significant redistribution of wealth between sectors; think tech vs airlines and the hospitality industry. When a market is disrupted it has secondary and tertiary effects such as less work for accountants, lawyers, financiers etc.
- Location is not as important anymore. The belief that finance staff need to be based in one of the financial capitals to be effective has been forever altered. Pursuing a career in finance from anywhere is becoming possible. However, it’s likely that over time, financial controls and human interaction will move the work model back towards the traditional office approach, as work is a critical sanctuary for people. While working from home may allow more time for family, chores and sports, it is mainly effective for people who already have their internal and external networks. For junior employees it presents a notable challenge as they may be forced to spend their formative years without a chance to really build their networks.
- Change is likely to be lasting. The opportunity for alternative finance and tech focused providers is enormous and 2020 will accelerate this shift. For example, many retail banks are providing rather poor customer service, blaming the pandemic. Even the most loyal customers will be heading elsewhere. For recent graduates and current students this is a major shift; future winners and key employers may not be names we are used to seeing in the headlines.
- There will be a spotlight on leaders with visionary strategy and understanding of the operations. 2020 showed many politicians and business leaders behaving like they were playing a game of snakes and ladders, rather than executing a thought-out strategy. The next wave of thoughtful leadership is urgently required.
- Collaboration leads to success. The definition of a pandemic is an infectious disease prevalent worldwide. A global problem requires a collaborative solution rather than each country and industry on their own. Quoting Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London: “Once you have the knowledge and you share the knowledge, then you are able to take measures to push transmission much lower”. This principle is transferable to management education. In a world more complex than ever, investing in a degree is hard currency. Combined with the full global alumni network, corporate partners and schools, CEMS is capital that doesn’t depreciate.
- Resilience has become a watch word. Saint-Exupéry’s quote resonates with me: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We are in a new paradigm – so prepare for the next change. For COVID-19, while we hope that the vaccine will soon upon us, the broader long-term positive challenge remains.
Data after Brexit: How does the end of the transition affect GDPR?
By John Flynn, Principal Security Consultant at Conosco
The UK has officially left the European Union now that the transition period has ended on January 1st 2021. But this could raise issues with one of the biggest bugbears for many companies – the international transfer of personal data.
Businesses can relax, somewhat – GDPR, which took businesses months to get their heads around, is not being replaced. It will continue as the UK GDPR 2018, and will still be based on the criteria of the Data Protection Act of 2018. However, the UK will retain the right to change the UK GDPR as it sees fit in the future.
The main changes apply to those who receive data coming into the UK from Europe. Transfers from the UK to other countries can continue under existing arrangements.
We know it can be difficult to cut through the legal jargon, so we have simplified what you need to know to protect yourself and your data:
1 – Update your privacy notice
Most businesses do not have the correct clauses in place ahead of January 1st, potentially exposing their liability, should something happen to their data. All company privacy notices online will need to be updated to specifically state ‘UK GDPR’, as opposed to ‘EU GDPR’. You will also need standard contractual clauses in place, which cover both parties – those transferring and those receiving the data.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has a list of what needs to be included in the standard contractual clause here. The ICO will remain the UK regulator for data protection, regularly liaising with each EU member state.
This also applies to Multi Corporate Groups who operate in multiple countries, who need to update their documentation and privacy notice to expressly cover the data transfers. The UK has applied for an adequacy assessment, which would negate the need for contractual clauses, however this has not yet been approved by the EU.
2 – Data privacy assessments
Any company which runs applications and software should always perform a Data Privacy Impact Assessment. This was also in the guidelines before, but these assessments are now more important for those who outsource their IT operations internationally.
For example, when using a service such as a cloud-based system, the company must be sure that its service provider adheres to UK GDPR and stores the data within the European Economic Area (EEA), or has a binding corporate agreement with the company, where data is stored outside of the EEA. You should also, as mentioned above, make sure that a contractual clause is in place.
3 – Review local legislation
Contracts should now have contractual clauses that specify the responsibilities of the data controller and the data processor. If you are receiving personal data from a country territory or sector covered by a European Commission adequacy decision, the sender of the data will need to consider how to comply with its local laws on international transfers. You should check local legislation and guidance in this case.
