Football, figures and the future: Peter Carvill catches up with Scor Global Life's chief executive, Gilles Meyer, before he returns to his home in Switzerland
High above the city of London in Scor Global Life's UK office, Gilles Meyer, chief executive of the reinsurer, considers one of the vexations of holding dual nationality: who to support in this year's European Championships. Meyer, who has French and Swiss nationalities, purses his lips and answers: "I have been living in Switzerland for 24 years - I have two passports."
He pauses, then like a true diplomat: "And I am very committed to the Swiss team."
It is the final day of what seems to have been a whistle-stop tour of Europe. From his home in Basel, Meyer has spent the last few days in London. Tomorrow, he goes to Paris. But regardless of the across the channel attractions, a beautiful June morning in London compares favourably.
"I come here on a regular basis," he says, "and I've been in contact with the London office since I started in the industry. I think the first time I came here for business in the summer was in 1982 so it was quite a while ago.
"It's clear that London has always been an important place to Scor Global Life, and in all the companies - Swiss Re, Rhine Re, Alea and Scor - I've worked for. And on non-life, it's even more important because of the strong influence of the broker community here. There's an extensive network with a lot of people I've met over the years here."
Meyer is in the capital to launch and present Scor Global Life's Embedded Value 2007 results which see the reinsurer take stock of its current position, its recent past, and its predictions and plans for the future. For the first time, Scor has launched this annual report outside of France.
The choice to switch countries, Meyer says, is indicative of a company on the move with a shifting employee demographic: "It's a clear sign of development. I joined three years ago and it is incredible the way Scor Global Life has developed in that time from a Paris-centred organisation to one which has taken on new dimensions and truly spans countries. In our workforce, we have a majority of German-speaking people and a presence here in the UK so the French are no longer the majority in terms of staff. We feel the culture of the company has changed quite a lot so the decision has been taken, with that environment in mind, to move the presentation from Paris to London. And we take advantage of being here to also do a roadshow for the financial community."
As the recently-appointed chief executive, Meyer is the one pushing to achieve the firm's objectives. Scor Global Life, which identifies itself as the world's fifth-largest reinsurer in its promotional material, says it is the top reinsurer in Sweden and France; the second in Belgium, Italy and Spain; the third in Germany; and fourth in the UK. Outside Europe, it says it is the sixth-largest insurer in the US, and holds top three positions across most of South America and Asia. The future, Scor hopes, will see it become a medium-sized reinsurer, assume a place among the top three European players and become a recognisable force in North America.
Meyer says: "I have spent my entire life in reinsurance," and a quick glance at his CV proves his point. After completing a degree at a French business school and then an MBA at GSBA Zurich, he joined Swiss Re as an underwriter in 1982. A move, coming a few years later, saw him go to work for a direct insurance firm in Switzerland where he concentrated on reinsurance. He later ended up at Rhine Re, then Alea where, in 1998, he became chief executive of its European operations alongside being in charge of its property and casualty reinsurance, and life reinsurance. For a year, between 2005 and 2006, he was manger of group underwriting at the company. In 2005, he joined Scor, working up from head of business unit one to deputy chief executive to chief executive in February of this year.
When asked why he pursued a career in insurance and reinsurance, he answers: "There are different reasons, I have an economics background in maths and I like figures so that is one of the areas. The other thing is the international scene - I like that very much; it combines rules and the opportunity to meet a lot of people from all over the world. That is very, very attractive, the industry as such, the technical part, but also the contact you would have. The problem with (working for) one company is meeting the same type of people. This is widespread which is very exciting."
A Long engagement
After 26 years, does he still find the worlds of insurance and reinsurance as exciting as he did back in the early 80s? Although he does not directly answer the question with a 'yes', his animated manner tells the story: there are more mountains to climb, more rivers to cross. "It's a challenging business and something where you never stop learning - that is the exciting thing. There is such a wide range in terms of product and country, especially on the life side. It's more extreme than on the non-life because you have more types of product."
Right now, Scor is looking at the changing trends in how people age and die. In particular, Meyer is interested in the effects an ageing population has on the cost of long term care: "Then you have a number of developments which is not something that moves from one day to the next. But certainly our industry is moving more and more from a mortality risk to the direction of longevity risk. We have been active with four research centres, and on two of them we have been monitoring exactly what has been going on. It has been difficult to find a product which is attractive to the market because it is too difficult to make it interesting for the client.
"It is an area we will continue to expand. It's not tomorrow or in a year but that is an a industry development."
Looking to the future, like the rest of the financial world and beyond, he is closely watching the ongoing effects of 'the credit crunch'. With now being the wrong time to place heads in the sand, he coolly assesses how the squeeze in financial markets could alter the landscape, surmising: "From a global point of view, the insurance industry is linked, to some extent, with financial performance so the crisis we had first on the sub-prime, which may now become a relay economic downturn, is something that would have an impact on the industry. It would be interesting then to see how much of a downturn we will have."
He continues: "Inflation is likely to increase and this will certainly have an impact." He quickly adds, though, that Scor's portfolio has not been badly hit by the crisis.
With that, the interview is over. Meyer has another meeting straight after. There is the rest of the day in London, then Paris tomorrow, then eventually back to Switzerland, to Basel. Back to home.
CV: GILLES MEYER
2008 - to date: Chief executive, Scor Global Life
2007 - 2008: Deputy chief executive, Scor Global Life
2006 - 2007: Head of business unit one, Scor Global Life
2005 - 2006: Manager of group underwriting, Alea.
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