Mario Carini: This year we are focused on strengthening our footprint on the Croatian market
06 October 2020
Chief Executive Officer and President of the Management Board of Generali osiguranje dd in Croatia, Mario Carini in an interview for an independent magazine for law, economics and practice in insurance and reinsurance Svijet osiguranje (The World of Insurance) talks about the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on the insurance business, the importance of digitalization and education of employees as well as stresses the role of social responsibility in the company's business.
You are new Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Management Board of Generali osiguranje d.d. in Croatia for almost a year now. There is no doubt that the first months of your mandate were very turbulent given all the challenges that the insurance industry, but also the whole world, faces during the outbreak and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. How much Generali's plans had to change because of that? How much did the pandemic affect business in the first half of 2020?
It has been an intense start. Since my appointment in December 2019, we have dealt with a number of challenges including COVID-19, the earthquake in Zagreb, two acquisitions, a change in claims criteria and an ongoing reshuffle of the management team. In this context, we remain committed to delivering on our priorities, i.e. the integration of the portfolios of Izvor and Adriatic Slovenica, a strong focus on profitable growth, the acceleration of our digital agenda coupled with a review of our processes and a restructuring of the company organization.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had so far an impact both on the business itself as well as on the organization of our work. From a business perspective, we have definitely seen certain lines of business more affected, in terms of premium development, especially credit and life. In general, we have observed how the pandemic has shifted the demand of insurance towards protection, a pillar of our industry and the strategy of our Group. From a financial perspective, in the figures of the first six months we can see the impact of the spring lockdown, however the effects of the pandemic, in economic terms, will persist in the mid-term. After a summer touristic season – a crucial segment for the Croatian economy – which has seen an inflow of tourists lower than last year, but better than some spring forecasts, this autumn will be particularly important.
In terms of the organization of our work, the pandemic has accelerated the use of smart working, especially for our administrative functions, something Generali osiguranje was not really familiar with in the past. In this respect, I am very proud of the way our team has been able to respond to such a sudden shock very quickly, in fact overnight, and also smoothly from an operational perspective. Our priority has been and remains the safety of our colleagues, clients and partners. After a couple of months, I can say that significant use of smart working will become a permanent feature of the way we work. Despite the fact our colleagues spend less time together in person in the office, the cooperation among them, as well as in many cases also the relationships with partners and clients, seems to have improved even while working at a distance.
You have been with Generali since 2003. Prior to your appointment in Croatia, you were the Head of Global Corporate and Commercial Business and Reinsurance at Generali CEE Holding in Prague, responsible for Austria, Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. How different is today’s function from the one you held before?
My previous position focused at a regional level on an important and exciting segment of the insurance business, P&C Corporate & Commercial and Reinsurance, which has seen significant transformations in the last years. In this context, I also had the privilege to be directly involved at Group level on initiatives addressing transversal and interdisciplinary topics such as the portfolio management of natural catastrophe exposures, sustainability and the insurance needs of small and medium enterprises. Having a regional responsibility, I had the opportunity to observe and analyse insurance solutions used in different markets which can be an inspiration for the Croatian market. My current position, as Country Manager of Generali in Croatia, gives me much greater responsibilities as well as the opportunity to operate on a wider range of distribution channels and insurance lines. It also brings me much closer to and in direct contact with partners and customers, a relationship that in the previous position was more intermediated by our local business units. This allows me to receive – and quickly share with my team – precious first-hand feedback on where we can improve our processes and value proposition. On a more personal note: in my previous job I used to fly extensively across the region, while now I spend more time in my car, driving to visit our local offices within the country.
The pandemic also brought something positive - it forced many insurers to digitalization. What has Generali done in this regard to get digitally closer to its customers? Do you have more plans in that direction?
Regardless of COVID-19, digitalization is a crucial priority for the insurance industry and the current pandemic has further accelerated the need to restructure and simplify key processes in this direction. There have been actions we have swiftly taken to address the “new normal” such as, for example, the simplification of part of our processes in motor insurance as well as much greater usage of the electronic signature, wherever possible from a regulatory standpoint. In addition to this, we are currently pursuing a number of projects aiming at modernizing our operational landscape and digital capabilities, especially in sales and claims where our teams are in direct contact with our customers and partners. I like to use the concept of “phygital” which expresses well our need to provide our large distribution network – our most important asset and a source of pride – with state-of-the-art digital capabilities to support them. It’s a complex journey we are pursuing with passion and commitment. Among the key areas where the pandemic can bring further acceleration towards a digital transformation of the Croatian market, I believe it is worth mentioning electronic payments – to further reduce the use of cash – as well as, at the market level, electronic signatures. In respect of the latter example, I do welcome the current discussion addressing this topic for life insurance at the market level.
Investing in people is crucial for the successful operation of every company, including insurance companies. How much attention do you pay to the education of your employees, in Croatia?
