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We Come As Partners
April 21, 2015
Mr. Billovits, you have 27 years of insurance experience. What is new for you as Director of the Vienna EMEA Hub (Europe, Middle East, Africa)?
“I’ve worked in sales and underwriting, across the entire property and casualty portfolio, most recently as the Regional Manager of Austria & CEE (Central Eastern Europe), so there is not a lot about insurance, at least in the European context, that I haven’t experienced.
“What’s new in this EMEA role is really something old: we are returning to the age-old value of personal relationships.”
How are relationships more important in EMEA than in other regions?
“I wouldn’t say they are more important, but the way we build them is different.
“In western Europe and North America, XL can rely on our industry reputation to open doors. In the Middle East and Africa, they only recognize the very biggest names in any industry. If they don’t know you, they don’t trust you—and why should they?
“Our clients entering EMEA are primarily very large multinationals in need of substantial coverage. Our network and fronting partners in EMEA enable us to issue policies through their licensed offices, so that we do not need to set up our own licensed operators in each country. We can only consider the leading insurers in new markets as network or fronting partners.
Across the EMEA region, these are people who have spent years, even decades, painstakingly building up their businesses—credit, security, capital, ratings—in tough economic climates. They are not going to risk a reputation built stone-by-stone on an insurance or reinsurance partner that might not be reliable.”
Can you give us an example of how you establish new network relationships in EMEA?
“In the last days of summer 2014, one of our major EMEA network partners told us, out of the blue, that they would not be writing business for us in 7 important Middle Eastern countries as of January 1, 2015.
“It took us a few months to realize it, but that old partner did us a favor. We have found that our new partners are sometimes better placed in the local markets. Because they are highly motivated, they also offer superior service.
“When we got the ‘bad’ news, we contacted everyone we knew in those countries. In September alone, I had 30 meetings with potential Arabic partners. Success! Almost. By the end of that first month, we had new partners in every market, except one: Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudis are understandably cautious towards newcomers, and regulation is strict. It takes a long time to get visa approval through a complicated bureaucratic process both in Austria and Saudi Arabia. We tried everything to get in touch long-distance with potential network partners, but we were getting nowhere—they are very reluctant to do business based on virtual relationships.
“It took the full 4 months to find our new partner in Saudi Arabia, and their screening process was as tough as ours. It is no coincidence that the day we signed the deal with them, three other local insurers suddenly wanted to sign on as well. People talk, and they know who they can trust.
“So, we are actually starting 2015 with a stronger position in all 7 countries. We have one-on-one relationships with local partners in each country, instead of a single, long-distance fronting partner. What we lost in pure efficiency, we are already gaining many times over in much more productive partnerships and new business.”
Your team speaks 16 languages. Does that make a difference to local partners?
“Absolutely. The EMEA region is probably the most culturally diverse region in the world. When I hire a new team member, I am looking for a new, multicultural arm, somebody who appreciates that rich diversity. It is vital that XL EMEA team members respect cultures and customs, and communicate in the local language whenever possible. For one, local policies have to be in local languages, so understanding them is useful.
“It is also about establishing a comfort level with partners that helps both sides make the most of the relationship. These markets are more dynamic than developed markets, and business there requires vigilant attention and care. Our local partners are well-connected and active. They are going to share more of their market knowledge with us, if they can talk to us in their native languages. That helps us make more informed policy decisions, which benefits everyone.
“Clients in those markets require a whole new level of service. We have to help them keep policies and claims processes up to date, because business grows and regulation changes rapidly. When a partner from Egypt calls up and can speak Arabic with our team, he feels more confident about making changes to a policy—he knows that he understands the terms perfectly, and can explain them to the client. Also the more precisely our partners and clients can communicate with us, the faster we can process and pay out claims.”
What else makes XL unique in EMEA?
“Our award-winning global claims service is a start. It is a major advantage to our clients that we already have decades of experience processing complex global claims.
“Also, other big insurers with offices in Vienna only offer local policies, no CEE coordination, and certainly no EMEA coordination. This is not just true for Vienna. Many big insurers with offices throughout EMEA do not offer international policy coordination. Through our Vienna Hub office, we integrate local EMEA policies into a streamlined global program.
Are partners ever concerned that XL will become a competitor in the local market?
“Sometimes they are. That is why we are clear about our purpose: We come as partners, not as competitors.
“Our goal is always a mutually beneficial partnership. We start by bringing major multinationals to our partners for their local policy support. Of course, we provide the broader, global policies. We also offer reinsurance, which enables our partners to expand their capacity.
“They, in turn, are our local arms and legs, helping our clients to set up shop in each jurisdiction. Our partners also bring clients to us, to take advantage of our global program.”
Are there any new EMEA markets on XL’s horizon?
“We are working with over 80 local partners in 66 EMEA countries, so, we already have a powerful network in place. Why is this a priority for us?
“Recovery in Western Europe is still painstaking, and growth in other emerging markets is slowing. This is motivating more companies to explore the tremendous development potential in the EMEA region.
“Of course, many EMEA countries are rich in natural resources. Several have benefitted dramatically from technological breakthroughs in the past few years. It isn’t just computers and mobile phones. They are also using new technology to add value to natural resources, gradually contributing more sophisticated products to the global value chain.
“Nobody can predict exactly how much technology will accelerate growth, but the next two decades should be exciting. A lot of companies are going to be investing in EMEA for the first time. This will not only boost their own corporate productivity, it will inject new capital and growth into the EMEA economies. Ultimately, this should create another wave of global development.”
“That is why we are laying this foundation now. Like us, clients are going to find that many of those markets are intimate, and that every relationship is important. Our active network across EMEA will help clients enter new markets and operate in them with less risk, and a greater chance of success.”Want to know more? You can reach Eduard on: firstname.lastname@example.org