Covid-19: an interview with Jean Elia, CEO of SOGELIFE
How has leading insurance company SOGELIFE fared during the pandemic? And what practical steps are they taking to minimize impact?
Interview with Jean Elia, CEO of SOGELIFE, exploring how the company is dealing with Covid-19.
KPMG: What measures did SOGELIFE take to prepare for the lockdown?
JEAN ELIA: Right from the start of the crisis, our priority was to ensure the safety of our employees.
Therefore, the first measure was to enable them to work remotely from home, without having to come to our premises. Before the crisis, SOGELIFE was equipped with the necessary tools and infrastructure, such as laptops for everyone; however, teleworking was limited to a pilot phase with restricted access to applications.
We quickly decided to extend remote access to all applications and functionalities, and in less than three weeks almost all of our employees were fully equipped, taking into account of course measures related to professional confidentiality and IT security.
Taking advantage of Société Générale group systems, we also set up online training to support employees in teleworking and enable them to better manage their time and stress and help them to better deal with this lockdown. Our managers had access to dedicated modules to master remote management.
Since the start of the lockdown, the company ensured regular and transparent communication with all employees. Managers have reinforced closeness by establishing regular and frequent meetings with their teams.
KPMG: What problems did you encounter during this preparatory phase?
JEAN ELIA: Apart from small logistical issues (connection, supply of tokens, etc.), which were quickly resolved thanks to our IT security teams, who have done an outstanding job since the start of this crisis, we did not notice any significant technical problem that could affect SOGELIFE, its customers or its partners. We were also assisted by SG Luxembourg, especially regarding IT infrastructure and general resources.
Not one working day was lost, thanks in particular to the fact that our employees adapted to this way of widespread teleworking in record time.
KPMG: Is the company 100 percent operational today? Are there differences between departments?
JEAN ELIA: All our functions and business lines are 100 percent operational with general or specific access to the various work environments, and this remotely. No transactions have had to be canceled since the start of the crisis. All our deadlines, even the regulatory reporting ones, were met without the need for time extensions. From the early weeks of the lockdown, we informed our partners of the measures taken by SOGELIFE and they definitely appreciated our reactivity. Despite the context, we are doing our best to keep our promise to offer them a high-quality service.
KPMG: How has the crisis impacted the operation of your sales representatives?
JEAN ELIA: We had decided a few weeks before the lockdown to stop our representatives’ (largely international) business trips and this will probably continue for the rest of the year. However, our commercial activity did not stop with the lockdown. Our sales representatives are all equipped to work remotely, which allows them to keep in touch with our partners and to work almost normally.
KPMG: What is the impact of the crisis on new business?
JEAN ELIA: We saw a slowdown in new business from April onwards. This is linked to the wait-and-see attitude of customers and their longer decision-making times due to the uncertainty of the current markets. However, we were fortunate to have achieved a very good first quarter which, we hope, combined with the resumption of business, will be able to offset the effects of the crisis on our figures for the year. Our projections are, in any case, based on this scenario despite the fact that we are dependent on the progression of the crisis.
KPMG: What initiatives did you take to help your clients?
JEAN ELIA: Due to the nature of our business, we are more in contact with our stakeholders than with end-customers. The crisis has enabled us to test and deploy new digital devices and tools to facilitate our stakeholders’ remote procedures. For example, we have streamlined the underwriting process while remaining vigilant regarding the risk and compliance aspects. Together with our partners, we tested the first release of an online underwriting tool.
KPMG: Has SOGELIFE decided to change the priorities of the projects that are in progress? Have any projects been postponed or stopped?
JEAN ELIA: For the moment, no projects have been suspended because of the crisis. However, given the situation, we are going to review our priorities and project portfolio to further speed up our digital transformation.
This said, we have launched a project to identify the lessons learned from this crisis, particularly in terms of simplifying processes, digitizing, and accelerating decision-making processes, in order to better adapt our organization and identify a new “normal”. For example, organizing and rethinking teleworking on a larger scale than we had envisaged, maintaining simplified internal validation processes, extending the use of electronic signatures, and so on.
KPMG: Has SOGELIFE identified new needs in terms of governance, products and projects following Covid-19?
JEAN ELIA: On governance, we are reviewing our decision-making processes to speed them up, as I just described. In the medium term, we do not foresee any major changes in our activities or products. Finally, concerning projects, we intend to accelerate and focus on digital technology.
KPMG: What will the consequences of the pandemic be, in the short, medium and long term?
JEAN ELIA: In the short term, the commitment of our employees and our rapid adaptation to this new way of working enabled us to limit the impact of the crisis on our business. As I said, we have not had any major problems or incidents with our clients or partners.
In the medium and long term, the impact will depend heavily on the duration of the crisis and on the economic situation. That said, as far as SOGELIFE is concerned, I am confident in our ability to adapt and find new ways to manage our activity and even generate new business.
KPMG: How are you preparing for the post-Covid-19 phase?
JEAN ELIA: Once again, the guiding principle of the lifting of lockdown is the safety of our employees. Starting 25 May, we introduced a very gradual return to our premises, without any urgency, while of course taking all the necessary safety measures. We estimate that we will have 50 percent of the workforce on site by the end of August, but everything will depend on the development of the pandemic. We are aware that here too we will have to adapt to the situation and to the measures that will be taken by the health authorities until the lockdown is completely lifted.
KPMG: What are the main lessons learned from this crisis?
JEAN ELIA: This crisis presents a rare opportunity to speed up some issues that were difficult to do in so-called “normal” times, such as the simplification of processes, speeding up the decision-making process, or the “democratization” of teleworking. If most companies were able to deploy teleworking in record time and ensure business continuity remotely, they should be able to move more quickly towards a digital transformation and be able to be more agile and adaptable to manage the most complex situations or needs. We also realized that our deeply-rooted habits can easily be replaced and that we must strive to rethink and question well-established things that could have a strong impact on the environment, such as the utility of sending letters, the usefulness of travelling abroad for a seminar, etc. — and these are just a few examples among many.
We want to rethink our “old” certainties and try to draw constructive lessons that will also help us as humans. We will spare no endeavor to do this!