Our objective: top performance.
Group Executive Management presented the new helvetia 20.25 strategy in March 2021. Customers can expect great things! For employees it means shifting up a gear. In this interview, Group CEO Philipp Gmür talks about his vision, Helvetia’s strengths and the attitudes that pay off.
Interview Isabella Awad Photos Florian Brunner
viva: Is developing a strategy a cool job or a necessary evil?
Philipp: If having a strategy is a duty, being allowed to develop one is more of a pleasure. Fathoming out where we want to go, and why, is a cool job.
How should we imagine this development?
The development of the helvetia 20.25 strategy was delayed by the Caser acquisition, and also by the coronavirus.
Initially, both Group Executive Management and the Board of Directors compared our strengths with our weaknesses and the opportunities with the threats. As part of a SWOT analysis we asked ourselves: Where are we now? What drives us? What are the expectations of our investors, our customers and our employees? As a team we developed our purpose – defining our goals, as it were. We developed financial objectives, formulating four strategic priorities at group level in addition to functional strategies for the support functions. The same process then took place downstream, in the country markets.
Martin Jara, CEO Switzerland
Identifying opportunities and exploiting them systematically together: that's our helvetia.way. The fact that we work closely together in a spirit of trust is what characterizes Helvetia, while focusing consistently on the market and our customers. We think not only in terms of offerings but also targeted, suitable solutions. Our dynamism and decisiveness are recognized in the market. At the same time we need to focus more on our performance and develop an appropriate performance culture. We will then succeed in maximizing our considerable potential. Succeeding together – this is the key for me. Because we all contribute to the success.
What is the main driver of this strategy?
I am inspired by our purpose. “Life is full of opportunities and risks. We’re there when it matters.” To take a specific example, we are present with our customers, we respond to their concerns, we help them solve their challenges, we’re there when it matters: when they make a claim, arrange a pension, invest their money. We are honing our service provision and setting new standards.
Our vision is to be the best partner for financial security, to set benchmarks in terms of customer convenience and customer access. Is that within our grasp?
We can build on our strengths. Today the Group has a wide range of customer access channels: agents, brokers, bank networks, B2B2C partnerships, online channels like Smile, and ecosystems like the one centred on Money Park. We can all consider for ourselves how we can do the best for our customers in our day-to-day work with what we have available to us at present. We are aware of the need to invest in certain areas if we are to achieve this objective. If we do our utmost every day to meet our customers’ individual needs, we will succeed.
Be honest: saving lots of money and still delivering top performance – is that realistic?
It’s essential. Efficiency in the company is the basis for convenience outside the company. We must be in a position to deliver the same – or even better – performance at lower cost. Some of our processes are still far too complicated, and thus too costly. The engineering industry is miles ahead of the finance industry in this respect. Foreign competition and negative currency factors forced other economic sectors to pursue greater efficiency ages ago. So there are two questions we should ask ourselves about everything we do. Does it add value? Is there a simpler way of doing it? We have concluded that we have many opportunities to improve without compromising quality. Imagination and creativity are needed! Many of our employees have ideas for improvement which we want to use.
How has expansion in Europe changed your role as CEO?
Helvetia is morphing from a Swiss insurer with foreign units into a European financial services company with its roots in Switzerland.
I see my primary task as moulding our many successful business units into a strong whole that is more than the sum of individual country markets. To take a specific example, the essence of the four strategic Group priorities and the functional strategies must be constantly visible and tangible by 2025. The most important key to success lies in the selection and empowerment of both managers and employees.
David Ribeaud, CEO Specialty Markets
The helvetia.way describes the mindset we have to adopt when pursuing this vision and implementing the strategy: trust, drive and enthusiasm. For me and our team in Specialty Markets, these values represent a mandate to leverage our focus on performance even more. Our values also show what it takes to focus on performance. As a concrete example: We depend heavily on facts in our line of work, but at the same time we are aware that business decisions call for a great deal of trust. Trust in ourselves, and trust in others. The helvetia.way helps us to keep this balance in mind. Without this attitude, it would be impossible to expand our business in various new speciality lines.
A traditionally strong Swiss business, vigorous growth in Europe and the Specialty Markets – how do you mould that into a coherent whole?
First and foremost, as I said before, is the purpose that is internalized by all: “Life is full of opportunities and risks. We’re there when it matters." That’s true for life and non-life business, for private and corporate customers, in Switzerland and abroad. Secondly, our actions must be shaped by the values of trust, drive and enthusiasm. Thirdly, our many individual units are ultimately linked by a common history, whether long or short, and successful business development. Building on this, we want to put even more emphasis on what we have in common.
Will there be any changes to the Group’s governance of country units?
There will be, yes. It is our ambition to implement our strategy more holistically and consistently in all country markets. We act as “leadership amplifiers”, aiming to benefit from each other and institutionalize cross-border knowledge transfer.
Will Helvetia still be “relevant” in five or ten years?
Our helvetia 20.25 strategy is designed to ensure that Helvetia will be a relevant European financial-services provider in all our country markets, in five years’ time and in ten.
Markus Gemperle, CEO Europe
The helvetia.way shows us the defining elements of leadership and collaboration: trust, drive and enthusiasm. The helvetia.way drives us to seize the many business opportunities our markets offer. When faced with difficult challenges, we should not see ourselves as victims, but instead have faith in our ability to develop personally and as a company. Our fortune is in our own hands. By positioning the helvetia.way as a Group-wide frame, we also underline that every country market is part of something bigger and that we have shared principles. By the same token, the helvetia.way creates scope for factoring in country-specific cultural characteristics.
What do you see as Helvetia’s strengths?
Strong employee commitment throughout the Group. Continual business and corporate development over the past twenty years and the integration of new companies into our country markets: in Switzerland – Alba, Phénix, SEV, Nationale Suisse; in Austria – Basler Österreich; in Italy – Chiara Vita and Padana Assicurazioni; in Spain – La Vasco Navarra, Previsión Española and Caser; in France CEAT, Gan Eurocourtage … to mention the most important milestones.
What qualities do we urgently need to develop?
Primarily the determination to respond to our clients’ needs, And second, the performance culture, insisting on the best solution rather than settling for second-best. We must dare to put more trust in our own abilities, to strike out away from the beaten track.
Is this what you expect of employees?
Yes. I expect our purpose and our vision to be internalized. We must be guided by the Helvetia way, which is based on our values of trust, drive and enthusiasm. If we always seize the opportunity to be the best partner, that sets a standard. Insurance touches every area of life and every set of circumstances: that’s what makes our job so incredibly exciting. We have a solution for every need, though it is not always obvious. Looking closely pays off.
Many things are changing faster than we would like. In management, do you think about what potential developments could be a threat to our business?
Yes, assessing our environment and thinking in scenarios are constant tasks. Will there be any need at all for car insurance in the future? Do we have (the right) solutions for disaster risks if – as now in the pandemic – the state pays for everything? Are there still affordable precautions that people can take if they can’t afford to take default risks? How can we differentiate ourselves as a medium-sized European insurer? Will the customer of the future pay for these things or will they simply rely on a robot to provide the service? We are confident that we have the right answers to many of these questions with our helvetia 20.25 strategy.
What do you see as your greatest challenge in the coming years?
Moulding the totality of our country markets and business areas, together with our countless business ideas, into a coherent whole with a distinctive signature.