How did you first get started in the insurance industry, and how did you come to your current role of Group CEO of Cover-More?
I joined Cover-More as Group CEO in September 2018 from my role as Global Head of Corporate Life and Pensions with Zurich Group, based in Switzerland. It was very exciting for me to be offered the opportunity to lead Cover-More and work closely with other Zurich businesses on Cover-More’s global growth and transformation. I have worked with Zurich for more than 10 years and in the insurance industry for most of my career in Europe, the US, Latin America and Asia – other companies I have worked with include Willis Towers Watson and AEGON.
I am originally from the Netherlands and graduated with a Master’s in Actuarial Sciences from the University of Amsterdam, so it was a natural step into the insurance industry. However, I was really interested in roles focused on customer partnerships, distribution and marketing and that evolved into general management and leadership. And I have been able to attend some excellent executive leadership programmes at Harvard, INSEAD and IMD.
You took on the role exactly a year ago – have the first 12 months unfolded as you expected, or have there been some curveballs?
My first 12 months with Cover-More have been amazing. I have met so many new colleagues across the world and realised again that nothing beats a committed team with shared goals. We’ve now launched our new strategy; we have the team and we are totally focused on our customers.
There haven’t been too many significant ‘curveballs’, though as a literal example, I have had to get to know, and understand, Australian football, or ‘Aussie rules’ as they call it. Cover-More has a major partnership with the Gold Coast Suns AFL team in Australia and I remember at the first game I attended I couldn’t believe it when one of the umpires turned his back on the game to toss the ball back into play. It may take me a while to get used to the rules after growing up with ‘real football’ in Europe!
Cover-More’s Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy seems to have caught on well with Australian travellers. Why do you think this is, and does it signify that awareness of the importance of travel insurance is improving in Australia?
It’s well known that Australians are great travellers and Australia is a significant travel insurance market in world terms – despite the relatively small size of the population compared to other countries. So, awareness of the importance of travel insurance is already very high in Australia – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade estimates that only about 10 per cent of Australians travel without insurance.
When we launched CFAR in 2018, Cover-More was the first travel insurance provider in Australia to do so. And the good uptake of CFAR signalled to us that Australian travellers really understand travel insurance and they are continuing to look for ways to personalise their insurance cover so it fits with how they travel and where they want to go. As a further example, while we launched CFAR, we also introduced add-on cover for motorcycles and mopeds with greater than 200cc engine capacity, as well as add-on cover for heli- and off-piste skiing and other more extreme adventure sports. Both these add-on benefits have also seen good uptake.
The good uptake of Cancel for Any Reason signalled to us that Australian travellers really understand travel insurance and (want) to personalise their insurance cover so it fits with how they travel and where they want to go
How do you plan to build on this further?
Cover-More is a global provider of travel insurance and assistance – so although we were born in Australia, we are now a global company and our plans are focused on offering a consistent, unique and compelling customer experience globally.
We currently have operations in 22 countries, with leading positions in Australia, New Zealand, India, Ireland, Latin America and the US. So, we plan to take our learnings from more mature markets, like Australia, to develop globally consistent value propositions for our customers in all markets. At the heart of our thinking and our strategy is the customer, and we aim for Cover-More to be recognised worldwide for our traveller-centred services.
What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges ahead for the travel insurance industry in the coming years?
Connecting with customers in an immediate, highly personalised and relevant way and being able to offer tangible value to their travel experience. Not just when they submit a claim. That will be the biggest challenge for the industry.
Cover-More recently won two awards at the Mozo Experts Choice Awards – congratulations. How does it feel to be recognised in this way?
It is very gratifying to be awarded for what we do at Cover-More. All our businesses around the world are award-winning, including in the UK, Ireland and the US. The Mozo Experts Choice Awards is for Exceptional Quality Travel Insurance and recognises premium travel insurance products that offer the very highest levels of protection and benefits. It is very pleasing to be recognised for the quality of what we do.
I want our people to enjoy what they’re doing. There’s a quote I like that goes something like this: “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
Can you describe a typical week as Group CEO?
Each week, I try and spend quality time with my executive leaders across the globe – in person or by phone. And I also reserve time to spend with Cover-More’s key distribution partners and my local and global Zurich colleagues.
If you take this week as an example of how I invest my time, I met with one of our largest distribution partners, then travelled with Cover-More’s CEO Judith Crompton to Canberra to meet with senior Australian Government representatives, before returning to Sydney for a joint town hall with Zurich for our Australian and New Zealand teams. These are important events as they bring our teams together in an informal information-sharing setting to build understanding and advance collaboration.
On a personal note, I also made time to attend a concert with my family and woke up early to watch my favourite football team, Ajax, play in the UEFA Champions League in Europe.
Which aspects of your role do you enjoy the most, and which are the most challenging?
I love my job. I think I have the best job in all of Zurich. I enjoy working with committed and focused teams who understand that our customers are the heart of everything we do – and who understand that strong profitable growth means we will be able to work with more customers in more countries around the world.
And I want our people to enjoy what they’re doing. There’s a quote I like that goes something like this: “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” It’s very true.
If you were lost in the mountains, which three people—living or dead—would you want to have with you?
My family. They are the most important part of my life. ■