All the brands achieved good sales volumes, and Covéa managed to grow faster than its competitors. Although devoid of major climatic events, 2011 was disrupted by a new storm on the financial markets. At issue: the Greek debt and its atypical management by the French government.
"Covéa is a source of skills; each company should make the most of it in the interest of our policyholders."
Thierry Derez, Chairman and Managing Director of Covéa, GMF and MAAF, Chairman of MMA (June 2012)
What is your overall assessment of 2011, and your analysis of the impact of the Greek sovereign debt on the management of the Covéa portfolio?
From a business perspective, the Covéa brands achieved good sales volumes, and technically, 2011 was a favourable year compared with the previous financial periods which were marked by major natural disasters.
The disruption was due the financial crisis and the involvement of the private sector in financing the Greek debt. It reflects the ignorance of the traditional pact between institutional investors and governments: public bodies need financing and find a very large proportion of that funding is by institutional investors. For the first time, the pact was broken, which may, in the future, have an impact on the confidence of stakeholders in the insurance and savings markets.
Covéa developed strongly on foreign markets in 2011: is that just the result of seizing opportunities or an increased willingness to expand outside France?
One of our specific features is that in the main insurance business lines in which we are involved we have a market share such that there few prospects for external growth on the French market. As a result, for an extremely French group such as Covéa - 90% of whose gross premiums are written in France – the question is how to optimise our capacity by risk diversification, which requires presence on foreign markets, while pursuing our organic growth.
For the time being, Covéa only intervenes on mature markets, as and when business opportunities occur. It is difficult today to predict the future of the insurance industry: the Solvency II Directive is not very legible, there is considerable volatility in the approach of the European authorities and policies concerning the hazards involved in systemic risks, hence the plethora of controls lying ahead...
The important thing is to be alive and in good health – as in the case of Covéa, which does not call for radical measures or drastic changes. All we need is to be prepared for any opportunity, flexible and responsive, whatever the opportunity, whenever it arises.
On what issues should the Group focus?
Given the major current demographic trends, the healthcare insurance market is certainly set to grow. In this respect, the landscape is uncertain for insurers: there are decisions to be taken, taxes, sluggishness to be overcome and key questions left unanswered such as access to personal medical records... but ultimately, the business does not really change, except for increases in premiums. Another issue of interest to Covéa is the link between claims and services: policyholders no longer expect us simply to send them a cheque. The service that accompanies it is a major issue, and this requires good synchronization of claims and assistance activities. It's a change that takes time, but it is a major trend on the market, and one in which Covéa has potential.
How do you see 2012?
A mystery... for many reasons. Over and above instability and the economic crisis, questions are bound to occur in the new political landscape – what is expected of insurance companies, what economic vision do we have, are insurers supposed to act as a counterweight to economic uncertainties, and so on.
Without having any immediate reply, our companies have to make headway: they are dynamic, have good quality products, good teams, and a very solid financial base that all of allowing us to face the future calmly – and that is important today.
By nature, Covéa is continually under construction since we have chose to keep our brands: it is a source of skills, resources and means, and a great tool for the companies. It is up to them to make the most of it in the interest of our policyholders.