For each trending insurance topic, there is never a shortage of experts or consultants willing to offer up opinions and advice. That’s not such a bad thing of course, as it obliges you to be self-critical, to re-question yourself from time to time and to stay alert. But here’s my caution, based on what I have learned during my career: believe first and foremost in the strengths of your company and in the strengths of your employees, and stick to what you are good at. Consultants aren’t always right.
As I take a trip down memory lane, I can recall at least three moments in time when we have taken decisions contrary to what consultants were recommending to us. At the end of the nineties, consultants were advising insurers to get out of Non-Life entirely – which at that moment was loss-making – in favour of putting all their bets on Life, as claims were too high. We chose to ignore that advice. By maintaining our confidence in Non-Life we were able to gain a significant market share and restore profitability, which we still benefit from today.
Fast forward a few years to 2008, after the financial crisis, and the advice was quite different. According to the experts we should now be focused entirely on Non-Life. Again we kept doing what we believed we did well rather than blindly following the external advice. We stayed true to who we were and what we were good at and focused on our core business strategy. Had we not done so, many of us may not be here to tell the tale.
In 1989, the consensus of many experts was that the glory days of brokers was gone and the end of their profession was nigh. Magazine headlines described ‘The downfall of the broker’. However, for our Belgian activities the reality was somewhat different. We choose at that moment explicitly to collaborate with brokers, because we believed in the added value of this distribution channel. Today, still two thirds of Belgian Non-Life insurance contracts are closed through these brokers.
Also today, some experts are again questioning the role of brokers but this time in light of digitalisation. Of course, further digitalisation will be a game changer for insurers on all kind of levels. That is why we will have to continue to invest in digitalisation and the opportunities that it brings with it, as well as in our relationship with brokers, who we believe will continue to play an important value added role for our customers and company. A study revealed that customer satisfaction is higher when traditional channels are used during the customer journey, compared to when digital channels are used, even among the younger customers. So don’t underestimate the role of a good broker, even in the digital age. At Ageas we believe that the strength lies in a mix of distribution channels, where the end customer makes the final choice. Brokers can continue to play an important role, provided they keep on investing, together with the insurer, in digitalisation. For this reason we will continue to invest in the broker channel alongside other channels, even if it flies in the face of current advice.
The lesson I would like to share with executives is a simple one. Avoid short term hypes and dare to oppose the advice of those who may not always be familiar with your business. Identify your strengths, stick to what you are good at and dare to follow your own beliefs. This will allow you to position your company with a clear mission and vision.
Bart De Smet