Giorgio Callegari, Chairman and CEO of Generali Russia & CIS, for Interfax: Generali to increase influence in Russia as insurer
05 August 2019
Giorgio Callegari, Chairman and CEO of Generali Russia & CIS, was talking about presence of Generali in Russia with Interfax, a leading provider of news on Russia, China and emerging markets of Eurasia, serving to investors, corporations and financial professionals.
Source: Interfax.ru, 5 August 2019
6 years ago, Generali, international insurance group, strengthened its position in the Russian market by becoming Ingosstrakh’s minority shareholder. Despite major changes in global politics, the well-known international insurer still maintains an interest in the Russian market, is willing to increase its influence, is working out its presence policy in the Russian Federation for the next period, expects to receive dividends and is focused on the development of the insurance business in our country. Mr. Giorgio Callegari, Chairman and CEO of Generali Russia & CIS, told Interfax about all this in an interview.
Mr. Callegari, you became head of Generali Russia & CIS in March last year. What were the challenges set out for the Assicurazioni Generali leadership in the region?
I have two main lines of business at Generali Russia & CIS. The first job is to manage our Ingosstrakh stake. The second is to outline the development vectors for Generali in Russia and the CIS countries. This task involves developing brand promotion measures and fostering a positive company image. Along-side that, we will have to do a study of opportunities in the Russian market. My main task is to figure out your regulators’ strategy and clearly understand the competitiveness on the market, etc. Recommendations are then expected to be made and have already been drafted.
As we know, 38.5% of Ingosstrakh’s minority interest was acquired by Generali in 2013 and the Representative Office of Generali was opened in Moscow last year. What are your plans for the presence in the Russian market? Does Generali find it attractive and won´t it leave the Russian market, as many other insurance companies with overseas involvement have done?
One of the reasons I began working at Generali is that the company as a whole, and particularly in Russia, sets very ambitious objectives for local market growth (in line with the current opportunities in each particular country). If you look at all the indices used to assess the growth of the insurance industry, you will see that they are smaller in Russia than in other countries, including insurance penetration as a whole. For this reason, we believe we have great prospects in Eastern Europe given the great professional experience, readiness and accessibility of people to perform great tasks. Russia is a very interesting market for growth, considering the size and the population.
This means you have plans to expand, don’t you?
We have plans to develop our presence, yes.
What other markets are of interest to Generali in the CIS countries apart from Russia?
My first task in my new capacity was to review the potential for the company to develop in all post-Soviet countries: Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. So far only Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan have not been analyzed. In my opinion, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the most attractive emerging markets. Nevertheless Russia is the priority before any further explorations.
Recently, your share in Ingosstrakh was consolidated in one Russian legal entity, OOO Generali Russia & CIS. What was the reason behind this decision?
Yes, as you know we got Ingosstrakh shares as a result of an agreement with PPF, and this package had been owned by PPF via a number of companies. When Generali opted for, so to speak, speeding up its growth plans in this market last year, corporate house cleaning was one of the mandatory steps. This means we’ve cleaned up the structure.
We merged the firms into one – Generali, having wound up all the other companies. Nothing in the number of shares has changed and nothing in relation to the owner of the shares has changed herewith, since the holding is the same.
How would you evaluate Ingosstrakh’s performance, being the company’s shareholder? The company’s net profit under IFRS last year amounted to 9.8 billion rubles, with a 5% decrease.
As shareholders, we are surely always striving to achieve good results. As board members, we work actively with our colleagues and the management to get such results. Naturally, when indicators go down, it means we have to work together to understand how to correct the situation.
As you know, the last dividend paid by Ingosstrakh was in 2009. Do you expect the company to resume paying dividends in the near future?
A very renowned individual, I am proud of and consider to be a friend of mine, often says that all companies exist to reward their shareholders. We think there are times, of course, when a company needs to save resources in order to safeguard itself against challenging external circumstances. For instance, when a devaluation occurred in 2014... If an insurance company evolves with a long-term prospect in view, it may be able to refrain from paying dividends. However, we naturally believe that the shareholders’ right to remuneration is basic.
It’s not the first year that there are talks in the insurance market about a possible scenario where Generali will increase its share in Ingosstrakh. Could you confirm the intention?
We are interested in strengthening our presence as pointed out by our Group CEO Philippe Donnet last year in St. Petersburg. This is one of the options but as you know in a marriage there are two that must say “yes”.
In his interview with a news agency five years ago, Mr. Mario Greco, Assicurazioni Generali former Chief Executive Officer, said that he considered Russia to possibly be a big financial services market, including insurance, and that the Ingosstrakh package was estimated to be worth EUR 281 million. Could you inform us how the Ingosstrakh’s share is estimated today?
We think the Russian insurance industry, as I said before, is extremely attractive. Besides, it’s pretty consolidated now. As for assessing our Ingosstrakh’s share, I’d like to point out that it’s confidential information, so I can’t and won’t disclose it.
Due to certain hazards, including sanctions, some European businesses have chosen to quit the Russian market. Did your leadership analyze those risks? Are there any scenarios wherein sanctions may affect Ingosstrakh’s performance? What do you hope for?
The Group’s leadership is not the only one analyzing this subject, the evaluation of such market risks is part of my job. Yes, we analyze everything. There are a large number of foreign companies operating in Russia, some of which have been sanctioned. But we don’t think this limits our willingness to engage in the insurance market in Russia.
The Generali Group operates in more than 50 countries worldwide. Of course, we comply with valid international rules. As a company, we do not have a mission to hope or not to hope, our mission is to assess the facts and to make decisions based on those facts.
Currently a bill is being prepared by the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank which will enable foreign firms to open offices in Russia from 2021 onwards. Are you getting ready for this? Are you likely to open a branch of your own?
As my colleague, Mr. Luciano Cirinà, Regional Officer for Austria, CEE & Russia Region, said at a meeting with analysts and journalists in London at the beginning of this year, “All opportunities are being considered.” We think that the Bank of Russia as a regulator has done a great and highly competent job of establishing consistent and up-to-date international rules on the financial market regulation. Therefore, there are both a willingness and a capability to expand the market under the defined regulations. This is a highly interesting market for Generali, a firm that wishes to advance. Plus, as you can see, your country’s population and size are favorable for insurance market growth.
Is the Russian insurance industry following the global market or does it have its own trajectory with respect to financial convergence?
I believe there are very educated people in insurance and in other fields in Russia who are attempting to introduce international standards and business rules to Russia. I would therefore like to point out, talking of the convergence, that I see the related urge. I see a desire to create an international marketplace. The most vivid illustration of it is certain legislative bills, including the one you have mentioned.
Convergence with worldwide markets is always the outcome of the country’s market and financial situation as well as the government’s intention.
And what Generali trends can you describe as key patterns in insurance market growth if we speak about European countries?
These are, first and foremost, the topics of individual customer relations and innovation. Generali continues to invest in innovation for better customer servicing.
Another thing I like about the Group’s strategy is the ambition to be the life-time partner to its customers. This means that we are trying to comprehend the customer’s demands not only at the present time, but also with a life-long perspective. When you’re 18 years old you may only need bike insurance. If a customer is 40 or 60 years of age, he/she has different needs. Therefore, innovation is essential for us to know our clients better, and we also focus on the development of our agent network. To predict the situations in the clients’ lives, to safeguard their interests, a company needs to clearly understand their needs, to be willing to listen attentively. Then our clients will be happy.
(Source: interfax.ru, finmarket.ru, 5 August 2019)