PATRICIA PUERTA

Spain 2021 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Patricia Puerta, CEO of QBE, about the effects of the pandemic, cybersecurity, and the attractions of Spain for international insurance firms.

QBE is based in Australia and is one of the main insurance companies in the world. How has QBE evolved since it began operations in Spain in 2007?

QBE has large experience (130 years), dimension (27 countries/12,000 employees), solvency A+, and can offer insurance policies in over 180. We first began operations in Spain in 2007 through the purchase of Greenhill and have established a strong reputation in the Corporate segment since then. QBE Spain mainly insures corporate risks, which involves companies with a turnover above EUR300 million. We have experienced systematic growth over the years, with combined ratios under 90% and a very professional team of technical experts who look for alternative solutions when needed. Now, we aim to expand our target customers. The Spanish business landscape is mainly made up of middle market companies, and we have plans to offer our services to them. The geographical expansion across other regions like Catalonia and Portugal are under our scope too. Middle market and SMEs play a crucial role in both regions too. We are also developing new products. Most of our activity was essentially focused on liability risks, as well as property damages, and financial risks. Now we offer additional products for construction, renewable energy, and pharmaceuticals. We are ready to join the main industries which will push the growth in our economy during next years.

How has QBE adapted its technology as a result of the pandemic?

QBE had already implemented agile working practices before COVID-19 and it's involved in a strong digitalization process, involving the use of robots in different areas of the business such claims and operations. Customers request for a more digital experience, however, there is significant insurance segment, that still requires broker's involvement and direct dialogue with the company. That said, there are other types of insurance that can be immediately acquire using technology. This implies a technological revolution in terms of insurance distribution channels. On the other hand, QBE had already implemented the working from home and provided their employees with additional devices and furniture to create a comfortable work environment at home, similar to the office. Employee's wellbeing is at the center of our business strategy. Neither the business nor our services suffered from the pandemic.

QBE has launched a new project along with Lazarus Technology to offer cybersecurity services and has developed a specific policy called “Cyber Response.” Has this policy been well received by large companies due to the pandemic?

Our policy has had a great impact. Spain is on the top list of countries that receive the most cyberattacks in the world, and COVID-19 has shown us that companies are more vulnerable than ever in terms of cybersecurity. There is a greater demand for cybersecurity products, companies face their risk now with a greater conscience of exposure, and there is an increased interest in investing part of their resources in this.

What initiatives is QBE implementing as part of the Sustainable Development Goals?

First, we aim to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 by implementing renewable energies in all our operations across the world. We have also been included in Bloomberg's Gender-Equality Index. We aim to have women covering at least 40% of the management of the company by 2025. Nevertheless, in Spain we already have 60% of women on our staff. There are seven people on our Board of Directors, and five of them are women. We are also committed to internal promotion and career development. Between 2019 and 2020, 32% of new job positions in Spain was covered by internal promotion. Given that our staff is mainly made up of women, internal promotion has also been predominantly female. In addition, since the start of the pandemic, we have collaborated with Solidarios para el Desarrollo, with the Spanish Red Cross, we have participated in a project called “Madrid sin Covid” (Madrid, Covid free city) sponsored by Cris contra el cáncer and many more trough the QBE Foundation. Sustainability is at the center of our business strategy with key initiatives as Premiums4Good, a project that started in Australia in 2016 and was implemented in Spain in September 2020. When clients purchase their insurance with QBE, they can decide whether they want to invest 25% of their premiums in green and socially responsible funds. QBE takes 100% of the investment's risk. Each year, we publish an investment report including the socially responsible projects in which we have invested our customers' premiums. We have already invested USD1 billion in such funds, and our objective is to achieve USD2 billion by 2025. This initiative has been well received in Spain because customers only see advantages. It is cost free, risk free, and they are investing part of their premium in projects that will contribute to our communities and to create a better world.

In sectoral terms, what makes Spain so attractive to international insurance companies?

Spain has three crucial aspects that benefit foreign investment. First, we have the Spanish Insurance Compensation Consortium, a public entity with a public-private partnership that covers catastrophic risks. CAT NAT is a potential exposure and Spain has a unique protection. Second, we have the “Baremo de Autos”, a tariff that sets the compensation to be paid to an injured third party in the event of a motor accident. This scale of fees is also used in other kinds of liability claims that involve bodily injuries. Hence, judges are able to use this scale of fees, which provides certainty on indemnity costs. Third, looking at Companies liabilities, there is a less reactive practice in group than in other countries. These three aspects ensure legal certainty to the Spanish business landscape.

What are QBE's main objectives for 2021?

We are currently engaged on the Europe 2025 project, through which we will double the size of our European subsidiaries by 2025. Through this project, we aim to offer more products and services, expand our activities to other areas, improve the services we have and focus our offering on the middle market too.