Yiannis Kantoros, CEO of Interamerican, talks to Business Partners about navigating
the challenges in the current environment, achieving effective digital and organizational transformation, prioritizing CSR and sustainability, and staying at the forefront
of the Greek insurance market.
We are in the midst of a uniquely uncertain period characterized by consecutive crises and rising tensions. What are prospects like for business in today’s environment?
The prospects are positive, but they require a realistic approach and broader social understanding that goes beyond achieving good financial results. It is obvious that to achieve prosperity we need a convincing vision that inspires governments, businesses, communities, and citizens. Common business goals such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can lead us to better times. We also need peace, to minimize the risk of destabilization. Geopolitical rivalries and conflict create unmanageable conditions that leave no room for positive expectations. Everybody loses in such a scenario: society, the economy, and businesses.
Is a convergence of intentions and projects for the achievement of major goals, such as the SDGs, achievable in the business community?
I believe it is achievable through common principles and commitments. The UN, for example, is a powerful institutional reference point. The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact are a guide that can unite different powers, fortifying against multiple crises, in the spirit of a very broad cooperation. Common commitments for good governance, strategies, policies, and functions based on values such as the respect of human rights, equality, transparency, and fighting corruption in a framework of cooperation with all stakeholders can reinforce business resilience. This is the only way to win the trust of citizens; with responsible actions.
This is the only way to win the trust of citizens; with responsible actions
Listening to society and building trust through accountability are cornerstones of good business. What does this mean for Interamerican in Greece?
Definitely, yes. By continuously studying behaviors and systematically analyzing them, we can learn a lot. We can see changes in consumption, savings, transactions becoming more digital, etc. I believe that it is important to break this vicious circle, in which the lack of expectations and optimism, due to the crisis, is making people inactive and harming their creativity and productivity.
Regarding Greece, it is impressive that in the UN World Happiness Report, using data pre-dating the pandemic, Greece ranked quite low, in 77th place, among the last European countries and just above the other Balkan countries. We need to change this for the citizens of Greece.
At Interamerican we have made it our mission to help people live safer, longer, better. We put a lot of faith in civil society to create Greece as we want it: powerful and with a European image.
Under current conditions, is there a discernible horizon for the Greek economy for businesses?
We can create the horizon. As things stand, it is certain that if we want to have prospects, we must carry out serious assessments regarding the requirements for economic recovery and growth, as well as for the connection of the real economy with the measures for fiscal easing and monetary policies. It is awkward that international stock market developments are disconnected from the financial recession. Now we can see a generous safety net, there is significant EU funding support. But we mustn’t overlook the debt, the possibility of overinflation and a stock market bubble.
In Greece, we have longterm limitations on fiscal matters. Of course, the evaluations of rating agencies regarding an enhanced credit profile are encouraging. At the same time, however, it is obvious that we need a larger production base, besides tourism. Alongside services, which are, disproportionately, the largest suppliers of the economy, we need to develop the primary sector, processing, and industry, following many years of de-industrialization.
No investment—especially not in digital technology—can perform without
the right human resources
What kind of challenges do companies following a sustainable development plan face?
On a planning level, the common denominator in strategic choices is the challenge of change, based on being able to adapt to developments in time. This must take place while present operational vitality is preserved, namely by ensuring that the organization’s pace is preserved. The changes must ensure that the organization’s ability to respond with continuity and efficiency is preserved, risk free.
At Interamerican, transformation is key and is implemented on two axes: in operations, through dynamic digitalization and the utilization of digital technology, and in administrative and structural organization, through a new understanding of how we work. It is self-evident that people are the key to transformation as regards both these factors.
On the level of action, the abolishment of traditional limitations in entrepreneurial sectors is another major challenge; it can be tackled through specialization that affords a competitive advantage and through partnerships that can add capabilities you do not yet possess.
