Zurich Financial Services is a well-established insurance-based financial institution founded in 1872. Its initial 19th-century activities rapidly extended to Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Currently, the organization encapsulates a global web of subsidiaries, which deliver a wide range of general (property and causality cover for individual and business customers) and life insurance products, called assurance in recognizing that the protection is provided against an event that is certain to take place. Zurich Financial Services’ business model also includes annuities and a range of sophisticated investment policies, risk management, and risk solutions to customers in over 170 countries.
Insurance is a contract to pay a premium in return for which the insurer will pay compensation arising from legitimate claims; these can be substantial. Following the events at the World Trade Center, damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and successive European floods, Zurich Financial Services was inundated with claims, which caused substantial, but temporary, challenges to the company.
The headquarters of the group are located in Zurich, Switzerland, which is a well-known leading banking center. Zurich is a city fundamental to the international brand identification of the company, the “Z” logo being one of the world’s most recognizable images in the financial and insurance sectors. The group instills a local/global organizational culture promoted through the “Zurich Way,” which presents a “one Zurich” mindset, encouraging the promotion of a consistent experience based on superior service. This philosophy is embedded in the business activities of the group and is prominent in the organization’s literature.
Zurich Financial Services is consistently featured in the Fortune Global 500; its position on the list should be maintained by the strategic objective of rapidly increasing its life insurance business. This acceleration will likely be achieved through Zurich’s vast network of international financial advisers, insurance agents, and insurance broking channels, which support expansion programs and growth within the group.
Recent criticism of the company following several high-profile claims of poor business practice damaged the international reputation of the group (a “one Zurich” operational model being vulnerable to the emergence of specific problems that garner media attention). Nonetheless, the wide-ranging response to a challenging international business environment has seen compliance procedures tightened within the group to improve sensitive areas in the business model, primarily in hedge funds, which are ironically noted for high risk and the absence of transparency in marketing and operation. Elsewhere, the relative absence of openness in the pricing of some established products (a feature potentially disguising non-competitive products) has been remodeled to rebuild customer and client confidence.
Zurich Financial Services expanded aggressively through a well-targeted merger and acquisition program that has seen the group expand into challenging markets such as Russia. This expansion builds on experience in China, where the group, following approval from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, became the first foreign-registered insurer to establish a presence in the Chinese capital Beijing.
Zurich Financial Services’ cross-border organizational network combines global operations with local expertise (a practicing set of local/global linkages with the ability to offer a range of solutions and products to meet diverse risks). This approach provides a degree of protection for the boom and circle notable in the insurance industry (a feature that also impacts negatively, however, on human resource management issues with the arrival and departure of certain functions such as customer contact services in various cities and countries).
Evolving risk environments stemming from the natural (earthquakes), the political (conflict), the economic (credit crunch), and the social (demographic) are generating new risks in international and local insurance environments. Zurich Financial Services has established an International Advisory Council to advise on emerging threats and the impact on sustainable growth. In anticipating and responding to the ever-changing nature of risk, Zurich Financial Services is well placed, using established industry experience and global operations to maintain and evolve its position in a challenging market, a scenario conditional on product integrity and coherent sustained performance.
- L. Bernstein, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Wiley, 1998);
- “Close-Up—Stuart Gillard, Internal HR Consultant at Zurich Financial Services, on How the Firm’s ‘Challenger’ Talent Management Programme Is Developing High-Potential Staff,” People Management (v.14/14, 2008);
- Cornejo, ed., The Guide to Understanding the Insurance Industry (Booksurge, 2007).
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