Meeting with Carlo Schiavetto, CFO of Generali CEE in Prague, the manager who oversees the economic and financial planning which the Group’s fundamental choices are based on
Carlo Schiavetto became Chief Financial Officer of Generali CEE on May 1, 2020 responsible for overseeing the financial performance and strategic development of the 13 countries in the entire “Austria, CEE and Russia” area. On the same day, he was also invited to join the Executive Committee of Generali CEE Holding.
Padovese by origin, his career path took him to live in Milan, Dublin, Trieste and from 2013, in Prague. Referring to these frequent relocations he says: “I loved all the places where I lived so far and it’s particularly exciting to discover and get used to new places and realities”.
Sports, which he loves to practice, are among his many interests: “I especially love football, and I have a favorite team, Roma”.
Married, he has two children named Pietro and Beatrice, and of whom he does not hesitate to say: “Since they were born my family has become my greatest “passion”, to which I dedicate almost all my free time”.
He gave us this interview aftermath of taking up his new position.
What does it mean to be the Chief Financial Officer of a Group like Generali CEE? The Holding operates in 13 countries, which are all very different from each other. How does this diversity influence your work?
First of all, this is a big responsibility considering the importance of Generali CEE Holding which, with premiums of 7 billion EUR and a net profit of over 600 million, ranks second after Italy within the Generali Group in terms of profitability. Covering such a large area of countries implies the need to combine the necessity of preparing common guidelines that guarantee the mandatory centralizing of information and decisions with the required flexibility to grasp the peculiarities of each of the countries. To fully promote the latter, it’s essential for the Finance area to have developed a close collaboration with the local business units.
You have just been appointed Chief Financial Officer and at the same time you were invited to join the Board of Directors of Generali CEE Holding. What is the significance of this double assignment that you have taken on simultaneously?
The two positions in Generali CEE Holding are closely linked considering that the company’s governance, since its establishment at the end of 2007, foresaw that the CFO figure should also be included in the Board of Directors. I should underline that in Generali CEE Holding, among the members of the Executive Committee, only the CFO, along with the Chief Executive Officer, take part in the Board of Directors. On one hand, the dual role is justified by the importance of the financial side in supporting and guiding the top management in business choices and, on the other, by the need to manage the regular relationship with the main shareholder (Assicurazioni Generali) for which the financial matters are essential.
The financial crisis of ten years ago brought to the fore the role of CFOs in a company. Today, many observers foresee that the pandemic might cause the most serious crisis since the 1930s. How do you think the role of the CFO might change at a time like this? What challenges do you predict and with what spirit are you preparing to face them?
The crisis triggered by the Corona virus that hit the financial markets has already shown more serious impacts during the second half of March than those registered at the end of 2008. The financial statements of Generali Group, along with those of the companies in the Austrian and CEE region in particular, have nevertheless demonstrated their viability by showing excellent levels of solvency even in the aforementioned situations of market stress.
However, what concerns me about the future is the impact, not yet precisely quantifiable, that our technical result, originating mainly from the insurance business, will undergo as a consequence of the economic crisis that the economies of our Region will experience in the following months with falls in GDP, expected to be between 5% and 10% for the year 2020.
In this problematic context, I believe that the role of the CFO is to swiftly catch the signals that come from the financial markets and the real economy in order to support managerial decisions aimed at minimizing the negative impacts on the companies of the Region as a whole. In Generali CEE Holding, the structural amplitude and the business variety of the local entities have always prompted the Finance area to talk about not only the financial statement data, but above all, about forecasts, profitability, risk and investment management. This attitude is even more crucial in the current situation in which the entire insurance sector is confronted with levels of uncertainty and volatility that are unprecedented in recent history.
Do you believe that the current situation might also be a period of new opportunities for Generali CEE, and if so, which ones?
Without a doubt, the Covid-19 era has profoundly altered the reality we were used to operating in. We had to adapt to the new rules of the game quickly. Under these new circumstances, we realized that more than ever digitalization and innovation are the crucial elements to focus on. They are the key levers enabling us to deliver on the promise of being the Life-time Partner to our customers.
As the working environment changed completely in past months confining us to digital communication, it only proved that digitalization is the future within the HR area as well.
I am proud to say that we coped with all the challenges in a very short time. Moreover, we managed to achieve things we would have considered unthinkable just some time ago. The new reality truly speeded up the process towards our digital maturity throughout the whole company.
We have already launched several transformational initiatives in our Region to equip our agents with best in class systems and digital tools. But this is one of the opportunities to be exploited. We will drive the digital transformation to further develop customer experience by improving our processes through advanced solutions and increasing efficiency through automated, fully integrated and paperless activities.
Also due to the crises experienced before this latter one linked to the spread of the Corona virus (Internet bubble in 2001, Lehman crisis in 2008), the role of the Chief Financial Officer appears increasingly decisive for the fate of the company and emerges as one of the managerial figures of reference to support the CEO. In this context, solid technical and accounting skills remain necessary but no longer sufficient, considering that the Finance function must work with the business to achieve common objectives and must be able to question decision-making processes, supporting them adequately by expanding its own advisory role and providing greater added value. In this sense, the CFO area, as manager of the company’s financial resources, is responsible for safeguarding the value of the investments and optimizing corporate profitability.
With that in mind, as a necessary one to describe the ongoing transformation process, I believe that those who want to deal with finance nowadays must acquire a horizontal, transversal and interdisciplinary vision within and outside the company. The individual skill that I consider fundamental to be able to achieve this goal is a healthy dose of curiosity. Very often, the analysis of a single financial indicator leads to the need of evaluating a series of cause-effect relationships that link that indicator to many others, some of which may not even fall within the pure financial sphere. In my opinion, this continuous search for causes and connections requires a curious approach and a mental attitude of openness.
What advice would you offer to a young person who intends to work in corporate finance, aiming for a large international company?
I believe that the fundamental ingredients behind a career in Finance are a good numerical attitude, and the willingness to sacrifice, imposed by a job characterized by a tight deadline calendar. Furthermore, if the ambition is to enter an international society, it’s almost essential to move towards a career focused on professional mobility abroad. In my opinion, the latter is the decisive aspect and therefore the advice I would give to a young person today oriented towards this type of career is to plan professional experiences outside their country starting immediately after their graduation.
What has this experience of working in Prague since 2013 been offering you from a professional point of view?
Considering that my initial “assignment” in the Czech Republic was for three years and that today, after almost seven years, my career path is still firmly connected to Generali CEE Holding, the evaluation of my work experience can only be a positive one. On one hand, the reasons for this judgment lie in the increase in the responsibilities that have been attributed to me over time and, on the other, on the opportunity to work with a group of managers, both in Prague Holding and in the operative companies of the Region, whose seniority and competence is certainly among the highest in our Group.
by Giovanni Usai and Giovanni Piazzini Albani