António Bico, CEO Zurich Portugal: "Predicting the future is absolutely critical to our business"
António has been Managing Director of Zurich Portugal since 2007. With a long career at Zurich, he started in the Claims department, moving on to various management positions. With extensive international experience within the Zurich Group, António holds a Master in Management and Business, an MBA in Management and Business Administration and several trainings in senior management, leadership and coaching in Germany, Spain, France and Switzerland.
Fluent in English, French and Spanish, António has been President of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Portugal since 2016. Thanks to his passion for music, the CEO of Zurich Portugal spends part of his free time studying and practising the piano and is a member of Zurich's music band, the ITA - Unable to Play In Tune. António is also a volunteer with Mission Blue, Zurich's volunteer club.
What are the main challenges of your current responsibilities?
There is a permanent challenge than the present moment. And the challenge is to constantly and systematically manage uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity. What has changed in recent months is the context because, in fact, no one has ever experienced a pandemic before. And the social and economic impacts are already being felt, but they have not yet been fully and adequately identified and quantified.
Recently, together with the World Economic Forum and Marsh, we published the study "COVID-19 Risk Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Implications", in which we highlighted the prolonged global recession, high unemployment, a new outbreak of infectious diseases and protectionism as the main short-term concerns for business.
In the insurance sector, all these risks, which are also challenges, translate into expected falls in new insurance sales, reduced insurance renewals due to company closures or downsizing, increased Covid-19 claims and huge volatility in financial markets that impact on insurance products.
We live in a context that, due to its specificities of geographical transversality and anxiety - waiting for science to give the world the good news that a vaccine and a therapy have been found - makes it difficult to have a clearer vision. It is essential to read and interpret the countless variables that surround us - most of them full of uncertainty - and make the decisions we consider most appropriate to move forward.
Despite all the uncertainty, I am firmly convinced that the context in which we live will evolve, significantly based on technological innovation, the search for a better quality of life, the protection of people and the benefit of the planet.
What are the current major trends that you highlight in the insurance industry?
In recent years, the insurance industry has been, like many others, in the midst of a transformation. We were already experiencing some trends that will continue in the coming years, be it the digital transition of the sector, startups and insurtech or changes in consumer habits.
Reinvention has been a constant, with a positive response from the market, but these months of pandemic lock-in have accelerated decision-making and the implementation of new processes, mostly technology-based.
The digital transition of insurers and professionals in the sector has been a necessary development in recent months
The digital transition of insurers and professionals in the sector has been a necessary development in recent months and we at Zurich saw it as an opportunity to move forward in the transformation of our business, something we had already been doing.
Startups and insurtech have also played a key role in accelerating transformation, innovation and disruption in the insurance industry. That's why at Zurich, around the world, we are already working with a wide range of startups and insurtechs that we have been challenging through a global competition that is now in its second edition and has already gathered almost 2,000 projects (Zurich Innovation Championship).
In the first edition, Habit Analytics, selected by us here in Portugal, was part of the group of the eight best startups in the world that competed in the global phase of the competition. In the second edition, we selected APlanet, which, despite not being selected for the next phase, developed an excellent sustainability pilot project with us.
The external knowledge of start-ups complements our experience of almost 150 years in the world and more than 100 years in Portugal, driving the development of products and services with the aim of generating an excellent and unique experience for our customers.
With the startups we were able to challenge the limits of the transformation of the insurance sector, so we are already working with several of them on very specific projects. This whole path of digital transformation of the sector, endogenous and exogenous, arises because consumer habits have also evolved, as a result of new generations buying differently, to which is now added - also because of the pandemic - a strong evolution of digital behaviour. Almost everyone is digital.
People shop online, they want convenience, simple but personalised services and products, and they want experiences in the offline and online world. They want to buy insurance online in the same way they buy a book, an item of clothing or a concert ticket. Adapting traditional products, such as car, home or health insurance, to these new habits is one of the ways to innovate in insurance sales.
It is also necessary to accelerate the definition and availability of other solutions to respond to emerging risks, in particular those arising from demographic factors, the concept of mobility, new working patterns or technological risks. This adaptation demonstrates that the insurance sector is permanently dynamic in responding to the development and evolution of society.
