homepage_name! > Editions > Number 117 > Interview - Gordana Bukumiric

Gordana Bukumirić, Executive Board Chairman of the Uniqa Insurance Company

Record-breaking year for UNIQA Insurance company

UNIQA has quickly become a leading force in innovations on the local market, due to the company´s implementation of the Group’s best practices in conducting business in over 18 countries around the world. On a daily basis, we adapt our business to clients’ needs, which have changed significantly over the past few years. Today, time and comfort come first on their priority list. Inspired by clients’ needs, we have established 24/7 Contact Centers as well as mobile offices. We were among the first to create a webstore, introduce a free Viber number (which is already used by more than 70% of travel insurance customers), as well as online insurance payments, video damage-assessment and numerous other innovations accompanying and rounding out our offers.

Ms. Gordana Bukumirić, Executive Board Chairman of the Uniqa Insurance Company

talks for PROFIT magazine.

1.What business results did Uniqa Insurance (life and non-life) achieve in 2018 and were your goals met? Which segments realized the biggest growth?

The UNIQA insurance company will remember the past business year for its realized plans, growth in every area and an outstanding business result – a profit of €1.9 million, 640,000 insurance contract conclusions and 50,000 new clients placing their trust in us.Once more, we broke our own record relying on the unfailing combination of knowledge, consistency, and experience. We achieved an unbelievable premium sum of €49.9 million. The record-breaking amount of €19.9 million paid on behalf of 111,594 insurance claims confirms our renowned uncompromising attitude to always adhere to our promises, as well as our reliability.

Knowledge and years of experience were the best tailwind for breaking our own records. Perhaps, the most significant accomplishments were the growth in UNIQA travel insurance being used by more than 300,000 Serbian travelers, as well as the doubling of household insurances concluded during the last two months of the previous year. We launched Help on the Way (Pomoć na putu), which had previously been an integral part of our comprehensive insurance as an individual product and we were very pleased to see it exceed all our expectations.

We achieved an 11% rise in both companies, which exceeded market growth. That´s why we can expect more good news and growth in market participation at the beginning of 2019. Online sales increased by more than 60 percent and, thanks to our professionalism, intellectual capital, and cooperation between sectors as well as globally, all insurance types have progressed significantly. The largest growth of almost 32 percent was achieved in the field of liability insurance. This was followed by property insurance with a growth of 24 percent, voluntary health insurance by 9.5 and travel health insurance by 9 percent. Life insurance registered growth of 13.5%.

2.The insurance market is growing not only in Serbia but throughout the whole region. Insurers are changing their strategies and are leaving certain markets to focus on others. What is UNIQA´s strategy concerning business conduct in Serbia?

At the moment, there are 21 insurance groups conducting business in Serbia – 17 for insurance and four for re-insurance. The natural solution for such a large number of contributors to an extremely small market seems to be consolidation, that is, the integration of insurance groups, which we will certainly be witnessing in the forthcoming period. This has been confirmed by the relatively rough period the market of our country and region has gone through this previous year.

The strategy of the UNIQA Group, under whose auspices we are conducting business, resulted in the arrival on the Serbian market after the acquisition of Zepter Insurances. At the beginning of 2014, we acquired another company in our country, but also in Croatia – Basler insurance – which is why the investment sum in Serbia has exceeded €70 million. Of course, we are further observing and pursuing market developments and new possibilities. As soon as conditions are met, we are ready to invest in business expansion.

3.Worldwide, insurance is a well-developed area. How well-developed is the business in Serbia and how high is our consumption (premium per citizen) in relation to the rest of the world?

During the first nine months of last year, the insurance sector in Serbia followed the trend with 5% growth, which is perhaps not so fast, but it’s safe and healthy. If you take a look at the data, you will see that insurance premiums contribute to 2% of our country´s gross national product, while this value for countries of the European Union is 7%. In our country, €102 per citizen is spent on insurance, while this is €290 in our neighboring country Croatia, and as much as €1.020 in Slovenia, on an annual basis. However, if you approach these statistical figures with the belief that the glass is half-full, instead of half-empty, you will recognize the outstanding potential for further growth and development of insurance on the local market.

Considering the contribution to the gross national product, the Serbian insurance sector has actually exceeded Central and Eastern Europe’s average, which leads us to the conclusion that our country is in a good position. Another promising fact is that interest in individual products like private health insurance has been marked by dynamic growth, and reached a value of almost 26% during the first nine months of last year.

Certainly, community education and efforts for the development of a local insurance culture are paying off already. However, contributors on the national market must join in order to achieve more significant progress. Only if we jointly invest time, resources and patience, can we overcome prejudices which are the major obstacles to the expansion of our industry on the local market.

