According to Marie-Laure Queneuder, there’s a common misconception about the insurance industry. She says many people believe insurance is only about numbers, but that’s not true.
“I guess when people are talking about risk management and insurance, they don’t necessarily think about the personal side of it. They probably think it’s just about numbers and not so much about people and communication,” Marie-Laure says.
“People are not numbers. The insurance industry is really about people – it’s not about selling. You have to work closely with your clients and have a good relationship. You really have to help them, because if you give something to the client and they have a good experience with the business, they will come back. Communicating effectively with our clients is so important.”
With more than 25 years of global experience in the industry, Marie-Laure is certainly an expert in the field. The French businesswoman spent four years working in the Bermuda branch of Allied World Assurance Company – a global provider of insurance and reinsurance solutions – before moving to Europe in 2008 to open the organisation’s Swiss branch.
“The insurance industry is really about people – it’s not about selling.”
In her new role as Senior Vice President and General Manager, Marie-Laure was tasked with building the Swiss reinsurance business from scratch. “We knew that we needed to open an office in Europe, but we didn’t know where exactly.
So, we decided to move to Switzerland, just because a number of companies were basing themselves in Switzerland at that time. It was really important for us to be closer to our European clients to resolve any issues,” she reflects.
“At first, there were only two of us working in the Swiss office – an actuary and myself. So, although we were part of an existing business, it was more like a start-up and I had to develop the business. It was a lot of work and very intense, but it was also incredibly exciting, and I was motivated to create this new business and make it work.”
The Swiss business has grown in the past decade, but Marie-Laure is happy to report that it’s still relatively small, with only 15 employees.
“I think a small team is much better, as communication is easier when you work closely together. It also helps us to be flexible and make faster decisions. In a bigger company, simple processes can take longer as they need to be approved by more people. In our business, we can decide quickly whether we want to take a contract or not,” she says.
The team is comprised of people from all over Europe, which Marie-Laure believes is an advantage, as it means there’s usually no language barrier when dealing with clients.
“What I love about our team is that most of us come from different countries, so we all have different backgrounds and cultures,” she enthuses. “This is very important, as it makes it easier to communicate with our clients and build strong relationships. We can go to Italy or Spain and speak to our clients in their language.”
Despite having many years of leadership experience behind her, Marie-Laure says she’s still developing her skills in this challenging area. “Being a leader is a crazy and continuous learning experience. I don’t think anyone is a born leader – we have to work to become a leader,” she says.
“It’s always exciting when you have to work hard to achieve your goals,” Marie-Laure says of being challenged. “When you decide on a target and you get it, it’s really motivating. I love it when I have to fight to get what I want.”
“A good leader provides guidance and direction and really listens to their employees. I try to help people by giving them responsibility for achieving a common goal. If you work closely with them to explain the direction of the business and help them to understand where you’re headed, then they will become more independent and achieve so much more.”
Marie-Laure adds that she’s also a strong advocate of leading by example to get the best results from her team. “It’s so important to be a role model,” she smiles.
“Obviously, you have to explain what’s happening and why it needs to happen, but it’s also necessary to show your team your actions. If the leader just talks and talks, people will not understand. That’s why you need to show them as well – it’s much more effective.”
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