Emerging major risks are also a challenge. Especially for the insurance market, the activities of which involve risk management, dealing with this challenge is critical. The most characteristic example is climate change, which brings with it crises that will be expressed in many different ways. We are seeing a higher incidence of unexpected events occurring. The pandemic is a characteristic example because it highlights major discontinuities in “normality.” Under such circumstances, businesses that have a plan and have prepared will survive and move forward.
You said people are the key to transformation. What does that mean for Interamerican in practice?
Our new business model revolves around our customers and our employees, and we want this model to be dynamic and open to change. We aim to understand the developing needs of our customers and to respond to them.
The lesson we learned during the health crisis confirms what we believed years ago when we created direct insurance via Anytime, which was the precursor to online digital insurance services: People are becoming increasingly digital in their daily life, and our creativity, speed, and flexibility must follow their habits. An insurance company of the present must provide its customers with access to a service that is faster and of better quality at every touchpoint, by providing a broad variety of digital technologies and systems.
In light of the restrictions introduced this year, the company’s digital preparedness played a decisive role in the adequacy of the support provided to our customers at a distance. We provided our sales network partners with full digital capabilities, allowing them to operate unhindered in providing services to policyholders. The adoption of modern technologies allows us to offer new experiences to our customers.
At Interamerican we have already developed digitization solutions at every level, from product simplification and process automation to service enrichment, aiming at increasing customer satisfaction and reducing cost.
Work and the future of work are a hotly debated topic, particularly as the Covid-19 pandemic necessitated the introduction of drastic changes to the where and how of the workplace. What is your position on this?
Less hierarchy, more teamwork and participation, a group composed of people who think differently, but who grow and develop with shared ambitions and goals; these are the characteristics of the future of work. We are interested in personality; we do not treat people as tools. We want to cultivate a mentality that provides our employees with the freedom to be proactive, to learn through trials. This is another aspect of the innovation which has always characterized Interamerican in the Greek insurance market.
We want our human resources to provide answers to the three main goals of our business plan: Firstly, are we close to our customers; secondly, are we increasing our market shares and new business activities; and thirdly, are we becoming faster in a world that is increasingly dependent on speed.
The organization’s sustainable development is inextricably connected to the value of human resources at its disposal. No investment—especially not in digital technology—can perform without the right human resources.
Τo what degree has the ongoing crisis impacted the insurance market? How do Interamerican’s financial results look?
The insurance industry naturally follows the trajectory of the GDP, as part of the financial service sector. Therefore, this year our market has seen a decrease in premium production of almost 5% in the first half of the year. It is significant, however, that in matters of great importance for social prosperity, private insurance has a role to play, which may be enhanced if public and private sector synergy models are developed.
The challenges are well known. Pensions, covering needs in healthcare, catastrophic dangers are all issues in which the need for solutions and reforms are most urgent. All one has to do is to look at healthcare systems, in which the health crisis highlighted the need for holistic management through the unification of all powers. In the coming years, great sums will be spent in the healthcare sector. Capital must be managed wisely in the framework of a plan that will render the healthcare system adequate. There is no alternative to synergies.
At Interamerican, thanks to the fact that we adapted and preserved operational continuity in all our functions, including the commercial sector, we managed to marginally improve our performance in premium production and profitability in comparison to the same six-month period in 2019. This achievement allows us to complete the implementation of our transformation plan and be ready for a new normality.
To go back to the matter of responsibility towards society, how did Interamerican respond to major needs that arose from the coronavirus outbreak?
We are an organization with a mature understanding of social responsibility, and our practices in this aspect are incorporated into our business strategy.
During this period, we have supported the national health system with material and technical equipment, we have partnered with local government to reinforce social health structures, we have supported public education with technological equipment for remote classes for students, we are utilizing the capabilities of our services in the assistance sector to support vulnerable groups, we are promoting information provided to citizens on how to deal with Covid-19, we have made available a digital symptom-checker tool for our health insurance customers, we encourage initiatives to cover significant needs in healthcare, such as blood drives, we contribute to meet the daily needs in food, etc.
We want to be part of a creative business community that will contribute to the fortification of society against uncertainty, and which will contribute to the rebooting of the Greek economy.