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Markel: Driving Workforce Diversity in the French Insurance Industry

Confident African male leader telling diverse colleagues about new project

In recent years, insurance companies made great strides in attracting, retaining and developing diverse talent to ensure they have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Markel is one insurer that is working hard to make notable progress in this area, and with the recent opening of its new office in Paris, developing diverse talent in the region is one of its key priorities.

The move will see the insurer extend its support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the French market and further expand and scale the company’s global footprint in key specialty insurance markets.

It is important to accept that everyone has different backgrounds that are relevant to their experience and success at work and that no one should feel like they have to separate who they are as individuals outside the workplace.
Franziska Geier, country manager at Markel Insurance SE, France

Franziska Geier, country manager at Markel Insurance SE, France said: “France is the sixth biggest insurance market in the world, with €200bn of premium. It's the second biggest property and casualty insurance market in continental Europe, after Germany."

"There are a lot of mandatory insurances in France, that you wouldn't typically see in the UK, by comparison. It is a heavily regulated and compliance-intense market, which can make it a challenging environment to operate in."

Markel will work together with independent brokers in the region to offer three core product lines tailored for French SMEs: professional indemnity, cyber risk, and directors and officers’ liability.

According to Geier, the French insurance market has a diverse distribution structure.

She said: “In the French market, the breakdown of insurance distribution is roughly 30% direct, 30% agents and 18% brokers.

“We work with brokers of all sizes – as our main distribution channel and we don't deal direct.

"In the French market, wholesale brokers stand between the small broker and the insurance company and provide support in negotiating products and with some administrative help."

A Diverse Workforce

Markel is simplifying liability insurance for SMEs with easy-to-understand wordings as much as possible for SMEs, however Geier explained the cultural differences within the team was a challenge they had to overcome.

She said: “We sat down as a team and looked at definitions of things like ‘policy wordings’ and found that we hadn’t previously been talking about the same thing. There were differences in what type of information is included and so this was a really valuable exercise for us to do at the very beginning.

“At the start, we spent a lot of time talking and listening to brokers, lawyers and internal stakeholders and after that, we had a lot of different opinions and feedback to go through.

Geier highlighted how Markel is embracing employees from all backgrounds to create an inclusive workplace culture.

“With such a diverse team, it is important to accept that everyone has different backgrounds that are relevant to their experience and success at work and that no one should feel like they have to separate who they are as individuals outside the workplace and who they are in the office.

"It’s a key part of the Markel culture and 'Markel Style' that we allow employees to feel comfortable in bringing their true selves to work.”

Adapting to a New Market

According to Geier, working in a new market meant there was a need for the team to adapt and ensure they were equipped with the right knowledge to support customers.

She said: “We ensured that we were keeping conversations going with these different parties, almost constantly, so that we were adapting our knowledge and understanding to the French market.”

Geier explained that there are a number of differences with working in the French insurance industry compared to other European markets.

She said: “In contrast with Germany or the UK, you have to have a signature to enter into an insurance contract in France. “

“Whereas in the UK, you can place risks online by clicking through a website or sending an email. In France a signature is needed to start the contract. This can be done as a digital signature."

“Also fairly unique to France is the fact that insurance companies have to offer draft insurance contracts to their customers.”

Geier said: “This sort of regulation was put in place with the intent of protecting the customer but it can also lead to bureaucracy and it may well be the reason that in France we see a lot less by way of digital transactions, with 1% of non-life business transacted online.”

“We hired French underwriters who have the right expertise and knowledge so we could tailor our products to French SMEs."

Looking ahead, Geier and her team have many plans in the pipeline, which will include developing their services and product offerings to continue growing the Paris operations.

She said: “The great feedback we have received so far shows us that we are on the right track. We are a creative and motivated team and have lots of ideas; the challenge will now be to prioritise the right ones and to efficiently incorporate the growth we are seeing to further scale our operations in the coming years.”