Sigal Uniqa Group Austria puts client needs, digitalisation at centre of strategy

Regional insurance group Sigal Uniqa Group Austria is composed of seven insurance companies (life, non-life, reinsurance) and one pension fund that operate successfully in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Sigal Uniqa is the market leader in Albania since 2002 with an average market share of 30%. Since 2007 Sigal Uniqa is part of Uniqa Insurance Group, which is one of the leading insurance groups in its core markets of Austria and Central and Eastern Europe. Around 20,000 employees and exclusive sales partners serve over 9.6 million customers in 18 countries.

Avni Ponari, Sigal Uniqa Group Austria (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia) CEO

Sigal Uniqa posted healthy growth in pre-tax profit and total gross written premiums in 2016. What are your expectations for 2017?

2016 has been a positive year for Sigal Uniqa Group Austria despite the many challenges in the market and economic Client needs, digitalisation in Sigal Uniqa Group Austria’s focus Avni Ponari, Sigal Uniqa Group Austria (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia) CEO Regional insurance group Sigal Uniqa Group Austria is composed of seven insurance companies (life, non-life, reinsurance) and one pension fund that operate successfully in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Sigal Uniqa is the market leader in Albania since 2002 with an average market share of 30%. Since 2007 Sigal Uniqa is part of Uniqa Insurance Group, which is one of the leading insurance groups in its core markets of Austria and Central and Eastern Europe. Around 20,000 employees and exclusive sales partners serve over 9.6 million customers in 18 countries. environment. Being the market leader since 2002 puts us on the front row when it comes to finding proper solutions and ways to effectively overcome obstacles. In this regard, I am happy to say that Sigal Uniqa is well positioned and prepared for a successful 2017.

In its strategy, Sigal Uniqa Group Austria sets the main emphasis on the core insurance business, paying special attention to voluntary insurance and pension funds. Bearing this in mind, we are focused on, and strongly oriented to, addressing client needs as well as digitalisation. We effectively achieve the set strategic objectives, which is reflected in the business results, in premium growth.

Satisfied clients will continue to be our main concern and focus of activities. We will put an emphasis on the development of our services, the availability and diversity of sales channels, which are increasingly supported through online operations and strengthening the sales network on all markets of the group.

Digitalisation will be very important in the future and I think will play a big role for a company’s success. In 2016 we launched online sales for the first time in Albania and we have since received a very positive feedback. We have already started to see concrete results of our digitalisation strategy.

Such an environment allows us not only to continuously improve our product range tailored to client needs but also to introduce modern technology so as to optimise business processes and promote their transparency and simplicity, all of which keeps changing our relationship with clients and our business operations.

What are the main factors impacting your performance?

We are straightforward; we shape; we develop and we inspire: this is our basic attitude. We try to show this behavior in our everyday work, while striving to offer innovative products, quality customer service, prompt claims handlingand continuous honest communication.

Another important factor is our keyshareholder: Uniqa Insurance Group, one of the biggest financial groups in Europe, which we entered in 2007. Uniqa has provided both financial support and expertise to the entire local market by investing its 180 years of experience in Sigal Uniqa Group (Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia).

Additionally, one of the main assets of a company is its staff. That’s why we continually invest in recruiting and developing our people, especially abroad with the best insurance companies in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, France and the countries in the region. They bring new knowledge, experience and best practices at Sigal Uniqa so that we can we guarantee quality and a competitiveedge for the future.

Non-life insurance accounts for over 90% of Albania’s market. On which other segments do you see biggest untapped potential for growth?

Albania has an insurance density of about 20 euro per capita, meaning that approximately 18 euro per capita is spent on obligatory insurance, on compulsory motor insurance in particular. This means that Albania has indeed a very high potential for market development, especially in the life and health insurance segment. With less than 2% of Albanians having life insurance, this market is of high interest for insurance companies per se and foreign investors that have entered the market since 2003. Several life insurance products, similar to the ones offered all over the Europe, are also provided in Albania through Sigal Uniqa Group Austria.

In the non-life segment, both property and health insurance are of high interest. Albania’s location in a seismic zone, as well as uncontrolled construction in the last two decades, urge the need for home and casualty insurances.

Health insurance has been experiencing solid growth in the Albanian insurance market in terms of gross written premiums (GWP) and number of customers but also in terms of benefits of health insurance packages both in Albania and abroad. Additionally, the improved health infrastructure in Albania especially in the private sector, has pushed the need for private health coverage.

In the long run, I see growth potential also in the private pension sector. Due to the relatively underdeveloped pension system in Albania and the increasingly unfavourable age structure of the population, I believe that we can expect further pressures on the Albanian public pension system, and consequently the need to strengthen the second pension pillar. The growth rate of the Albanian market will depend on the dynamics of changes to the existing pension system.

GWP growth on Albania’s insurance market has accelerated. What are your expectations about its development in the short and medium term and what key trends will influence it?

I strongly believe that the insurance market is one of the most important pillars of a country’s economy because a well-developed financial market is a major support to every government. As such, the insurance market should be supported by tangible incentives and clear policies of state institutions in accordance with the market needs. For the time being, there is a gap in the insurance legislation and in general in the entire insurance infrastructure that impedes such development. As I mentioned before, I see a huge potential in voluntary insurance and in this regard there is a great need for concrete state reforms in private pension schemes, property and health insurance. These reforms would boost a more rapid development that would serve both the customers, state institutions and private companies.

Since its liberalisation almost 20 years ago, the Albanian insurance market has experienced sustainable growth, yet it remains a small market with a great potential. Important European investors entered the market 10 years ago thus bringing excellent know-how that is being implemented and we will soon see additional results and benefits of such investments.

Additionally, public awareness and the general attitude toward insurance has been improving and now there is better understanding of insurance and a greater need for it. As a result, increasing demand for insurance will push all actors on the market, both companies and authorities, to deliver effective strategies and results both in the short and medium term.