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Employer of choice

Published on Friday, 06 Sep 2013
Marc Breuil
Picture: Gary Mak

CEO of AIG HK Marc Breuil says the insurance giant has an array of strategies to lure the best staff

“We want to be an employer of choice in an industry of choice,” says Marc Breuil, president & CEO of AIG Insurance Hong Kong (AIG Hong Kong), the Hong Kong-based subsidiary of the global insurer, the American International Group.

The ability to attract, develop and retain staff, he adds, is one of the company’s top priorities. “Insurance is a people business. Our staff play a critical role in the manufacture, sale and distribution of insurance products that represent the company’s promise to pay when certain events happen. We want to be able to attract and retain staff, particularly the staff that we want to attract and retain,” he says.

As one of the best-capitalised general insurance companies in the city, AIG Hong Kong is performing solidly and has maintained its position as one of the largest direct insurers in town. The company rebranded to Chartis in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, but reassumed the name AIG in March this year. This was after it completed its reimbursement of US taxpayers and extinguished all its liabilities towards the US Federal Reserve Bank, with a combined positive return of US$22.7 billion.

“We decided that it was time to go back to the name that most of our customers and business partners never forgot, which was AIG,” Breuil says.

A pure AIG product himself, Breuil has worked in various entities of the company in Europe, the US and Asia since joining in Paris in 1992. He assumed a regional function based in Hong Kong in 2003 and was appointed CEO of AIG Hong Kong in May 2012.

AIG Hong Kong, with its 300 staff, is not the only AIG entity in the city. There is also a regional hub with about 60 people involved in providing underwriting and claims support, systems, internal audit, and other functions. AIG’s mortgage insurance arm, United Guaranty, also has a Hong Kong-based subsidiary which employs around 20 people.

One of the keywords that describes the corporate culture at AIG is “transparency”, Breuil says. “The company tries to be transparent and honest when conducting performance appraisals. People are paid for performance, and are hired and promoted based on competency, not on connections,” he says.

As part of AIG’s “pay for performance” dictum, employees are organised in a series of job grades. Each job grade has a salary band that includes base salary and potential short- and long-term incentives. At the end of the annual performance cycle, staff performance is reviewed and ranked, with each rank associated with a short-term incentive factor.

“There is no perfect way to evaluate human performance,” Breuil says. “There is always an element of arbitrariness, so wanting to be fair is very important.”

Management dialogue is also vigorously promoted within the company. “I want to believe that it happens at every level of the company,” Breuil says. His favourite activity is arriving at the office at 8.30am and walking around the floor, speaking with people he does not always get to see. He often sits together with staff from different departments for informal chats, asking them what they do, what should be improved, and the good and bad things about their work.

“We leave hierarchy at the door and engage in open dialogue with staff at every level. Unplanned activities or breakfast meetings are very important ways to maintain links with the rest of the organisation and get feedback. I’m obsessed about getting feedback,” he says.

The company also strives to uphold the principles of diversity. “If you want to serve diverse clients in a global financial centre such as Hong Kong, then you need to have diversity of people, skill sets and ideas. Our job as management is to promote an environment that allows that,” Breuil says.

AIG Hong Kong’s staff turnover rate is below the industry average and being a well-known multinational gives the company an advantage in attracting people who want to make a career in general insurance. Retaining talent, however, still requires proper governance and the right environment, so every two years, AIG takes the pulse of its employees through a survey.

“I spend a lot of my time along with the management team looking at the employee survey and seeing what we can improve. What do people want? They want career opportunities, training, to be listened to when they have something to say, and an environment where they feel that they can contribute as well,” Breuil says.

Initiatives such as the recently introduced maternity benefit, which the company claims to be a first in the non-life sector, and flexible work arrangements, help contribute to employee satisfaction. Employees also enjoy access to a variety of formal, on-the-job and online training opportunities. They can take online courses on different topics and attend lunch-and-learn activities where they can listen to specialists talk about product lines, distribution channels or technical subjects. The company also sponsors some staff in obtaining professional qualifications.

AIG’s large footprint in Asia also presents staff with a chance to gain international exposure. Some are sent on short-term assignments to other countries where they have the opportunity to be exposed to different parts of the business.

New graduates and young professionals with one or two years of experience are recruited into the global analyst programme, where they receive fast-track learning in key areas such as underwriting and claims. Breuil, who comes from a non-insurance background, was himself a product of a similar programme when he first joined the company.

All staff also get to be involved in a variety of CSR initiatives. Under its “giving back programme”, AIG recently donated HK$500,000 to Mission Possible, a charity established by the Peter Bennett Foundation. The donation was for the benefit of four charities: the Po Leung Kuk Special Children Development Fund, the Community Chest Rainbow Fund, Food Link, and the Lighthouse Benevolent Fund.

As part of follow-up volunteer services with Food Link – which seeks to alleviate hunger in Hong Kong by helping to reduce food wastage and allocating food to the poor – AIG staff have helped in packing rice and collecting surplus bread from Maxim’s Cakes shops to be given to the children of Po Leung Kuk.

In 2012, AIG in Hong Kong launched Volunteer Time Off, allowing employees to take two days off work per year – which are not taken from their paid annual leave – to participate in company-sponsored or personal volunteer activities during working hours.

“The response of our staff to the opportunities to give back to local communities has been extremely good,” Breuil says.


Breuil outlines the key componentsof AIG’s engagement strategy

MANAGEMENT PARTICIPATION “I spend a lot of my time along with the management team looking at the [twice a year] employee survey and seeing what we can improve.”
REMOVING BARRIERS “We leave hierarchy at the door and engage in open dialogue with staff at every level. I’m obsessed about getting feedback.”
INCLUSIVE CULTURE “[People] want career opportunities, training, to be listened to when they have something to say, and an environment in which they feel that they can contribute.”
COMMUNITY ACTION “The response of our staff to opportunities to give back to local communities has been extremely good.”

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