Andrea Simoncelli believes in the power of team work
01 February 2019
Interview for Polish weekly Gazeta Ubezpieczeniowa with CEO of Generali Poland Andrea Simoncelli on his prestigious award “Man of the Year of Insurance 2018".
The CEO of Generali Poland received the award for transforming Generali’s business model towards profitability and sustainable development, Generali's growing engagement on the Polish market - significant investments and acquisitions and promoting innovation with respect to the basic principles of the insurance business (Gazeta Ubezpieczeniowa).
Aleksandra E. Wysocka (Gazeta Ubezpieczeniowa): You became the "Man of the Year of Insurance 2018". Congratulations!
Andrea Simoncelli: I am honored, but in fact it is not Andrea Simoncelli who is the Man of the Year, but the whole Generali is the Team of the Year! I repeat it very often that Simoncelli himself cannot do much. It is the whole team that changes reality. That is why I would like to thank all of those who had the trust in Generali brand and together with me was building our common success in the last three years.
You have learnt insurance markets around the world ... How is Poland doing in this background?
- Indeed. During my career I have visited such markets as China, Brazil, Philippines, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, France, Great Britain, Serbia, Romania, of course Italy and now Poland. It’s quite a long list. And maybe I will surprise you, but I find working in Poland the best!
- The insurance business itself operates on similar principles all over the world. This does not mean that there are no legal or business differences, but the general framework for doing business in developed Western economies is very similar. A separate issue are the Asian markets, where there is different culture and for us, Europeans, this difference is felt. It does not concern only business issues but more relational ones. In Poland, I feel completely at home, and even better than at home. I have noticed that there is a unique number of well-educated specialists in the field of insurance, which other markets can only envy. This remark also applies to my home Italian market. The Polish language is a big challenge for me, as is the food, which I consider a bit too heavy. I like the roasted duck the most, but I am not fond of pierogis and chops. I have been living here with my wife for three years. Many foreign friends visited us and everyone was surprised how beautiful Warsaw is and how many interesting places can be found in Poland. You are definitely not doing enough to promote the beauty of your homeland abroad. The images of Poland of the inhabitants of Italy, France and Great Britain are very distant from reality. It's worth changing. A separate issue is the so-called "Polish mentality", i.e. a certain tendency to pessimism and complaining. But we Italians also like to complain, so I understand it well...
When you came to Poland in 2016, you had serious challenges ahead of you. Did you manage to meet them?
- Indeed, we achieved several significant improvements during these three years. We succeeded business turnaround and now I am proud to say that we are presented as a model example to others. But it is not that this huge change was made by Simoncelli himself. No way! It is the result of intense team work. I strongly believe in the power of cooperation. The president himself can do nothing in the company, even if he works day and night. That is why my first goal in Poland was to build a team and clearly convey the goals that we are to achieve. We faced several challenges and it was crucial to set a change. I wanted to change completely the approach towards risk assessment and tariffing. To enable this turnaround we needed to strengthen also our organization. We managed to do all this together and changes were much faster than expected from us.
Do you think that the Polish insurance market is overregulated?
- In Poland it is exactly the same as in other countries of Western Europe. European law applies here. Many of my colleagues complain about GDPR or IDD, but for me there is no reason to be surprised or indignant. Restrictive insurance law guarantees equal competition rules and protects the market against pricing "freestyle". Insurance is a specific business in which you first charge a customer and then provide a service. In other industries it is different, the customer receives the goods at the time of payment. Legal safeguards are necessary, among other things, to avoid irregularities such as non-payment of due compensations despite the collection of contributions. Regulations such as Solvency 2 ensure the solvency of financial institutions, which is also extremely important for system stability. Running an insurance business is very similar in Italy, France or Poland, which I think is fair, because the rules are the same for everyone, and their aim is to protect the consumer and stabilize the market. I am pleased that credible players with many years of tradition operate on the Polish insurance market, such as PZU, Talanx, Ergo, Allianz, Vienna Insurance Group, UNIQA or Generali.
What is the intermediaries' place in Generali's strategy in Poland?
- You asked about the specifics of the Polish insurance market. Strong position of agents who sell products from various insurers is one of its distinguishing features. In most of the markets I dealt with, agents were most often linked to one insurance company only.
In Poland multi-agents are a professional group of entrepreneurs with whom Generali has been cooperating for many years. It is very important that cooperation takes place on predictable and mutually beneficial terms. The insurance price should take into account the level of risk and commission, while providing a certain level of profit to the insurer. This is a basic business principle. The same applies to multi-agents who also run their own companies in such a way to bring profit. Intermediaries are extremely important business partners for us. We must constantly develop a model of cooperation that will be beneficial to all interested parties.
What challenges do you see ahead of Generali and the entire insurance industry in Poland?
- I expect a growing concentration on the Polish market. Particularly in the motor insurance segment, there are simply too many players. An important challenge is the long-term maintenance of the profitability of our business in all lines. Unfortunately, you can already observe disturbing signals of the return of the price war...
Is Poland an important market for Generali?
- This is evidenced by the growing number of investments that the Generali Group is implementing in Poland. The last of them, such as the purchase of Concordia or real estate in the center of Warsaw, are proofs that we plan our presence in Poland for many, many years and we treat the local market very seriously. I am very proud of the fact that in a short time together with the team we have built a profitable insurance company. There are more challenges ahead of us, such as a merger with Concordia, the development of a life business, entering into Asset Management industry, implementation of further innovations. My mission is not finished yet.
Andrea Simoncelli has been appointed Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Generali Group in Poland as of 1 January 2016. He is one of the most successful and experienced top managers of the Group in the CEE region. Since 2011 he was CEO and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Generali Osiguranje Serbia and Chairman of Generali Osiguranje in Montenegro. As Chairman of the Supervisory of Generali Romania he steered the successful turnaround of this company.