4 – Cyber Security health check
The ICO is increasing its capacity and efforts to crack down on data breaches, post-Brexit. Now is a great time for all companies to have a health check to understand their Information Security posture and GDPR compliance. Nobody wants to be caught handling data improperly and fined when it could have been prevented with education and training.
A gap analysis performed by an expert is money well-spent. It’s also a fact that companies that have cybersecurity and Information Security controls are not only able to better defend against attacks but are also far better placed to recover from an attack.
It’s important that all businesses – large and small – are properly preparing their data storage and transferring for the 1st January. ICO has been busy setting examples by fining large, high-profile companies for failing to keep millions of customers’ personal data safe.
It will continue to come down hard on the data breaches of personal identifiable information and special categories of data. The saying ‘prevention is better than a cure’ rings truer than ever this year, and you will thank yourself if you make the efforts to properly store your data now, and not when it’s too late.
2020 reflections and 2021 outlook
By John Hunter, Head of Banking and Fiduciaries, Finance Isle of Man
Reflections on the most surreal year
The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the world as we knew it, resulting in catastrophic loss of life and fears of a downturn hang over global economies like a sword of Damocles. In the UK, the new strain has further exacerbated the situation. As I am sure many have already said we are living in what could be called the most surreal times. People have been trying to cope with this “new normal”, by changing their lifestyles and evolving behaviours.
The Isle of Man responded swiftly to the pandemic by closing its borders and enforcing social restrictions which everyone respected and adhered to. Socially and culturally the Island demonstrated all the good things that come from living on a relatively small Island where community still means so much.
The Isle of Man’s financial services sector adapted quickly, seamlessly transitioning to working from home. The banks too adopted flexible remote working practices and continued to support clients around the world helping them navigate the challenging situation and making the most of any opportunities that arose.
Although there is no substitute for face-to-face interactions, we all embraced web-conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to stay connected with contacts around the world and build and nurture business relationships, whether it was with financial services firms or high net worth individuals looking to relocate to the Island.
Furthermore, a priority for the Isle of Man has been to reinvigorate the business and cultural ties with South Africa. In a normal world, we would have travelled to the country, held in-person meetings with businesses and industry representatives and talked about building on our wonderful historic ties. However, because of the scale and breadth of disruption we had to change all our plans! We hosted a virtual roadshow which comprised a series of webinars exploring why it has never been more important for South African businesses and individuals to choose the right jurisdiction for long term financial planning.
Looking ahead to the future
We are all hoping that the global rollout of vaccines will provide the pathway to some form of return to normality and all the things people are missing will be back. Like amidst all periods of immense turmoil, interesting, new possibilities have emerged such as the revolution in work culture and a renewed importance of being close to nature and green spaces is. And these possibilities can help reshape society for the better.
The global economic recovery and rebuild might seem further away in the current environment especially amidst the new lockdowns. But we are confident in the resilience of economies and are hopeful that different industrial sectors and governments working together would result in green shoots.
The financial services industry has an important role to play in getting the world economy back on its feet. It is a core component of the solution to continue facilitating the financing of corporates, as well as to develop sustainable finance and nurture digital technologies which have proven to be vital during the pandemic. The sector should continue its cooperation and collaboration with governments and regulators to ensure efficient capital flows and financial stability for businesses and individuals.
Banks too have a crucial role to play as they are instrumental to the effective transmission of monetary policies and stimulus packages. As mentioned in a report by EY: “Financial insecurity in the wake of COVID-19 will require banks to boost consumer confidence and help build a more resilient working world.”
We expect the Isle of Man’s financial services sector and banks to continue navigating the situation with resilience as they have been doing thus far and contributing to the global recovery process. Also, we truly hope this will be our busiest year ever (subject to our ability to travel), with an extensive global schedule of planned activity to promote the Island as an international financial centre of excellence and innovation. Personally, I had planned to be in South Africa for the British & Irish Lions tour, but regrettably, it might not take place and as such we will look forward to catching up with friends there as and when we can.
No doubt, there are significant challenges for the world ahead but as Albert Einstein said: “in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity”. And it is this opportunity that we all need to work together to identify and make the most of. We are confident that in 2021 the Isle of Man will continue to support financial services businesses help their clients, employees, and the wider society through these surreal times. We are all in this together.
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