It should be noted that it is equally necessary and urgent to find responses to risks with a global dimension, such as environmental risks like fires, floods, droughts, catastrophic risks like earthquakes and, of course, pandemics.
In general, what is the distinguishing factor that you highlight in the relationship between companies and their customers?
Zurich historically relates to its business partners, principal agents and brokers, making business flow on the basis of a transparent, solid and joint relationship, resulting in teamwork that has marked our position in the market for recognition of excellent service delivery, both during the sales and after-sales process.
This factor, combined with the Zurich brand and the effective innovation dynamics that we systematically bring to the market, are distinctive elements that are highly appreciated by our business partners.
In short, this relationship is based on several complementary aspects: a strong and credible brand, a unique relational capacity, excellent service delivery, a constant dynamic of innovation and the dedication of our people, which make Zurich a company with more than a century of success in Portugal.
All of these aspects culminate in what we call #ZurichExperience. That is, the ability of everyone in the customer service delivery ecosystem - employees, agents, brokers and service providers - to keep the level of these distinguishing factors very high, always, whether through experiences in the offline or online world.
In the context of Business Analytics (BA) and Business Intelligence (BI), what is your company's relationship to business-critical data and information?
In the insurance sector, especially in the development of new products and the updating of existing ones, as well as in the definition of the prices of each product, a lot of work is done with various databases, whether historical, prospective or predictive.
Working with past and present data to predict the future - despite all the uncertainties and increasingly interconnected and global risks - is absolutely critical to our business and is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of the insurance business. The evolution of the industry also implies an ever-increasing and more complex analysis of data.
Nowadays we already talk about data science, so our recruitments in this field are focused on very specific profiles of Data Scientist, Data Analyst or Senior Business Analyst. And I give a very specific example: Business Analytics, Business Intelligence and Data Science have come to sophisticate what, in insurance, we call "climate risk analysis", i.e. the collection and management of predictive data on risks associated with wind, floods, fires, droughts or other climatic disasters.
This data enhancement facilitates the identification of the where, how and why of climate risks and impacts and allows us to better understand the risks; this knowledge production is reflected in the risk prevention and management inherent in the design of insurance solutions.
In parallel, we take on the role of anticipating resilience, whether at the level of communities, cities, countries or different global regions. For example, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is a project in which we identify the communities most prone to flooding, and then make them more resilient to these climate events.
What implications will these Business Analytics (BA) and Business Intelligence (BI) trends have on businesses and individuals?
Continuing with the specific example of climate change, the combination of our predictive models and the geographic mapping of natural catastrophes that we have available in different public and private entities allows us to detail the most likely catastrophic risks in each region. In other words, we know exactly where certain hazards are most likely to occur.
The impact of this knowledge on our business is to tailor the insurance solution with appropriate cover and the impact on individuals is that, as risk management specialists, we have an ethical duty to share our knowledge with the client and advise them to take out specific cover that anticipates protection against the impacts of these risks.
There is also a trend that we will see evolving in the future related to the digital transformation and consumer habits we have covered, and that is on-demand insurance - activated when necessary and deactivated when unnecessary (e.g. travel insurance) - and usage-based insurance - in force only for the customer's use of his or her insurable asset.
In these cases, the insurer has to be able to know very well the customer profile, the risk and the use of the insurance, data collected and analysed through Business Analytics and Business Intelligence.
For you, innovation is...
Innovation is dissatisfaction, restlessness, non-conformity. It means always wanting to do better. But all this in the right and positive dose. Managed in a rational and emotionally intelligent way.
Innovating is to become agents of change and to influence new actions and projects, whether we are volunteers in our local association, employees of companies or businesses.
Innovating is to become agents of change and to influence new actions and projects, whether we are volunteers in our local association, employees of companies or businesses. Innovation is individual and collective and has to have a purpose. A purpose to serve better by improving our surroundings.
What will business be like in 2030? Why?
More sustainable, more useful, more purposeful, more human, with different organisational cultures, more flexible and global working, more collaborative workspaces and renewed talent retention strategies.
Because the well-being of people and the planet, shaped by immediacy and convenience, will be one of the main goals of a technological future.