We know that Christine Theodorovics has an excellent and comprehensive track record in the finance and insurance sector, specializing in digitalization, strategic transformation and ESG. We would like to know a little better about this story. Who are you as a person, woman and professional?
I’m Austrian, born in Vienna, and I’m also a Swiss citizen. I’m an avid traveler, I’m nourished by the different countries I’ve lived in, and each time I’ve met wonderful people who have left their mark on me, helped me grow and, in some cases, become friends. I also love art and culture. I like visiting and discovering new things. It helps me to switch off and see things from different angles.
I’m also into sports, I love running and scuba diving, but my great passion is mountaineering! Firstly because it’s a physically and mentally demanding activity, and that I love challenges.
Secondly, because I like being out in nature and great outdoors. It’s often a source of inspiration and energy for me. And finally, because mountains put everything in a different perspective.
Having said that, I am also an executive. I have over 20 years’ experience in the financial and insurance industry. However, I began my career as a market research consultant in Germany which provided me a strong customer focus which still resonates today. Then I branched out into financial institutions.
I worked for the Swiss Life Group where I had the opportunity to develop in several markets (Asia and the Middle East).
Then, I joined the Zurich Insurance Group where I held positions as a member of the Executive Committee in different countries: Germany, Switzerland, Austria…
Later, I accepted the position of Head of Group Strategy AXA Group in Paris as part of the European Executive Committee to steer distribution strategy, innovation, digital solutions and ESG.
Then came the offer from Baloise in Luxembourg which I joined in June as CEO.
You have worked in the financial sector, the insurance sector and the banking sector for more than 20 years, performing various roles. What captivates you most about these areas of activity?
First I have to admit I didn’t choose the financial or insurance sector, I fell into it, so to speak! And I’ve congratulated myself every day on this choice, because it’s a fascinating sector and that for 3 main reasons:
Let me focus on insurance here, it’s a sector that gives meaning, and I need purpose. The need to protect customers against risks is growing with the ageing of the population, the increase in natural disasters. Other industries struggle sometimes to define the purpose, we do not have that problem.
I love to learn and I keep on learning every day being at the very heart of data and technological evolution which is transforming every part in the value chain. Downstream, digitalization is changing customer access and service, making it more tailored and instantaneous, even if we still have some way to go in this respect. Upstream, too, the ability to obtain more data on an immediate and permanent basis and more automatism is changing everything. This makes it possible to better identify and understand risks, and ensure both better coverage and better prevention.
And finally it is an interesting sector to work in. Insurance is a people business. Even if the industry is data driven, personal contact with business partners, clients, and providers is key and it provides great working opportunities. I meet fascinating people, engineers, IT specialists, sales people. I think it’s one of the few sectors that offers such a diversity of profiles.
It is fair to say that you have an international profile – you speak five languages fluently and have worked and lived in ten different countries. In this global era that we live in, how has the culture and knowledge acquired proved to be an added value, not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level?
Speaking several languages and having lived in several countries are clear assets, both professionally and personally. It gives new perspectives and provides many experiences.
Firstly, because it gave me a certain adaptability and cultural sensitivity, with the ability to work with people from different backgrounds.
Secondly, it makes you quite sensitive as you are the only one who is a guest in a foreign country, So you need to listen and adapt constantly.
Last but not least, I think it has helped my self-confidence. I’ve had to deal with lots of new and unexpected situations. This made me get out of my comfort zone which is where you learn the most.
All this makes me feel at home everywhere.
What is certain is that, on June 1, 2023, you took on the role of CEO of Baloise in Luxembourg, succeeding Romain Braas. How rewarding and challenging is it for you to occupy this extremely responsible position?
Indeed, and I am proud to be able to fill that role. It’s a very exciting adventure, but also a very demanding one, since I have to make important strategic decisions that have an impact on the whole company. It’s also a lot of pressure to achieve the business targets, take colleagues with you – which implies a clear vision for the company, satisfy shareholders, maintain profitability… Communication is key here, as is talent management and I want to take the right time to get to know my people and have the right overview of the company.
I’ve held a number of executive positions in the past. What I enjoy is having to decide, take responsibility and develop things.
Baloise in Luxembourg is a company of almost 500 people, not to mention a large number of agents, where you can move things quickly. It’s also in a multicultural country with an internationally-recognized financial center, which has a strategic role to play, particularly to our parent company in Basel. And Baloise Luxembourg still possesses an entrepreneurial spirit that I love so much and which I really want to preserve.
Romain Braas played a crucial role in shaping Baloise’s success in Luxembourg over eleven years. So, as the brand’s current CEO, what will you do to continue this legacy? What main objectives were defined at the beginning of your role?
The great advantage of joining a new company is that you get to see things. One needs to use that time wisely because after a few months you get used to the ways of doing and loose that ability. Also, I guess it is helpful that I have seen how some other big international players evolve over the years.
So, since taking up my new position, I’ve been observing and immersing myself in the Baloise culture a lot quite easily . To this end, we’ve organized 5-minute speed datings with employees to get to know each other. I enjoyed the format and would like to see the exercise continued on a regular basis.
For me, corporate culture is very important, as well as the trust and solidarity between us. So we need to instill strong values, which are essential to keep moving forward, especially in times of crisis.
Then there are technical improvements, here and there, concerning products, digitalization, and the focus to be put on certain products and customer segmentation.
Governance is also very important to me, as it provides the basis for a successful business. I am convinced that combining a strong governance framework plus a strong customer orientation will make us successful.
