Interview with Luciano Cirina, number one of Generali CEE Holding. “Central and Eastern Europe is a Region full of opportunities and this is a very beautiful city to live and work”.

Located in Prague since March 2013, Luciano Cirinà, is the one in charge of the activities of the Generali group in Austria, CEE and Russia. More specifically, he is the top manager who leads the fourth largest market of the Lion of Trieste, with 10% of the total Generali Group´s premiums and 15% of its operating result. In this interview he talks mainly about the challenges to be faced to remain competitive and conquer new milestones in a Region like this.

The Generali CEE holding company operates in 13 countries and is based in Prague. How much is Czech Republic worth in terms of premiums and operating profit compared to the entire holding company?

First of all, let me stress we are proud to run our operations in the Central and Eastern Europe from the Regional Office based in the heart of Europe. This is a unique operating model and it differentiates us from our competitors. In the Czech Republic, Generali Group is recognized as a strong player in the insurance market, being as a group #2. Our biggest insurance company here – Česká pojišťovna – belongs among the top market leaders being a very well-recognized institution with strong historical importance, serving to millions of clients. Generali pojišťovna, an innovative company, is one of the fastest growing insurance companies in the Czech Republic. Together with the subsidiaries the local Group is #1 in terms of profitability and its gross written premium is 1.9 billion EUR (which represents approximately 28% share on the regional GWP). In 2018 the operating result was 256 million EUR (about 30% share of the regional operating result).

What are the most distinguishable aspects of the New Europe’s insurance market, particularly the Czech one, compared to the Western European countries?

Central and Eastern Europe is a region of young and dynamic markets with huge potential. The potential of these markets results from their low insurance penetration compared with the average Western Europe and of course the general economic growth. Especially in the Czech Republic the economy is further developing, the market is growing, and people are doing well, their standard of living is getting higher and this is an opportunity for us – to be here for our clients to bring them the best in class insurance, investment and financial solutions.

The insurance sector is considered to be highly competitive. What are the keys to success on a market like the Czech one, also given the characteristics of local customers?

One of the main factors is the availability of the insurance company and the capacity of its agent network. We have the biggest sales network in the Czech Republic as well as the biggest branch office network. The call center operates in 24/7 mode. We are simply always available for our clients, we are their reliable partner. Another key to success is the quality of our services, for example we are the market leader when it comes to the speed of claims handling. And last but not least, we place great emphasis on client satisfaction and we strive to constantly innovate, improve our processes and learn from any mistakes.

What development goals do you have in this country? What do you think will be the insurance market areas allowing space for further growth in Czech Republic?

Recently I had the great pleasure to introduce our region in London to investors´ community and financial analysts. What concerns the Czech Republic we set clear strategic priorities that were presented in London as well. In the center of our business remains the client and therefore we will continue our journey towards digitization of the agent-customer relationship in order to increase customer satisfaction and also to improve efficiency. When I talk about digitization, it doesn´t mean that we want to substitute our agents, on a contrary, for the Czech Republic we want to increase sales capacity through good proposition for young agents and we want to equip them with digital tools. According to researches we did, also young generation wants to have a discussion, an advice from expert when buying a product. They need a real person not a robot.

Insurance frauds: you exposed a record number of scams during last year in Czech Republic, despite the positive phase of the Czech economy. What is your explanation for this situation?

In the past year, the overall figure was raised by several uncovered insurance frauds, some of them had been related to previous years, but the court decision was done only last year. Overall, we cannot say that the number of insurance frauds would grow.

How does the workforce crisis that plagues the Czech Republic affect your industry and how do you evaluate this matter altogether?

I personally consider the situation in all CEE labor markets as a big challenge and I don’t expect any significant improvement in the future. Also in the Czech Republic we have to face this situation, especially if we talk about recruiting experts from technical area or IT. You know we can talk about all strategies as much as we want, the real decisive element to win or lose the battle is people. So, the key will be, and is, to retain our talents, make sure the good people stay with us, develop with us, and to attract young people for the years to come for the next generation of Generali people.

Insurtech: for the upcoming years, the Generali Group is planning an impressive investment plan for digitalization and innovation. Has the moment arrived when the relationship between customers and insurance will be managed exclusively through computers and smartphone?

Innovation is indeed a priority for Generali Group. Together with digital transformation it is one of three main pillars in Generali 2021 strategy introduced last November. Some of the innovative solutions are already implemented on our markets and we would be continuing to evaluate further introductions to the market. As for now, for example the Czech operations are well ahead in using data analytics and partial robotic solutions for example in call centers, claims handling and policy administration (we are getting more paperless, using sign pads for electronic signatures etc.). Drones in insurance industry – that is another innovative approach which we follow in the Czech Republic as well as in Serbia or Bulgaria, especially in crop and property lines of business. Answering to the second part of your question, as I already mentioned before, in the relation between client and insurance company, we believe in the balanced approach – clients want to experience both functional and emotional benefits. Human touch will not be replaced as technology will not be able to deliver the same level of empathy and personal clients’ care as a human would do.

How are the investment plan and the reinforcement of your leadership in Central and Eastern Europe progressing? Allow us to ask you what the latest acquisitions were and if new operations are planned in short run.

Our strategy is to grow both ways – organically and through acquisitions inorganically. Right now we want to fully focus on the successful integration of the new companies in Slovenia and Poland – Adriatic Slovenia, Concordia and Union Investment TFI – into our organization. Nevertheless, we are still screening other M&A opportunities with a disciplined approach, evaluating them based on our strict financial and strategic criteria.

The Lion from Trieste is part of history of Prague and is a symbol of the strong relations between the two cities. Suffice to say that there was a certain Franz Kafka among your employees. What feelings rise in a Triestine like yourself to work precisely in Prague for Generali?

Prague is indeed a great place for living and working. It’s a wonderful and very safe town with nice places all around. And what makes me as an Italian feeling even more at home is the fact that there is quite a big Italian community. Of course I miss the sea and the Mediterranean flair but some excellent Italian restaurants help me to even forget about this.

by Giovanni Piazzini Albani and Giovanni Usai