4.Insurance companies are increasingly working on the simplification of insurance policies in order to make them more understandable and accessible to customers and to increase the transparency and ethics of the business. How does the UNIQA insurance company perceive these demands and how do you react to them?

Transparent and understandable communication with clients, based on mutual trust, is imperative for us at the UNIQA insurance company. In order to protect the rights and interests of our clients, we take care to carefully prepare the policies and to communicate in a clear and direct manner that can be understood by all. Potential clients are offered pre-contractual consultations, which support them in considering all elements significant for their decision, simply and understandably before they take up the policy.

Our sales consultants are available for clients 24 hours per day. This is only one of the ways we as a company try to make insurance graspable for community members and educate them about all the benefits that come with it. An important aspect in the improvement of transparency is the simplification of the products themselves and their adjustment to the needs and actual available resources of clients, in that special attention is paid to their time, understanding of insurance conditions and their available financial means.

Household insurance, for example, which is available in the UNIQA webstore with the highest insurance coverage, had to be adapted in a certain way to be simpler and more suitable for sales via the webstore. In order to maximally shorten and simplify the online contracting of policies, we made corrections to the usual policy purchase procedure at our agency. We also corrected the existing packages in order to increase their accessibility, still strictly taking care to guarantee the broadest insurance coverage. This is certainly one of the factors contributing to the significant growth of household insurance during the previous year.

5.The UNIQA insurance company has worked intensely on the introduction of new technology and on the digitalization of all business segments since their entry into the Serbian market. What has been achieved in that field until now and what are your future plans?

UNIQA has quickly become a leading force in innovations on the local market, due to the company´s implementation of the Group’s best practices in conducting business in over 18 countries around the world. On a daily basis, we adapt our business to clients’ needs, which have changed significantly over the past few years. Today, time and comfort come first on their priority list. Inspired by clients’ needs, we have established 24/7 Contact Centers as well as mobile offices. We were among the first to create a webstore, introduce a free Viber number (which is already used by more than 70% of travel insurance customers), as well as online insurance payments, video damage-assessment and numerous other innovations accompanying and rounding out our offers.

With growth of 60% in online sales only in the previous year, we will continue to develop our website and webstore, where travel and household insurance policies and “help on the way” can be bought.

We are preparing a large number of applications featuring automatic risk assessment and premium calculation, which will grant our agents more work autonomy, while clients – citizens as well as small and medium-sized companies – can experience an even faster and better service. This is only one of the strategies through which we want to improve the activities of the sales net, completing more than 80% of all offers via internally created applications.

6.You pay a lot of attention to socially responsible business practices. How do you choose what to support, that is, what are your guiding principles?

Since its foundation until today, UNIQA has approached this very important task with a lot of love and commitment. Even though it is hard to face all of the problems and unsolved issues in our community, we do our best to carefully observe the needs of the communities we conduct business in. In that way, we gain an insight into how we as a company can contribute to the solution of a socially meaningful issue.

Since its foundation, UNIQA has supported sports as the essence of good habits, a healthy life, fair play, and team spirit. For years, we have been partners of Serbia´s water polo team, where our brand ambassadors come from – Andrija Prlainović, Milan Aleksić, Sava Ranđelović, and Dušan Mandić. We are the sponsors of the capital´s most significant athletic manifestation the Belgrade Marathon, as well as The Children´s Half-Marathon and various night races like the one at the airport. In recent years, our company has been highly supportive of national sports and athletes, cooperating with the Olympic Committee of Serbia, the Nataša Kovačević Foundation and the Special Olympics for persons with special needs.

Certainly, the focus of our socially responsible business conduct are children, our youngest champions. We are aware that an investment into their happy childhood and the establishment of conditions in which they can reach their full potential, is actually an investment for a better future for all of us. That´s why we have supported more than 20 institutions for the healthcare, accommodation, care, and education of Serbia´s most at-risk children. Last year, we realized two large projects, which we are especially proud of. On the invitation of UNICEF, we joined the global movement of celebrating World Children´s Day, which brings together the most eminent world organizations and companies, but also individuals every year, all sharing one goal – the promotion of children´s rights. We supported an educational development program of a children´s home, the only institution trying to improve the quality of the life of children living and working on the streets through the provision of accommodation, food, clothing, healthcare and in numerous other ways.

Speaking of culture, we are working on maintaining Serbia´s theatre, music and art world through our traditional partnership with the Shakespeare Festival manifestation and numerous original art exhibitions.For years we have been sponsors of the most prestigious business event in the country, the Kopaonik Business Forum, and we have additionally supported the Mokra Gora School of Management.

As you can see, the area of socially responsible business practices we have invested in so far is broad. We are guided by our wish to inspire by example and we will certainly continue to be an active contributor to the preservation of the most significant values and traditions.

