Axa UK and Ireland's Swiss CEO Claudio Gienal talks to Luke Holloway about his commitment to raising the profile of the insurance profession
Claudio Gienal's ascent across the professional landscape has seen him traverse an array of lofty peaks and challenging terrains. A trained environmental engineer from Switzerland, Mr Gienal began as management consultant at Accenture before moving into software engineering, specialising in railways. Returning to consultancy, he joined McKinsey & Company, spending time at banks and financial institutions and even consulted on the production lines at NestlÃ©, perfecting the manufacturing process of the Kit Kat.
But after 10 years at Zurich before joining Axa in 2017, and now appointed CEO of Axa UK and Ireland, Mr Gienal's true calling is insurance. "I am still driven by the difference we can make to people's lives and businesses, how we protect what matters to people and help them when they need us most," he says. "When I had to choose between banks and insurance, the decision was easy for me. I see the value insurance offers to individuals, SMEs and large corporates, and there is such a great reason for us to be here."
Axa Commercial Lines was one of the very first insurers to be awarded Chartered status by the CII. Demonstrating commitment to professionalism and the highest standards of ethical behaviour are still very much at the heart of Mr Gienal's message.
"We spend a lot of time at Axa making sure that insurance is recognised as a profession and reinforcing what our purpose is in the wider society," he says. "Our commitment here is clear and we want to give our team the right tools to be good at what they do. CII courses are a big step towards that, as well as getting them outside their environment here and out into the world of insurance."
Getting the right skills in the right place is vital, according to Mr Gienal, and giving young people a variety of routes into the profession is increasingly important as insurers look to the future.
"How we train and develop people is key. At Axa, we currently have more than 100 apprentices and more than 70 of them study through CII accreditation."
"We are very mobile in the way we look at education and how people move through their careers, which I think is brilliant. Intellect is only one piece that is required and we aim to give people the chance to develop in their own way with the skills they have, so I am very supportive of apprenticeships," he says.
"Many things are changing in insurance but what remains true is that you need people with good judgement. Key skills that I want people to have are that they believe in themselves, what they do and that they are thinking for themselves, because they all make a difference. We have 10,000 employees supporting our customers every day and I want them to be empowered, have the knowledge to make decisions and be sure that they have the tools to do so."
STAYING ON TRACK
Axa's 'Ambition 2020' strategic plan is already well underway and aims to continue on its growth track in a challenging economic environment.
Mr Gienal tells us: "We have five priorities this year, primarily focused on ensuring the foundations are there to build on when the new strategy is launched next year.
"We are looking to simplify process and structures to ensure we focus on value add for our customers and meaningful work for our people.
"Another priority is technical excellence," he says. "We have our underwriters, our claims team and our actuaries, who are all very proud of what they do and rightly so, but real technical excellence only comes when they all work together. It is about making sure that these people with very different skills and views come together, have the right discussions and work as one.
"So ensuring we have the right foundations in place is very important, as well as looking beyond 2020 and what that holds," he adds.
The future looks bright for Axa and Mr Gienal's spirit and positivity will be vital in guiding the business into the next decade.
"My hope is that we as a profession are better able to articulate to people what we do and why it is meaningful," he says. "We do something that is very beneficial to society and to individuals but for some reason it is difficult to get people to understand what we are trying to achieve.
"I hope we continue to keep up the highest standards and we continue to take our responsibility seriously. Working together will allow us to give the best service to customers, to drive transparency and to give the right outcome when they need us," says Mr Gienal, "and if we can do all that it will go a very long way."
- Habitat for learning: Claudio has a master's degree in environmental/environmental health engineering from ETH Zurich university in Switzerland.
- Building business: He is a board member for Axa Konzern in Germany and Switzerland-based insurance start-up JAROWA and a council member of the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce.
- Strategic move: Claudio joined Axa in July 2017 as chief strategy development officer, European markets and served as member of the European Management Committee.