I am a strong supporter of continuous education especially at a time when knowledge becomes very quickly obsolete in the light of the speed of market changes and technological developments. Having pursued myself part of my executive education while working I believe as many colleagues as possible should have the opportunity to attend trainings. In this respect, Generali pays great attention to education and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the supply of remote learning opportunities thus allowing for greater participation as well as contributing to reducing travel costs, often a barrier for large scale participation.
In that sense, Generali in Croatia is focused on upskilling but also reskilling of all its employees. We are very proud of our learning platform that offers the same possibilities of virtual trainings to employees in Croatia and the whole Group, regardless of their position.
For our managers, we have implemented a program that exposes our managers to the main leadership principles we have in Generali. In addition, through our mentoring program, with a special emphasis on the promotion of diversity and inclusion, we are developing further our future managers.
Generali has proven to be a socially responsible company in these difficult times. You donated more than one million kuna to the Croatian Institute of Public Health and also a COVID-19 insurance package to doctors and nurses in public health institutions where patients with COVID-19 are treated. Please tell us more about these initiatives.
The recent period had an impact beyond measure on people’s lives and businesses around the globe. That is why Generali Group has set up the Emergency international fund, valued up to 100 million euro, intending to solve emergency situations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds are being managed centrally and it is up to the local business units to identify and find the most appropriate initiative to act locally and in the arrangement with the Group deliver the funds. As far as Croatia is being concerned, we have focused on two things.
Since there was the earthquake during the lockdown, in addition to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to support a national effort and to target a central institution which could channel donations in the most efficient way. Instead of fragmenting the donation, we decided to direct the funds to Croatian Institute of Public Health as the leading public health institution in the country. As I could see personally Mr. Capak in their building that suffered the earthquake, I was convinced even more to support them in taking care of their premises.
We also decided to join the initiative such as the provision of the COVID-19 insurance package policies to doctors and nurses, as other countries in the region (e.g. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia). By joining forces with colleagues from a region in providing the donation, we leveraged our technical knowledge for a specific segment of professionals who contribute to the safety, care and protection of all of us. I am especially proud of this initiative and donation of the COVID-19 insurance package policy which shows beyond word a commitment of the insurance industry in supporting society when is needed.
Generali has previously launched the corporate volunteering initiative The Human Safety Net, which came to life in Croatia at the end of last year in cooperation with the Center for Parental Support "Growing up together", to create equal living opportunities for children from vulnerable families. Please give us a few details related to this initiative.
Our business is focused on people and as an insurer we feel the responsibility to protect and enhance the lives of people. The Human Safety Net is a global movement and promotes equal life chances for children who grow up in vulnerable conditions. This is also an opportunity to promote corporate volunteering, something which I did in the past myself, and we have seen a great response to it from our colleagues across Croatia who joined in volunteering. With our partner 'Rastimo zajedno' / „Growing Up Together“ Centre for Parenting Support, we help parents who are exposed to adverse circumstances that make their children’s development more difficult. We offer parents the opportunity to meet, share information, knowledge and experiences with other families, all guided by specially educated teams of experts with the support of our people as volunteers. Parents are encouraged to support each other, gain confidence and skills to meet their children’s developmental needs. The program of 'Growing Up Together – Count Us In!' is rounded by events in the local community and educational & recreational excursions, which allow preschool children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to experience what is common for children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and also allow parents to apply their parenting skills in a practical situation learned and carried out during workshops. Thus, in almost a year of supporting the program, we reached several hundred vulnerable families. And as the program needed to comply with epidemiological measures, we supported our partner in his efforts to digitalize the workshops, the maintenance of which is of great importance to the users of the program in this uncertain times. The Human Safety Net is our way of responding to some of the main social and demographic challenges affecting the communities where we work, extending our mission beyond our day-to-day insurance business, to the most vulnerable ones in our society.
In the spring of this year, you completed the acquisition of the Izvor osiguranje portfolio, which meant the completion of the procedure started in October 2019. What exactly will the takeover of that portfolio bring to Generali?
This year we are focusing on strengthening our footprint in the Croatian market which is consistent with what we do in the rest of the region. Izvor brought us a portfolio of non-life business, allowing us to focus on segments of our strategic interest, further strengthening our sales network and the relationship with our partners. Concluding the acquisition in the middle of lockdown has been a new and challenging experience, but we have succeeded to deliver our plans. Our team members put a great effort into ensuring the smoothest merger possible and we are satisfied with the progress of its implementation.
Now we are devoted to the acquisition of Adriatic Slovenica, being in the last stage of finalizing the process that was started by Generali Slovenia. This further acquisition is strengthening further our capabilities in life and motor business.
How did you get used to life in Croatia? What do you like the most about Croatia? Is language a problem, foreigners say that Croatian is quite difficult to learn, how do you stand on that issue?
My wife and I enjoy living in Zagreb, which in fact we have had the opportunity to explore more in the period of lockdown when we could not leave the city. We enjoy its green environment and quality of living. Croatia is much more diverse than foreigners would think and I enjoy exploring different regions, visiting our offices and talking to our people. After living 12 years in Prague I speak Czech language which helps me understand some Croatian, however I am taking lessons to improve it.