François Coste, CEO Groupama Asigurari: Groupama has remained focused in delivering its strategy: Preferred & Profitable

Mr. François Coste, you’ve been CEO of Groupama Asigurari since 2012. How would you assess this lapse of time from the point of view of challenges and successes you are very proud of?


During my mandate, Groupama team has delivered with resilience the strategy set in 2012: Groupama Asigurari has gained a certain preference from all its stakeholders: 2016 external client survey indicates that Groupama Asigurari reached the highest Net Promoter Score of Romanian insurance industry; therefore our growth exceeds market one and is profitable; Groupama achieved also an increasing engagement from its employees; as a consequence, our company is profitable since 2014, did not require any capital injection since 2012, complies with Solvency 2 requirements and is well trusted by our Head Office in Paris.

I am proud that, in spite of all the insurance market turmoil and uncertainties, Groupama has remained focused in delivering its strategy: Preferred & Profitable. Our company has taken some strong market leadership in areas strategic for us (Home insurance, crops insurance, CASCO…) and is well positioned to benefit from an expected growth of the market.

Also, I was elected 2.5 years ago Chairman of the Board of Directors of PAID, an insurance company where Groupama owns 15% of the shares. PAID is important for insuring Romanian people for risks of natural disasters and related potential material damages to their home; I am proud that PAID team, actively supported by Board of Directors, has made PAID a profitable company, insuring already 35 billion Euros of Romanian homes, well reinsured by prime worldwide partners.


2016 is close to its end. What could you tell our readers about the results of this year? Of course, it’s too early for the balance of the whole year, however how do these results look like after the first nine months, and what do they foresee? Will the initial estimations in terms of revenues for this year be accomplished?


In 2016, based on the first 10 months results for Groupama, both the revenue and profit targets should be reached and exceeded. Our company revenue should reach close to 1 billion Lei, together with an IFRS contribution close to 30 million Lei and a good coverage of Solvency 2 ratio.

The good financial results in 2016 made it possible to sustain investments into our strategy: evolution of our offer, effectiveness of our distribution channels, innovation, talents, systems…; for example, by means of a partnership with Orange, our customers in Home insurance can monitor their house in real time, be alerted at once if an insured event occurs and get emergency repairs on the spot.


Why do clients trust Groupama Asigurari? What makes the difference in your company’s offer as compared to other competitors’ offers?


Client centricity makes Groupama Asigurari stand out. The customers are our most important partners, which is why we have developed long-term relationships with them that rely on trust, honesty and mutual respect. We are constantly trying to meet and surpass their expectations by offering them innovative, high-quality and flexible products and services that cater to their needs. We strive to increase their level of satisfaction, maintain their high recommendation rate and to insure the continuity of their activities in case an unexpected event should occur.

At Groupama, we consider profit should be derived from clients satisfaction and not jeopardize clients satisfaction.


What are Groupama’s strongest points in terms of keeping its market leader position? What are the most successful products sold by Groupama?


We rely on our flexibility in terms of products and services, investments in innovation and client centricity, in order to maintain our position as one of the leaders of the industry. Our values – solidarity, proximity, responsibility and performance – are deeply embedded in our approach regarding clients, products and services. As far as strategic products are concerned, we have reinforced in 2016 our market leadership in agriculture and home insurance. All Non-life business lines had a positive evolution in 2016. Moreover, we have diversified our Health and Accident business lines – which increased by 30% –  in order to meet the expectations of our customers, which become more and more sophisticated.


After the years spent in Romania, how would you define the local insurance market?


It is a market that has not yet attained stability but has a high potential of growth. The level of public knowledge regarding insurance has grown among the population these last years together with the willingness to invest into it. On the other hand, our industry credibility is affected by large bankruptcies and a high amounts of customers complaints.

But we need to take time and step back in order to observe the huge progress accomplished over the past 3 years, under ASF leadership, to help our Romanian market converge towards European standards.


