Courage and a technological drive are needed.
Helvetia France is transforming itself: from a dedicated marine cargo and transport insurer to a partner for SMEs. CEO Vincent Letac wants both lines of business to be equally strong within five years. It’s an ambitious plan – but the prospects look good.
Text Samantha Pelfresne Photo Arnaud Tinel
How far have you got with implementation of the helvetia 20.20 strategy?
Our goal was to diversify and become a multi-line specialist that can support and advise SMEs and mid-caps with IARD (fire, accident, diverse risks) insurance. Over the last five years, Helvetia France has been broadening its range, adding a new line of business each year: fine art, construction industry, technical risks / machinery damage; in 2019, expansion of property damage. In 2020, we launched public liability insurance as well as transport and traffic liability insurance in order to close gaps in cover for our transport sector customers.
How have transport and marine cargo changed in the last few years?
Up until 2018, the prevailing underwriting conditions meant we could no longer achieve healthy growth. Since then, the market has found its way back to a more reasonable technical basis, one that has opened up new prospects for us. As the industry leader, Helvetia France now has a market share of over 20% and, in the last two years, has achieved healthy growth of 10%. In 2018, we opened an office in London, as a market turnaround was in the offing there and we wanted to make the most of it. Turnover from the insurance of ships came to EUR 15 million. The opening of our branch in Dakar has recently enabled us to offer reinsurance services to our East African customers (CIMA zone).
What are Helvetia France’s strengths?
Customer centricity, responsiveness and technological drive. The high quality of our IT systems enables us to fine-tune our portfolio. Our agility helps us to adapt rapidly to changes in the market.
France is active in transport and marine cargo business in almost all the world’s regions. What role does digitalization play in all this?
Digitalization gives Helvetia France a competitive advantage. The ability to work from home facilitates recruitment and enhances our employees’ quality of life; the development of solutions for the Internet of Things helps improve risk management; and the extranet portals for brokers make underwriting, contract management and claims handling easier. And, thanks to our video consultation options, we can assess claims anywhere in the world without actually having to be on the spot.
“Digitalization gives Helvetia France a competitive advantage.”
You’ve already expanded your portfolio to include lines of business aimed specifically at businesses. What else will you do to expand your range of offerings and establish yourself as the leading insurer for SMEs?
We now have to consolidate our entire portfolio of products and services for companies. This entails safeguarding the high quality of our offerings for agents and policyholders as well as acquiring new agents.
Helvetia France is in the process of transitioning from a marine cargo insurer to an SME insurer. How far has the transformation process progressed?
The fact that we have increased our turnover without sacrificing the technical profitability of our portfolio is indicative of a successful transformation. Our turnover rose from EUR 200 million in 2018 to EUR 315 million in 2020, while our combined ratio remained below 95%. The latest agent satisfaction survey revealed a strong affiliation with Helvetia France, with a participation rate of 11% and an exceptionally high recommendation rate (net promoter score) of +34. What’s more, 65% of agents stated that they would like to deepen their collaboration with Helvetia France.
You recently expanded your portfolio to include transport and traffic liability insurance for transport companies. What were the biggest challenges in this context?
If you want to offer a new line of business, you of course have to recruit diverse specialists, e.g. for underwriting, and for contract and claims management, in each of your regional teams. The business development personnel have to be trained to handle the new line of business. A new information system has to be set up for the purposes of rating, contract management and claims notifications, not to mention a best-in-class technical management system. This requires all areas of Helvetia France to provide input and coordinate with one another.
Which of the four strategic priorities – customer convenience, suitable offers, profitable growth and new opportunities – are you concentrating on?
After the successful completion of the helvetia 20.20 strategy, which was devoted to opening up new opportunities, we now have to focus on achieving profitable growth. Courage and a technological drive are needed for this – and our teams a well placed in that respect. Product flexibility and the constant search for new opportunities are hard-wired into our DNA.
Where do you want to be in 2025? What sort of market profile does Helvetia France want to have?
At the moment, marine cargo, transport and motor liability account for two-thirds of Helvetia France’s turnover. Given the better growth prospects in IARD (fire, accident, diverse risks) insurance, we should reach parity between these two areas over the next five years, with a turnover of almost EUR 400 million. We will continue to maintain close relationships with our agents and enhance our knowledge of our customers’ insurance risks.