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The rising power of the customer; Schiro


DAVOS, Switzerland—Commercial insurance buyers are using new technologies and the advance of the global economy to challenge the insurance sector to deliver more sophisticated and slick ways of dealing with their risks, according to James Schiro, group chief executive officer of Zurich Financial Services in Switzerland.

Mr. Schiro told the World Economic Forum, that held its annual meeting in Davos last week, that Zurich and other financial services companies are clearly focusing on meeting fast-growing demand in countries like China.

He noted that financial systems are maturing, legal and regulatory infrastructures are quickly improving, and intellectual capital is quickly moving across borders.

"Undoubtedly, these trends will have deep and lasting effects on the global economy, and change where and how we do business in the years and generations to come," he said.

But, Mr. Schiro said that the rising power of the customer is having a bigger impact on the way his company and others do business.

"In the insurance world, the most visible manifestation of this shift is the sales process, particularly through the emergence of technology as a means to shape and better differentiate products and services and reduce costs," he said.

Mr. Schiro said that commercial and corporate customers are demanding more flexible products that better reflect their risk profiles.

He said that customers seek alternative financing arrangements that maximize the return on capital, and they want companies like Zurich to supply global capabilities that are compliant with local tax and regulatory regimes.

"In short, the insurance customer today is challenging the industry to raise the bar in terms of its understanding of risk and delivery of meaningful insurance products," said Mr. Schiro.

"Combine these trends with the increasingly sophisticated management of capital, and it becomes clear that the insurance industry is undergoing a series of fundamental shifts that mirror the changes occurring in our global economy," he continued.

Mr. Schiro said that the key to meeting the rising demands of customers is to invest in people and "find the right people with the right skills for the right jobs."

He explained that insurance is a highly complex business that combines science, engineering, finance, accounting and a host of other disciplines. An insurance company, therefore, needs to attract and cultivate experts from each of those fields, and then to provide them the training and opportunities to make a difference in their respective markets, added Mr. Schiro.

"One trend we are finding is that highly skilled workers are becoming harder and harder to find, which is why we are undertaking our own development programs to identify and train the next generation of leaders. Unfortunately, our programs cannot support the sheer numbers of talented people a company with 55,000 employees needs, so I am hearing more and more often about good, well-compensated positions going unfilled," he said.