Véronique Brionne, Country President, France, Chubb
As the year 2020 came to an end, it was time to reflect and, also to look ahead at what’s in store for 2021.
We have just spent an exceptional 12 months that presented us with events that would have been unimaginable when the year began. I have worked in the risk and insurance business for more than 20 years and over that time you pick up a fair degree of knowledge about emerging risks and the changing nature of the risk landscape. The threat of a future pandemic was always a consideration, but few could have anticipated the events of 2020 in terms of global impact and the speed at which they occurred.
This time 12 months ago, we were only just starting to hear about COVID-19. And the virus was quietly starting to spread across South East Asia and beyond, doing so with such rapidity that by February clusters were emerging in Italy and France soon followed.
Timing, as they say, is everything and it was at this moment I started my new role as Chubb’s Country President for France. A week after my first day in post, France went into lockdown and suddenly we were all working from home.
Looking back, I am extremely impressed by how quickly and efficiently we adapted. From day one, our people switched seamlessly to home working with no interruption in service to brokers and clients.
The fact we were not in an office created some challenges for me in those early days. Getting to know your management team is crucial and face to face is usually the best way. But thanks to the commitment and endeavours of my fantastic colleagues – plus a bit of help from Webex - we managed to overcome this hurdle.
While COVID-19 was the biggest event of the year, 2020 was fascinating for other reasons too.
We started the year with the insurance market in a state of flux. Rates which had been low or diminishing for a decade and a half were now changing direction and there were signs of an acceleration of the hardening market which began in 2018.
This was happening across Europe, starting with high-risk/high claims experience property businesses and continuing more generally on other lines to correct the pricing deviations especially on large risks after 15 years of a soft market. That was certainly the picture for large risks but less so for the middle market. However, the need to clarify contract wordings was common across the entire sector.
These changes inevitably created some turbulence but Chubb has always had a disciplined underwriting approach and managed the cycle well. This was, and continues in 2021 to be about achieving price adequacy for the risks that we take on to our balance sheet and how we deploy capacity. And the improved pricing environment has actually enabled us to deploy more capital for some of our clients.
Of course, articulating some of these changes to brokers and ultimately clients is not always easy. Chubb has always been as transparent as possible with brokers and clients around our underwriting appetite and on accounts requiring remediation this was central to the renewal discussions. We began those conversations at the earliest opportunity, back in the summer, to arm brokers with all the information they needed so they could avoid any late surprises for clients. This was followed by further discussions to find the best solutions and the success of these really demonstrated the effectiveness of the tripartite relationship.
The hardening market made some larger companies consider alternative ways of managing their risks and the insurance cycle. We saw an increase in demand for our expertise in managing captives, for example. This is a leading area for Chubb, where we have a particular expertise and we have over the years developed technologies for transparency and efficiency.
We have always been here to support our clients and that message is more important now than ever before because we recognise how tough the economic conditions continue to be in 2021. Chubb both as a business and as a key player in the French insurance market will continue to work with our industry to help companies and the economy wherever we can.
The breakthrough with a COVID-19 vaccine gives us all hope that we can get back to some sense of normality in 2021, and for brokers and their clients that cannot come quickly enough.
Just because we are living through a pandemic it does not mean other risks have gone away. Indeed, cyber and technology risks have been near the top of the risk register for most companies in the last two or three years. If anything, the pandemic has served to increase cyber risks because it has hastened the digitisation of business. Environmental impairment liability is another growing area of risk for companies.
We continuously, seek to improve the customer and broker experience and are undertaking some changes in 2021, to enhance service levels in our small commercial business. We are creating a small commercial underwriting hub in Madrid to service all online policies not only in France but elsewhere.
To facilitate this further we are also implementing standard policy wordings across our portfolio for all our small commercial clients and moving the renewal portfolios for Casualty, Marine, D&O and Cyber to our online self-service platform.
This initiative will allow our underwriters based in France to focus on the more complex risks and better service our brokers and clients.
The strength of a company like Chubb lies in its people and I feel very privileged to be working with so many talented individuals. I want to take this opportunity to thank them and pay tribute to their efforts over these last few months because they have never yielded in their determination to deliver the best service to our brokers and their clients.
Looking back on what we achieved in 2020 not only gives me an enormous sense of pride but also makes me believe that we in 2021 can achieve almost anything.
Véronique Brionne is Country President, France for Chubb