How challenging is to keep the market leader position in the insurance market?


In strategic lines of business, Groupama Asigurari can live up to the challenge by increasing its efficiency, leveraging its employees’ engagement and focusing on satisfaction from clients and third party distributors. We are facing strong competitors but the way to go is to keep focused on our clients and their satisfaction with Groupama.


You came to Romania with a very valuable “luggage” of managerial experience of over 30 years spent on four continents, representing the interests of companies such as Michelin, Axa and Groupama. What added value do you think that the Romanian experience will bring to your overall experience as manager and team leader?


My mission in Romania has been tough and rewarding; it is a career step where I could have a lot of impact, because I have been well empowered by Groupama Head Office and I had a good leadership team, engaged and flexible. I believe my mission in Romania made me more flexible, more ambitious and it changed me as a leader. My input had much to do with increasing the cohesion of our team, with developing leadership skills (to which we have dedicated numerous programs from team buildings, trainings to coaching) and with improving the way we work together. I made sure that the values of Groupama Asigurari have been appropriated by the members of our team, that they play an essential part in their professional life and are aligned with their mission. I tried to lead by example.


How challenging is to share time and responsibilities for fulfilling successfully the attributions of Groupama CEO and of President of one of the strongest Chambers of Commerce & Industry acting in Romania, namely CCIFER?


Rather challenging, as both mandates are quite demanding. Right now, in CCIFER there are 500 members, representing a significant part of Romania’s GDP and 125,000 direct jobs. As President of CCIFER, my mission is to support the General Manager in charge of the permanent team and to coordinate the Board of Directors, as well as to inspire CCIFER members to dedicate time, energy and enthusiasm to the many initiatives in favour of our members. We have numerous objectives: to be a partner of dialog with the Government on the reforms of the business environment, to further strengthen the networking within our community, extend it to other chambers of commerce as well as to business communities outside Bucharest, to provide value added trainings including a Master Class for executives, to foster Corporate Social Responsibility. Our mission is also to help potential French investors discover Romania and explore opportunities, to act as a hub for startups and business incubator, to support entrepreneurship.


What was the most difficult moment spent by you and your team here during these years? 


The entrance on the Romanian market was not a smooth project for the Groupama Asigurari team, as it bought three insurance companies and invested 750 million euros just as the local market plummeted by 40%. That was a tough moment, in which everybody thought we were bound to fail; we had to restructure and develop our business at the same time. However, that crisis strengthened the team and proved to be an opportunity. Due to it, we’re now one of the leaders of the market in terms of brand, customers’ level of satisfaction, market shares and profit.


But the most pleasant moment?


2014 was a very good year, the first in which we became profitable. As far as 2015 is concerned, our total profit was four times the one we registered the year before. I was proud to be able to lead the company on its way to sustainable growth.


What are the expectations and ambitions of Groupama Asigurari for 2017?


Our strategy being successful, we continue it, we deepen it and we accelerate its execution.

We will focus more on life insurance, a segment which we intend to continue developing with our own sellers. We will further invest in order to provide our clients with the most innovative services and products. We will also target profitable and long-term growth in terms of the brokers channel. Our priorities remain the same in terms of our clients as well as of our colleagues, as we aim to become the insurer of preference for Romanians.


What is the share of the following factors in the strategy of success of a company like Groupama: its leadership, its human resource, innovative products oriented to the client needs?


Each of these might account for approximately a third of our evolution on the Romanian market, but they are hard to consider separately. Leadership means striving to improve the company starting from within, which will reflect into its outside activity, in Groupama Asigurari’s partnerships with the clients. Our penchant for innovation is also further proof of our proactivity, as we want to reassure our customers that we plan and act ahead in order to maintain their high level of satisfaction. As we want a long-term partnership with our clients, we need to start by having it internally with our colleagues, and the cohesion of the human resource is a significant responsibility that features in the job description of a leader.


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