7.What will be the focus of the UNIQA insurance company this year?

In 2019, UNIQA will continue to implement the strategy developing voluntary insurance types.

Aside from cooperating with corporate partners, we will continue to focus on raising the awareness of citizens about how important property insurance and the transfer of part of those risks to the insurance company is. We are confident that we will influence the development of culture and awareness about the significance of property insurance through open dialogue and transparent communication.

In 2019, our company will continue to develop voluntary health insurance, a segment that registered growth of 9.5% this past year. As market leader, we will additionally empower the institution network, which already consists of more than 700 specialized practices, polyclinics, health centers, and hospitals. We will also do our best to find room for improvement with regard to a superior service for clients, who can now choose between a healthcare institution and a doctor and cut their waiting time for a scheduled examination down to a maximum of 15 minutes. The MedUNIQA Contact Center is available 24/7 for our clients and the team of doctors working there will be supported by new professionals and new energy.

Furthermore, we will continue working on affinity development, that is, simple insurance, for which we have become market leaders within a short period of time. Last year, we developed warranty extension, breakage insurance for mobile phones and tablets, tire insurance, legal protection insurance and “help on the way”. The need for such types of insurance is increasing, which is why we will focus particularly on the creation of new, and improve on existing products from this category.

Last year, we opened six new subsidiaries, so that the UNIQA sales network now consists of 43 subsidiaries, eight exclusive agencies, and 15 mobile offices throughout Serbia. Our plan is to take one more step towards our clients this year, in that we increase our presence in cities, where we are represented and expand our sales team.

The UNIQA insurance company is comprised of around 600 employees and more than 500,000 clients in Serbia. What are the challenges for the Management Board Chairman of such a company?

Managing a company being involved in the business of one of the leading European corporations means to manage company values and work with people at the same time every day – you introduce them in business activities and continuously ask yourself: What can I do today to contribute to their development and progress?

All good leaders need to know how their teams breathe. Certain skills are indispensable – you must be able to inspire employees to reach their potential, to motivate them and allow them to grow. Therefore, apart from building honesty and trust as the basis for a good and healthy business as well as all other relationships, the biggest challenge is to build loyalty in employees, which is based on understanding and the readiness for constructive conversations.

An important and very challenging aspect is to recognize the challenges of the local market and to adapt the business to it, as well as implement the best practices of our UNIQA group, which conducts business with 50 companies in 18 European countries. It is our obligation to find a perfect balance and to achieve set goals through correct and precise strategic planning. The key elements in meeting these challenges are well-developed communication channels. Thanks to them, our business strategy reaches every employee of the UNIQA team in the form of daily decisions.

Furthermore, the Management Board Chairman is obliged to meet the high expectations of shareholders and at the same time continuously observe the needs of a very challenging market. Client priorities have changed greatly over the past few years and the top priorities are now time and comfort. For the UNIQA insurance company, it is imperative to maintain infallible service quality which has existed for more than two centuries, keeping abreast of the trends through further development, to digitalize and to adapt the business to clients’ needs. Consequently, it is a great challenge to join a seemingly rigid industry like insurance and the modern and innovative business strategy we have chosen. However, this is the only way to familiarize citizens with our products and services, as well as all their benefits.

In the end, it is important that you keep thinking, have an objective approach and realistically assess risks. It is important to approach every challenge, not with fear, but with a healthy and appropriate attitude in helping you to see the hidden and huge potential for further development in threats.

Private health insurance is a growing segment, and the UNIQA insurance company is a leader in this field. What is your projection regarding the development of the respective market?

Private health insurance has been available in Serbia for fewer than ten years, but it has constantly grown over the past six years and has the highest potential in the insurance industry. The first serious step towards an ever-growing interest for this insurance type was the arrival of big multinational corporations introducing not only capital to the local market, but also a highly developed culture of insuring employees.

The latest data reported to the UNIQA insurance company has shown that companies granting their employees private health insurance have 39% fewer cases of hypertension, 27% fewer cases of diabetes and 18% fewer smokers. Private health insurance plays an important role when it comes to job satisfaction and, therefore, decreases job fluctuation by 63%, while the amount of unplanned absences is reduced by one and a half times. Income, or productivity, on the other hand, increases by 42% per employee. The benefits of this insurance type for companies and employees are the focus of studies showing that private health insurance will witness growth of 30% over the following years.

The Executive Board Chairman of the UNIQA insurance company, Gordana Bukumirić, has won the award “Entrepreneur of the Year Insurance Industry (Eastern Europe)” twice, in 2017 and 2018. The London-based organization, European CEO, has been awarding this prestigious prize to the best directors achieving outstanding results through their decisions and leadership for more than a decade.