I am convinced that the entrepreneurial spirit of the company is something very important, which needs to be preserved. We want and will continue to develop exciting projects, in a cross-functional way.
As mentioned previously, Christine Theodorovics has a long and successful track record in the insurance sector. However, beyond that, you possess the leadership qualities and values needed to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world. How do you define yourself as a leader? What leadership do you intend to take on in this new chapter of Baloise in Luxembourg?
I think I am an open and approachable leader who interacts a lot and communicates with my colleagues. My wish is that everyone has a chance and a voice.
My teams are my best ambassadors. Without them, nothing is possible. That’s why I want to make sure that each and every one of them feels recognized within the company. At every level. Diversity is a source of wealth, and we all have different talents, it’s just a question of knowing how to make the most of them at the right time and in the right place.
Also communication is very important for me. We need to communicate, inform and explain a lot. This helps the structure understands, fosters transparency and helps to understand the others.
In the workplace, I’m all for meritocracy, that’s why I want to be close to my team to understand their reality, our reality.
Today, there is an urgent need for female personalities to lead organizations. Knowing that this is an example of this (still) challenge, how do you see the issue of gender equality today?
I’m always asked and I fully get your question because women are still too rare in this kind of position. Having often been the only or rare woman in top management positions, you can imagine that it’s a subject that’s close to my heart.
Gender equality has a deep-seated, social history, rooted in practices and cultures.
As a CEO, I just see myself simply as a leader, who tries to do a good job. I set out on my own path, in my own style. If this helps younger women to develop themselves, find a role model and to become more daring in their ambitions – that’s a great thing.
Women should know that they can take on more responsibility and to apply for demanding jobs.
Gender diversity is not just about redressing inequality, but also about developing different points of view on how to lead. I think it enriches discussions and ways to work together.
But let me be crystal clear: we need both men and women at every level of a company, right up to the boardroom! Everyone has an important role to play to help.
However, more than promoting gender equality, do you consider that female leadership in the corporate world allows new approaches that add quality and results to companies? How, in your opinion, does this diverse vision attract organizational success?
I would refer to the study on diversity Women in the workplace which explains that diversity increases productivity and is an incredible lever of performance. And I fully agree.
However, I am not sure that there is a female leadership even though some traits might be different: for me it is the mix which enriches teams.
Diversity, teamwork and collaboration stimulate creativity and innovation. It’s also what enables us to make sound decisions and stand the test of time! We need both men and women by our side.
If it is, on the one hand, an example of how the world is moving towards a society that promotes equality, on the other, it is an inspiration for all young women who are just starting out. So, what message would you like to leave them?
Being a young woman in a company, especially one with high responsibilities, means having to prove yourself.
My message would thus be the following:
Have confidence in yourself, dare to go for it!
Don’t be afraid to take responsibilities.
Only when you stretch yourself, you grow.
Ask questions, be curious and, above all, be yourself while respecting the company’s culture, but do not try to imitate anyone; just have your own style and own it.
From Baloise in Luxembourg’s point of view, it is the third largest insurer on the Luxembourg market, having also become known on the international scene. As CEO of this recognized and valued brand, how do you see its future? What news is on the way?
Indeed Baloise is a strong brand physically present in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. Our credo is clear: we want to make life easier for our customers and partners, so that they feel safe and secure with us.
Clearly, we want to offer them the best, this involves a number of things, but basically it’s our products, our services and our quality of service. All this could be encompassed in redesigning our customer journeys to make them as seamless as possible.
Nowadays, all our thinking starts from our customers’ needs. We carry out customer panels, satisfaction surveys, NPS tracking (an indicator of a brand’s power to recommend) and work on our customers’ frustration points.
We also put the emphasis on operational excellence and simplifying our processes. This means robotizing, automating…
Our efforts are bearing fruit. We are faster and more flexible: we have succeeded in developing a short circuit to bring new partnership products to market in 4 to 6 weeks. And this includes not only IT development, but also legal, product, pricing and marketing topics.
For now and the coming years, we’ll keep on developing digitization and range of services: we set up different communication and distribution channels starting with our customer/partners portals. For instance in international life, in addition to being able to consult the information on their portfolio, brokers can now carry out switches, additional payments and partial or total surrenders on multi-support products in several countries.
We are also working on connecting our systems to third-party portals, enabling contract data to be consulted and transactions entered via a distributor’s portal. The introduction of APIs (connectors between web platforms and our internal management systems) has enabled us to automate our new digital journeys.
When we talk about operational excellence, we’re not just talking about simplification, but also about profitability. And profitability is what will ensure our long-term survival. With the ever-increasing complexity of our business, regulatory requirements and the vagaries of nature, it’s a real challenge. The aim here is to take a step back from our business in general to achieve our profitability targets in the healthiest possible way.
We also work on our engines of growth:
Via the reinforcement of our multi-channel model: we work with tied agents, brokers, partnerships, direct… and I’m pleased to see that partnerships are gaining in importance with us. In 2016, in Non-Life, for example, they represented just 0.5% of our portfolio; today we’re closer to 2%.
Through the development of our Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. We also wanted to be the reference partner for companies, and we’ve made progress in this area. Both in corporate life and non life!
Through the development of International Life. This is a major growth driver for us in Luxembourg, and I’m convinced that we can step on the gas pedal even more!
Through the development of embedded insurance in non life as we want to be fully part of customers journey to better accompany them in key moments of their life.