The Value of Consistency
Julian James, CEO of Global Markets Commercial P&C Insurance at Sompo International, was the latest guest of the Voice of Insurance podcast, hosted by veteran re/insurance market journalist Mark Geoghegan.
A globe-trotting CEO, Julian James is responsible for Sompo’s business beyond North America and the insurer’s home market of Japan. This includes a large Brazilian operation, business across Europe, including Turkey, and ten Asia Pacific countries outside Japan. All told, his bailiwick encompasses more than $3bn of gross written premium.
Ensuring consistency of products and services across otherwise disparate markets is a significant element of his role. “We feel we can deliver a better product for our customers if they get the same response in Malaysia than they would in Brazil,” he says.
This mission has been a massive integration play, but it is not just about the systems, James emphasised. “There’s a lot of integration, but there’s also a lot of communication that’s been needed,” he said.
Many clients do not grasp the organisation’s full scope, he suggests, putting emphasis on the need to tell a story – always key to winning hearts and minds – to explain the business and its potential to join the various risk transfer dots across its many arms and activities.
“We’ve spent a lot of time over the course of the last three years trying to tell the story,” says James, emphasising the need to communicate with customers “the depth of capability” available – whether they’re in Sao Paulo or Singapore.
“When you sit down with people and say ‘we’re a $16bn gross written premium organisation outside of Japan, and inside of Japan, we’re a top three Japanese carrier, we own nursing homes, we own a life company, and we have investments in digital companies all around the world’ – the lights start coming on,” he said.
James was previously a guest on Mark’s podcast in 2020, and on his recent return he reflected on the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown period, when everyone in society – insurance clients included – faced grave uncertainty.
“We are in the business of providing risk solutions for their clients, and I’d like us to have the reputation…of being an entrepreneurial, risk taking organisation – If you have that reputation, you can start delivering solutions for clients,” he said.
The pandemic experience, for James, underlined the need to be a trusted partner, and “flex our risk appetite”. Stepping up was important, he emphasised, to show leadership and embrace risk, as Coronavirus represented “one of the toughest times in their history” for many clients. Mark noted that during this period many insurers were doing the opposite, through new exclusions, claims disputes that might have gone either way, or simply exiting business entirely.
“What [clients] needed were people who are going to take on risk,” said James.
“We doubled our risk appetite in many lines of business, we came down lower on programmes, and we turned ourselves into a lead market on many things. That’s how I want us to be perceived, and how I want us to deliver the products to our customers,” he added.