Zurich CEO Stuart Spencer outlines the rewards of a career in the insurance industry
Insurance companies are becoming ever more responsive to customers, with easier access to services online and products tailored to consumer behaviour, says Stuart Spencer, CEO of Zurich Insurance Group’s Asia-Pacific general insurance operation. But when it comes to communicating the importance of the insurance business and its attractiveness as a career choice, he says the industry’s report card should be marked “can do better”.
“There’s a lot of educating, there’s a lot of marketing, a lot of advertising, a lot of awareness building and a lot of demand creation required to heighten the level of recognition for what the industry does and the level of need for what the industry sells,” says Spencer.
“What we do is fundamentally core to any economy’s ability to function. Without it, nobody should put at risk their investment, their fund, their life — but you’d be staggered at how much out there, across Asia, is uninsured.
“At Zurich, we are making great headway on this front. There are more than 100 general insurers in Hong Kong, and we’re number two (on the basis of market share measured in terms of revenue and gross written premiums). Our ambition is to be number one.”
Founded in Switzerland over 140 years ago, Zurich now has over 55,000 employees worldwide, serving individuals and commercial entities from SMEs to multinationals. The company’s presence in Hong Kong dates back to 1961.
“In our industry, reputation, integrity, track record and peace of mind are everything for anyone insuring their life, their house, their car,” Spencer says.
Spencer is keen to publicise careers in the insurance industry. In his view, the industry’s attractiveness lies in its value to society, as well as the personal rewards it can offer in terms of salary, career paths and work patterns.
Unlike banking, he notes, insurance emerged relatively unscathed from the financial crash in 2008. “All we’re trying to do is protect people,” he says.
“In the wake of the tsunami in Indonesia, just over ten years ago, and when Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy hit in the United States, our claims people were out in force, paying claims on the spot.”
The insurance sector depends on a wide range of skills, including those of specialists, such as actuaries and underwriters.
“What we’re trying to cultivate at Zurich is homegrown talent. The war for talent in Asia is at a feverish pitch but we invest a lot in training, including training in Switzerland.
“There are also hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of insurance agents across the Asia-Pacific, and some of the most successful of these are women. The beauty of their role in our industry for many of them is they can work part time, gain financial independence and control their schedule.”
With Zurich since 2013, Spencer has garnered experience from around the world, and across the insurance sector, in the course of his career.
This began at American Express in New York, where he held several senior marketing positions. He joined American International Group (AIG) in 1996 and, in 2000, he was put in charge of the business’ accident and health insurance operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2006, two years after moving to Hong Kong, Spencer was promoted to president of the division for AIG worldwide. He held this position until 2009, when he became global COO of Chubb Insurance’s life, accident and health division.
Spencer believes the insurance sector in general is becoming more flexible and responsive to customers, with easier access to services online and products tailored to consumer behaviour.
“The industry is becoming much more in tune with customer feedback. We’ve got tools now that enable easier access to insurance and easier benchmarking of pricing. Via the internet, consumers can compare the price of a Zurich product against nine other products. Customers can also file claims online and check how their claim is being processed.”
In certain parts of the industry, risk-reducing behaviour is increasingly rewarded with reduced premiums, he notes.
Spencer says the industry is developing rapidly in the Asia-Pacific region. “Certainly the demographics are changing, as across Asia there are ageing populations and also very youthful populations. The regulatory environment is also shifting. The regulators in Asia are learning from, I would say, more stringent regimes in Europe and the United States.”
“Natural catastrophes are a very commonplace occurrence in this part of the world – there are earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons and wind, tsunami and floods.
“We do a number of things not only to minimise our exposure but also to maximise awareness. So, given the amount of flooding that occurs in Asia, particularly in places like Indonesia, we work with local communities in our Flood Resilience programme.”
Spencer says that they don’t expect people who live in areas vulnerable to natural disasters to leave their homes.
“Our response to that is, fine, but let’s help you carve out evacuation routes, let’s work with the local authorities to expedite the implementation of sandbags, let’s help you see the warning signals so you can get out of the village before any material flooding takes place, and do all kinds of things to give you a better chance of survival against any natural catastrophe.
“At Zurich, things like this are part of our fundamental value set to engage with communities.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Insure your success.