Saturday January 19, 2013

AXA Affin General Insurance CEO sees positives in business Malaysia


Nivet: ‘The beginning of the year is positive and I have in mind where we (AXA) have to invest to make it a success. The first step is to secure the future.’ Nivet: ‘The beginning of the year is positive and I have in mind where we (AXA) have to invest to make it a success. The first step is to secure the future.’

FROM this week onwards, we've made yet another change to the Power Lunch format. We've decided to alternate occasionally between dining at Menara Star and various restaurants, which are available to us considering that Malaysia is unofficially the land of food. This was an opportunity to feast that I relished and for the first session, we stayed pretty much close to home base by taking a leisurely hop over to Eyuzu Japanese Cuisine at Eastin Hotel.


I arrived about 15 minutes early, thankfully, because just as I was having a glance through the menu, in walks Emmanuel Nivet, our guest for the day and the CEO of AXA Affin General Insurance. With joviality, he greeted me in Bahasa Indonesia, which left me wondering if I'd misunderstood his French accent or had my research been incorrect?

Nivet is new to Malaysia, and actually new to the whole of Asia. However, that's just on the professional side of things as he soon shared.

“My wife is French, but she was born in Jatiluhur, Indonesia. My father-in-law was working there with a plywood company. So, I've been there to ask permission before I married my wife.”

Taking his seat, he humbly describes himself as still being a “lost French guy in Malaysia”, but adds that it helps that he is familiar somewhat with the basics of Bahasa Indonesia and is working on adapting that into Bahasa Malaysia, which he's had the opportunity to trial run with his caddies on the golf courses.

He flipped through the menu, and with a relaxed disposition, he inquired about ordering a sashimi selection and seemed please when informed that we'd actually be having an assortment to start off our meal. And, without missing a beat, he informed me that he's already chosen Bah Kut Teh as his favourite local dish and though he has tried durians a few times, that's something he's still trying to adapt to. “The strength of someone is to be able to adapt. You have to consider that we are animals that are able to adapt. We have to try. And, I just wanted to keep growing in that,” he shared with me, and later in our conversation, I found that he has applied this to his life in a much broader context than with just food.

Nivet tells me that he's been in Malaysia since July to get acquainted with his predecessor (Jahanath Muthusamy) before he retired, and since Sept 15, he's been the acting CEO. He went on to share of his whereabouts before landing on our shores.

“Before coming here, I left Paris in 2007. I went to London for 5 years. I strengthened my English there. Then, I found a great opportunity to come to Asia and Kuala Lumpur. I'm not that adventurous, but I wanted to come to Asia. It could have been a different country and maybe Singapore could be easier for a number of reasons. But, after a few months here, I'm glad it's Kuala Lumpur. It's an interesting place to be. I feel great here.”

But, since this is the first time he's worked outside of Europe, I wondered what sparked his decision to take up a position that would bring him halfway around the world?

While working in England, he was still just a channel away from his hometown of Normandy. With a directness that is distinctly French, he responds: “If I may say, I didn't really want to go back to France. The first step out of France was a great experience sharing something different with other people and to try to understand our differences, behaviours and other experiences. So, to go for another position was an interest.

“To be frank with you, the economic environment in Europe is quite tough and I've been working in that environment for 10 years. I wanted to go somewhere where there's development and people are positive about things happening. And, I have to say, I'm not disappointed. Malaysia is one of the more matured markets in Asia-Pacific. We are to focus on developing and to deliver results.

“It's not easy, but nothing is impossible. So, under pressure? Yes. But, when you are a bit experienced like me, and not just a young guy coming over, you will find a way to manage it. My job is to release the pressure.”

He goes on to explain that though foreign postings are beneficial to career advancement within AXA, that was not the driving force to this decision. “It's more a mix of work interest and personal challenge. It's not just about business, but it's also about having a pleasant time”, he shares with me, before going on to tell me about his Arsenal season tickets and his love of red Burgundy wines.

Agents and growth

As our table piled up with our ordered sets, Nivet ordered the beef and scallops, the conversation soon flowed to adapting to his new job. Nivet has previously been the CEO of AXA Corporate Solutions UK and it's been his focus for about 15 years before the move into general insurance.

“It was a change but it's not that difficult. And, if you have a good team, then they just need a little bit of leadership and management. One situation is that I've never met any agents in France or the UK and here I spend my time meeting with agents. But, I have to say it's a fantastic network. And it's a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to them about product development and quality of service.”

I'm informed that AXA currently has slightly fewer than 3,000 agents but still managed to record 18.1% growth and a total gross written premium of RM827mil for 2012. Nivet tells me that the industry standard is hovering at 8%-8.5% annually and so he was pleasantly surprised they had managed to surpass his expectations. He remains optimistic to deliver double-digit growth in 2013.

“The beginning of the year is positive and I have in mind where we have to invest to make it a success. The first step is to secure the future. The second is to secure success. We know exactly where we want to go and how to do it.”

As we talk about the latest product that AXA has launched Business Advantage Plus for F & B Nivet explains the interest that he has in the SME industry.

“If you go for SME markets in Malaysia, there is a lack of risk management. So, I try to push as much as I can on risk management so people will start a new mindset. What can I do to get a better insurance programme? How can I maximise my benefit of insurance and smoothen my risk?”

AXA as a group is recognising that the SME segment is growing and, he quotes that according to the SME Census 2011 report, 650,000 SMEs represent 97.3% of total businesses in the country for a contribution of up to 32.5% of the country's GDP.

And, AXA Affin General Insurance has insurance products for SMEs based upon the experience of AXA entities in Europe. Risk identification, risk assessment and risk protection are what he calls the three first steps that every company, not just SMEs, should have on their mind when considering risk management.

With lunch wrapping up, and over an afternoon espresso, Nivet shares that AXA is gearing up to launch two new products.

“Products that are easy to buy. Easy to sell, and easy to buy, it can be totally different. The point is that segmentation of the offer is key. We are in a highly competitive market. We've developed a mainframe for recovery in all business sectors for SMEs. We've identified two fast growing markets and we are launching new products at the end of this month.”

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