Antoine Parisi interview with the International Travel & Health Insurance Journal
This article was originally published in the International Travel & Health Insurance Journal, Profiles Section, Edition No. 220 in May 2019.
Antoine Parisi, CEO of Europ Assistance, talks to ITIJ about the contemporary assistance landscape, the importance of maintaining strong networks, and the potential of new technology.
How did you first get started in the assistance industry?
I initially began my career in the insurance industry as an actuary before coming to the assistance sector, so insurance has always been a part of my background. Over time, I gravitated toward the assistance industry, as it offers a personal connection with the customer, like a helping hand, rather than a purely financial product. Increasingly, insurers see the huge value assistance plays for them, such as the regular touchpoints with customers and insights on customer behaviour and loyalty. It’s also incredibly varied; we play a clear role for insurance companies but also a huge range of other sectors, making it almost limitless in potential.
New technology is changing the way insurers, assistance companies and all participants in the value chain are doing business. How is Europ Assistance leveraging new technology in order to improve its service proposition?
It’s not just insurance and assistance, it’s every sector. There’s no denying that technology can be disruptive, but Europ Assistance has been, and will continue to be, well prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that disruption presents. Thanks to changes in technology, we can offer more and better quality services to more people.
Firstly, new services exist today that simply couldn’t have been offered before: cyber protection; our senior care approach, which utilises a digital match-making service to ensure you get the right caregiver; IT assistance; digital health trackers such as our MyClinic product; and telemedicine. These developments are shaping and diversifying our business.
There’s also been a significant change in our core traditional businesses – travel and automotive. In travel, we now have e-claims, which is simplifying the claims process. In automotive, we have digital roadside assistance, which utilises new technology to give the customer a clear idea of how we are helping them, giving them more control of the service. Additionally, our virtual agents help us manage peak periods in ways that were previously unimaginable.
Finally, and this is especially true in travel, our customers are changing. Companies have emerged that previously didn’t exist; the OTA segment is a great example. The creation of this segment has impacted traditional travel businesses – just look at how airlines and cruise operators have developed their own booking processes. This advancement in technology has been a great opportunity for us to offer more services for more people.
How can major companies best maintain the kind of agility required in a fast-evolving technological environment?
We look to maintain agility by relying on two key aspects that are central to our corporate culture. The first is that while we are a large multinational firm, we are always looking to operate our business in the most efficient way possible. We look to maximise productivity by removing any actions from our processes that have no added value to our end customer. This is part of our lean way of working.
A strong managerial and team-based culture is what truly drives innovation – we facilitate this by having teams with a strong managerial presence for each of our core business lines. Furthermore, our managers go through a training programme that is based around four key behaviours: caring, availability, reliability, and being easy to work with. We believe that it’s important that we are ready both culturally and technologically as an organisation to achieve the agility necessary in today’s fast-paced environment.
Your website has published guidance on issues like phishing, and how customers can avoid falling victim to scams. Do you think that companies such as yours have a social responsibility – beyond their responsibilities as an insurer or assistance provider – to educate the public on such problems?
We created our recent Cyber Barometer for many of the same reasons we created our Holiday Barometer, to explore consumer behaviour and share those findings with the public. We’ve been doing this for some time; our Holiday Barometer with IPSOS was created almost two decades ago, which we hope inspires consumers to visit new destinations and consider all that travelling has to offer. We launched the Cyber Barometer as our cyber protection platform has been an increased focus for us, and we hope that the findings get consumers thinking a little more proactively about safety when they’re browsing online and provide them with additional steps they can take to protect their digital identities.
As another example, Europ Assistance’s Senior Care business exemplifies our support for our local communities that need to find solutions to care for elderly members of the community. We are striving to improve access to affordable, quality care solutions that will allow seniors to live long-term and self-determined lives at home.
What would you say are the key elements involved in maintaining the kind of complex network of partners and providers that a major assistance company needs in order to operate?
These relationships can be very complex, but it often simply starts out by finding an organisation that matches our culture, especially when it comes to our core values. Additionally, we have core competency as both a recognised brand and a provider of white labelled services, so we understand the needs from both the provider and network manager side. We also do regular audits and adjustments of our global network to ensure we are providing our customers with an exceptional level of service.
While our key values are a major factor in what truly sets Europ Assistance apart when it comes to choosing our partners and working as a provider, there is also the tremendously important aspect of having the right team members in place. The team must be a mix of those who can see the larger global picture and those who are working on the ground locally that have in-depth knowledge from the field. This synthesis of talent allows us to cover all the complex needs and intelligence that our partners and providers require – which leads to long-lasting relationships.
In what ways have the global assistance landscape changed over the course of your career?
The biggest change is the continued blending of the assistance and insurance industries; while some companies are more integrated than others, it’s clear to see that insurance can leverage many of the same core concepts that assistance is based on, to help drive customer loyalty.
Assistance as an industry continues to evolve rapidly. Where our business was once focused on assistance when it came to automotive, travel, and home emergencies, we’ve now expanded our scope to assist with the problems of today, including senior care, identity theft and cyber protection, and healthcare. While the issues may change, assistance at its core will always be about managing networks that assist customers in relieving stress, especially during the most difficult of times.
Can you describe a typical day as CEO of Europ Assistance?
The nature of the assistance business means that there’s really no such thing as a typical day for me as CEO. That said, I believe that to be a great leader it’s important to be close to my teams if we are going to work together to grow our organisational culture. For example, at the Europ Assistance offices all the teams are on one floor and we don’t have fixed desks – in fact, I don’t even have an office of my own! Instead, we utilise a shared desk system to foster and maintain a connection between teams. This also allows me to easily meet with the heads of all our teams, including finance, operations, sales, marketing, legal, HR and so on – which creates a very open and collaborative environment.
Of course, our offices’ proximity to the Generali offices also ensures that we’re in regular contact with our parent group. Most importantly, we’ve established a bi-weekly meeting amongst our GMC, or a group of top managers from our major regions, where we discuss some of the key topics currently impacting our business.
So, if there is one common thread in terms of a typical day for me as CEO, it's constant communication with our incredible teams.
Which aspects of your role do you enjoy the most, and which are the most challenging?
The fact that we are a global organisation is one of the most challenging aspects of my role, but in many ways it’s also the aspect that I enjoy the most. Being CEO of a large multinational group like Europ Assistance means I need to not only consider all our entities across the globe but, even more importantly, our worldwide customer base. This requires us to think globally in order to cover a wide array of sectors. In many ways, it’s much like my first job of being an actuary in that I’m uniquely positioned to be aware and make sense of a constantly changing world.
What are your proudest achievements, both personally and professionally?
My biggest professional achievement has been turning Europ Assistance into a truly global group during my tenure as CEO. When I joined back in 2014, Europ Assistance was what I would consider a federation but now, with our unified corporate culture that we developed around our managers and teams, we are operating as one fluid organisation.
My biggest personal achievement is of course my loving family. I’m also very proud of the physical (and mental) achievement of completing a triathlon.