Blog Overview

“Digital Transformation IS a Real Megatrend in the Insurance Industry”

Angel Serna

An interview with Dr. Angel Serna, Head of Government and Industry Affairs for Switzerland at the Zurich Insurance Group and representative of the company on the Switzerland Innovation Economic Advisory Board

What does innovation mean for you and your company?
Innovation is the real growth driver for an economy, especially for a country whose prosperity is not based on natural resources. On the one hand, innovation means the development of new products to better meet the needs of clients. On the other hand, innovation enables companies to optimize their processes and make them more cost-effective, which leads to lower prices or higher margins. 
Zurich is an international insurance company with clients in more than 170 countries that include small and medium-sized companies as well as multinationals. For us, innovation therefore also means that we work with our clients to develop solutions that enable them to be better protected against risk or to identify and understand new forms of risk. Zurich’s history, which now spans almost 150 years, also shows that innovation happens when an exchange of knowledge and competition among ideas is encouraged. Physical proximity combined with a fundamental openness toward progress and ensuring a high level of education among the population are the basic requirements for an innovative economy. This is why Switzerland needs innovation hot spots. Switzerland needs Switzerland Innovation.

What is your company doing in the area of research and development (R&D)?
The digital transformation is also a real megatrend in the insurance industry. While other industries already transformed completely years ago as part of the digital revolution, the insurance industry is still only just starting to catch up. In terms of R&D, we are currently working intensively to uncover the potential – as well as the potential dangers – of big data. Analyzing and interpreting volumes of data that have never been seen before is clearly something that is going to benefit the business model of an insurance company, for example in establishing the probability of certain events or the growing automation of claims settlements or fraud investigations.
Or let’s look at mobility, for example: We are currently helping to run tests with self-driving buses in a number of European cities. The development and implementation of an automated public transportation system opens up new opportunities and brings with it new risks. That is why Zurich is at the forefront of research into the mobility of the future, not least due to our commitment as a partner of various academic institutions in Switzerland, the USA and China. This exchange of knowledge and experience between business and science is not only of central importance to our own R&D activities, but also helps to create a climate in which innovation can flourish.

Your company was among the first sponsors of Switzerland Innovation. What made you want to commit to this project from the beginning, and what do you expect to gain from this commitment?
For Zurich, it is part of our understanding of corporate citizenship that we want to contribute to strengthening the basic elements of success in society – both here in our home market of Switzerland and abroad. We are especially committed to providing substantial and continuing support to efforts to create the conditions to foster an innovative economy. Switzerland Innovation also helps us by taking advantage of synergies from existing commitments from academic partnerships and cantonal economic support programs.
And, of course, companies that were founded in collaboration with Switzerland Innovation or are located at one of its sites are also potential Zurich clients. Zurich understands the needs of internationally networked start-ups and spin-offs, and is there to assist them during this crucial phase and beyond. 
Switzerland Innovation contributes significantly to making a resource available that, due to the nature of the country, is quite limited: accessible sites. And what is particularly pleasing about this is that the sites being made available are predominantly sites that were previously owned or partially owned by the state, and until recently had remained inaccessible to the market economy.

Switzerland has been one of the world’s most innovative countries for many years now. What does Switzerland do better than other countries?
Switzerland’s strength is without doubt based on an unswerving commitment to openness in all kinds of exchanges – the largely free exchange of goods, services, capital and knowledge that is not centrally controlled has a long tradition in Switzerland. This is also reflected in the degree of openness of the Swiss economy and the relatively high percentage of the population that has moved to Switzerland from other countries.
In addition, great value is placed on a high-quality, well-rounded education, which is underpinned by the multileveled, decentralized structure of the education institutions, including the dual education system that is unique to Central Europe. Successfully maintaining a high level of education among the population and an educational structure that, due to its decentralized nature, can react quickly and flexibly to changing requirements is without doubt one thing that Switzerland does better than other countries.

In your view, what is needed to encourage more companies to choose Switzerland as a location for their R&D activities?
We don’t need people to campaign, as short-term, attention-grabbing measures are not decisive when it comes to company location decisions. As with so many things, continuity, perseverance and, above all, credibility are the key ingredients for sustainable success. Any measures that are announced or promises that are made regarding the conditions for innovation in Switzerland must also be implemented over the long term. This means that we need to work on maintaining and developing these conditions every day in order to allow companies and pioneers to innovate in Switzerland. Alongside the conditions specific to R&D already mentioned, it is also of central importance to focus on the traditional factors that make a location successful: reasonable taxation conditions, a reliable and stable legal framework, a decentralized economy that is based on competition, a liberal labor market and functioning political institutions.