Spreading the Asian DNA in Swiss Re

Singapore, Vietnam, China and Hong Kong were among the stops on Michel Liès' latest visit to Asia, where as Swiss Re's Global Head of Client Markets, he found himself hearing first hand about the latest developments affecting the coming renewals; presenting awards and searching out more of what he calls the “Asian DNA”.

A member of Swiss Re’s Executive Board since 1998 and on its Executive Committee since 2005, Michel Liès believes that a global company needs an eclectic mix of talents, attitudes and cultures, and wants to inject more of Asia’s best into the Swiss Re system in the US and Europe.

“We need to move the best of Asia around the globe, and have Asians selling to Americans, or creating global pricing models and the like, so our company and our clients can benefit from the Asian DNA,” he said. Ultimately, he would also like to see more Asians at the top of Swiss Re’s management structure.

Michel was his usual candid self about Swiss Re’s hopes for the Asian market.  He said, “About 10 years ago, we thought that by now, Asia would account for 25% of Swiss Re’s revenues. Our timing was over-ambitious but our goal is not.”

The secrets to attaining that goal?

“We should continue to explore and cut new paths through the insurance world to help clients unearth new treasures," Michel said, explaining that this spirit of daring has helped make Swiss Re innovators and leaders in such areas as ILS, public-private partnerships in agriculture and nat cat, longevity swaps and others. “We must be realistic and critical in our approach, but we must never lose this pioneering spirit,” he emphasised.

At the same time, Michel felt that Swiss Re’s client-facing teams must keep questioning whether they are delivering the right level of service,  and continue to get closer to what the client really needs. “I want to see more of an appetite for growth, a hunger for business, and an urgency to get the kind of true insight into our clients’ strategic needs that creates strong and lasting partnership.”

He also urged Swiss Re colleagues to keep in mind that they have built over years the most powerful client base of our industry.

“I again observed from participating in the Singapore International Reinsurance Conference and the Asia Insurance Industry Awards that we have a lot of loyal and enthusiastic supporters,” Michel said. “We are truly gratified by the loyalty our clients have shown us over what has been a tough period. Even more importantly, they appreciate our contribution to their successes.”

An admitted admirer of successful entrepreneurs, Michel does see a challenge in positively blending Swiss Re, with its structured organisation and approach, and Asian companies’ opportunistic and entrepreneurial approach.  He said, “We need be alert to new ways of working together and jointly finding solutions, without dampening that great entrepreneurial spirit, or vice versa, undermining the care and reliability that those structures support and that ultimately is what our clients are buying.”  

Michel (55), a citizen of Luxembourg, is a mathematician by training, and has worked in Latin America as well as Europe.  He enjoys all things that South America and Europe bring to the world, has a fond respect for history and its lessons and enjoys good cigars, gastronomy and fine wines. 

November 2009

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