If you see to evolution, there's no need for revolution

Is Covid-19 drastically changing the insurance sector? Or is that not the way it's going? Ageas has been looking to the future for many years and is therefore well placed to have an opinion. An interview with CEO Bart De Smet.

"Digital is gaining in importance. But customer contact will certainly not be exclusively digital in the future. In our industry, the human touch in sales is as needed as ever." - Bart De Smet

“This is a crisis the likes of which we've never seen before." This is Bart De Smet's answer to the question of how he feels about events of the past few months. "Due to its scope, but also because we need more context to put them in the right time perspective. Fortunately, we had technology to keep things up and running."

As for any company, the corona crisis had many and varied consequences for Ageas. As well as adjusting to permanent homeworking, these were times when the situation changed quickly for an insurer. Few to no road traffic accidents during the entire lockdown, but on the up again in the months of May and June. More reliance on medical insurance because of Covid-19, but also a lot of delayed interventions. And, of course, there is also a financial impact, mainly due to impairment on shares, temporarily less income from real estate activities and a lower interest rate in China. A final element is particularly interesting with a view to the future. "Over the past few months we have seen a number of trends emerging that weren't expected until 3 to 5 years from now", explains Bart De Smet.

Accelerating trends, slowing trends

Ageas closely monitors the most varied trends and is therefore better able than most to identify the evolutions. This is done on the basis of the thinktank Think 2030, which provides input for the three-year strategic plans (in which Connect21 is currently running) and interim evaluations. Bart De Smet: "This includes some 100 mainly younger employees with different areas of expertise. Together they regularly screen more than 100 trends and provide input for strategic reflections within ten different domains."

The group continued to monitor the trends even in the midst of the corona crisis. They considered what the impact of Covid-19 was on domains such as the global economy, customer behaviour or the future of work. The result? "The trends that we frame within the future of work are coming around much faster than we expected", says Bart De Smet. "Teleworking is of course the most visible of these. We also notice it in our own employees. People are currently returning to the office only to a limited extent. In May our maximum permitted presence in the office was 20%, in June 50%, but we will not reach that percentage"

On the other hand, according to Ageas, certain trends, such as the sharing economy, are slowing down. People aren't inclined to share their cars at the moment, for example. And all of this happened precisely when the sub-economy was booming enormously.

"Over the past few months we have seen a number of trends emerging that weren't expected until 3 to 5 years from now" - Bart De Smet

Online is not enough

What does Ageas expect from its own business in the coming years? How will customer expectations change? How important will technology become? "It will be anything but straightforward in the future," insists Bart De Smet. "Digital is becoming more important, but customer contact will certainly not be exclusively digital in the future. In our sector, the human touch in sales will remain necessary. Ours is a product whose usefulness they really need to understand, and online communication is not enough for that. However, customers are becoming more demanding: a rapid service is becoming more important. They don't want to wait weeks for a claim to be settled."

Of course, technology can play an important role here. Using an app, for example, you can pass on the claim and then fairly quickly - possible through artificial intelligence - receive feedback on its extent and settlement. For Bart De Smet, technology is not a goal in itself, but a way to make things easier and or faster, both for the customer and for the company.

Beyond insurance

A final trend that will affect the Ageas of the future involves complementing classic insurance with additional products and services. Bart De Smet: "People don't just expect us to cover risks, they expect us to provide them with assistance. We are a Supporter of your Life.' And that means we have to expand our offer. Prevent, prepare, protect and assist, is what we call it.'

For example, subsidiary AG, the market leader in Belgium, launched the digital platform My Global Benefits, where employees can follow the accrual of their second pension pillar.

On the other hand, AG Health Partner is turning its attention to the wellbeing of its staff. Together with the company, AG draws up an action plan to help employees with their physical, mental and social wellbeing. "The videos that we sent from this project during the lockdown quickly went viral", notes Bart De Smet with satisfaction. A third example is Phil at Home, a pilot project in three regions, in which elderly people are assisted by a personal 'coordinator' and technology so that they can live at home for as long as possible.

"It's about keeping your finger on the pulse at all times", says Bart De Smet.

"This is the only way you can keep evolving to remain relevant as a company. And that's important to avoid having to abruptly change your business model at some point. That is rarely a good idea." - Bart De Smet

For more information on Ageas's vision for the future see: