Philipp Gmur (Switzerland 1963), the CEO of the Helvetia Group, couldn't imagine managing the operation from far away when it acquired 70% of Spanish insurer Caser a month prior to the pandemic. His visits to Switzerland, the headquarters of the firm, have been a regular occurrence for the past two years. This week, he has had contact with several Spanish workers to strengthen his presence there.
How does the war in Ukraine affect the business after the pandemic crisis?
-We are extremely happy with the activity for 2022. Our balance sheet is solvent, which helps us to deal with adverse situations. We don't see any impact in the short-term because we aren't exposed to investments from Russia or Ukraine. It is harder to predict what the long-term or medium-term consequences will be. We need to assess the effect of inflation exceeding 8.8%, the likelihood of a recession and the lack supply. Also, we must consider the effect on immigration from Africa due to possible shortages of food.
-And what are the perspectives for 2022?
We are cautious when estimating profit. This year has been a positive start, which helps us to manage the situation well. We believe that the long-term impact may be greater than the short term. This could be especially true in 2023, 2024, and 2025. Every day brings new surprises, such as in the area of energy supply. However, Spain is better than most other countries in this instance.
Two years have passed since Helvetia purchased 70% of Caser in 2020. How do you balance this?
We are extremely happy with the outcome. Together with Helvetia's Spanish business, Caser contributed 72 million Swiss Francs (or 70 million euros) to the group’s 2021 profits. More than 100 million people live in Spain, which is 20% of the group’s profits. Our plan is guiding the integration. It has been a great experience working with local Caser management. We quickly came to an agreement on the most critical issues, and we were very happy with the mutual information process.
Can Caser's contribution to Helvetia’s global business grow further?
Yes, in the medium-term, as Spain is more open to growth than other markets. We have a lower market share than Switzerland, and strong positions in Spain, particularly with Caser, thanks to our collaboration agreements with banks and the newly established network of financial advisors and agents. We believe that Caser's contribution has a lot of potential for growth. We believe that there is still room for growth in Spain, and the margins are still acceptable.
Unicaja, Ibercaja "The alignment of interests is key to shareholder cooperation success"
How do you relate to other shareholders such as Unicaja or Ibercaja within Caser?
The alignment of interests is key to success in collaboration with banks. This can be seen in three ways: banks earn commissions when they sell Caser products. Portfolio profit-sharing programs are also available to banks if they sell profitable insurance contracts. If Ysi Caser succeeds, it will distribute dividends to shareholders.
-Helvetia has agents and brokers in Spain, while Caser is more focused on bancassurance. This will change.
We aim to be available at all points where sales are needed. It could have been in a bank. You can also contract a trip by purchasing a car or a phone. There are many sales channels and distribution channels. As in Italy, Spain has the tradition of bancassurance. We would love to keep them. Caser is an example of a banker who has been able to see the needs of their customers and banks.
What role does Spain play in Helvetia, according to your strategic plan for 2025?
We would like Spain to be the same weight as it is now. However, there are more opportunities than in other countries. This is where you will find a significant income stream in the non-insurance industry, such as hospitals and nursing homes. It has a very high growth potential, which is why it is so superior to other markets.
-The digitization is rapidly progressing in the insurance sector. What is your Smile project?
Although Smile is extremely successful in Switzerland, it's a long-term story as it takes time to understand how it works in other countries. Spain is a larger market, so you need to ensure its success. Smile is more than digitization. It's a shift in mentality. It's about being more present in everyday life by encouraging good driving, reminding people of dates, and warning them of storms.
How do you as an insurance company see the future for retirement in Spain?
-Confidence is falling in the public sector. Individuals must save for their future. It is also about whether they have the means to afford it. There is now a reform to the second pillar (business plan). Many Spaniards save for housing but must ask: How will this investment grow? It all depends on where you live. It depends on where you are. Will it have enough value to be liquidated in the future? Europe faces the challenge of reforming their retirement systems and its dependence on the state. Insurance companies are eager to play an important part, and we can be trusted as a reliable provider.