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Can investments be both profitable and sustainable?

01 October 2019

 

Socially responsible investments in France has soared with an 11%* increase from 2017 to 2018! At a time when the future of our society is faced with major challenges, this new approach of finance raises a key question: can investments combine performance objectives with sustainable development principles? Here is a look at some answers.

Socially responsible investment (SRI) consists of taking non-financial evaluation criteria into account when deciding on investments. “We also call them the ESG criteria: E for environmental, S for social and G for governance. In practice, we look at the impact a company has on its environment, its social practices, particularly regarding employees, how it treats and communicates with shareholders...” said Olivier Héreil, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Asset management at BNP Paribas Cardif.

 

France the chosen land of SRI

The approach was created about thirty years ago mainly by religious congregations seeking to align their investments with their beliefs (for example, refusing to invest in companies that manufacture weapons or alcohol). With the surge in concerns linked to sustainable development, the movement grew to become a general trend in asset management. At the end of 2017, SRI represented nearly 5,000 billion euros in global assets, of which over 1,000 billion came from the French market alone **. “Our country was a historic breeding ground for these types of investments, especially with the heavy involvement of social partners and public institutions that drove the market forward. As a result, France was at the forefront in this area and is very active at the European level, whereas SRI remains a niche market in the United States and is just emerging in Asia,” said Antoine de Salins, Associate Director of I-Care & Consult, that supports public and private organisations in achieving their environmental transition.

Diverse approaches

SRI takes various forms. Managers can choose to exclude some companies from their asset portfolios, such as those that produce electricity from coal and thus contribute to the acceleration of global warming. They can also invest in the most advanced companies according to ESG criteria. This “best in class” approach culminates when we include in portfolios companies that are given the highest scores by non-financial agencies and that also innovate to find solutions to sustainable development issues. Lastly, there is the thematic approach. These are funds focused on topics linked to environmental protection and social issues, such as producing green energy, fighting poverty and promoting fair trade.

 

A virtuous loop

In all cases, SRI creates a “virtuous loop”. “It brings financial assistance to companies committed to addressing major issues that affect society as a whole. They can therefore mobilise greater means and resources to develop their activities and, consequently, their positive social impacts. Investors, for their part, give meaning to their investments, which they are more and more interested in doing,” said Olivier Héreil. Of course, the offer is still fairly recent and very diversified, which may hinder market growth due to the difficulty in understanding it (in a 2018 IFOP survey, only 8% of respondents said they knew what SRI was, as opposed to 22% who knew about participatory financing).  However, two developments should help to clear this obstacle. Firstly, efforts can be made in training and communicating with distribution networks to help them commercialize the proposed solutions. Secondly, labels are increasingly numerous and rigorous. In France, two of these exist: the SRI and CET (Climate and Energy Transition) labels. Launched in 2016 with support of public authorities, they aim at offering greater visibility of SRI products to savers. They guarantee that their management addresses strict specifications, which call especially for clear and transparent information.

Less risk, same performance

If SRI is winning people over, it is not because it is ethical but because it is both ethical and profitable. Risk reduction is its major asset. “A company is not only about financial statements: it is also a human community. If we stick solely to financial criteria to evaluate its quality, we are in for some unpleasant surprises. Not paying attention to governance quality, for example, can be costly to the investor”, said Antoine de Salins. Moreover, most of the academic research on the topic over the last few years has led to the same conclusion: SRI does not reduce performance but can even out-perform traditional investments on the long-term and reduce risks. 

 

Insurers the key market players

Insurance companies play a key role in the development of SRI. They are actually long-term institutional investors. Yet, as Olivier Héreil recalls, “SRI brings its value over time.” That’s why life insurance is one of the best-suited financial products for this type of investment. “What’s more, insurers are now being pressed to develop responsible finance by central banks and financial regulators who have entered the game with a heavy hand.” In France, the public authorities are also inciting insurers. Following the law on energy transition in 2015 inviting insurers to include ESG criteria in their investments, the PACTE law, adopted in April 2019, requires that they propose a product with SRI labelled fund in their contracts from the year 2020.

BNP Paribas Cardif a responsible insurer

This promising context should strengthen BNP Paribas Cardif’s historic involvement for the SRI. Such involvement is closely linked to the company’s mission to make insurance accessible to the largest possible number of people while being useful to society. It is based on one conviction, summarised by Olivier Héreil: “As an institutional investor, we have the dual responsibility of managing our policyholders’ savings by combining financial performance with a positive impact on society.” The company has been working towards this for the past ten years by deploying a global approach. It selects all of its investments by integrating ESG criteria. Since 2015, it has also financed over a dozen projects on renewable energy development through the Tera Neva green bond, and has invested in a real estate project in 2017 aimed at creating emergency accommodations for people in highly precarious situations.

 

Saving by being useful

At the same time, BNP Paribas Cardif gives its customers the opportunity to invest directly in SRI products, via unit-linked in particular. The company was even a pioneer in this area with the launch in 2008 of its first socially and environmentally themed funds eligible in life insurance contracts. Its range has since become much broader. Currently, in the BNP Paribas Aqua fund for example, clients contribute to strengthen access to good quality water by financing supply, treatment and sanitation facilities. With the Sycomore Happy@Work fund, they invest in European companies that are particularly careful about managing their human resources. “There are now rankings of companies considered to be great places to work and we realise that there is a link between happy employees and a company’s performance” said Olivier Héreil. This is added proof, if any were needed, that sustainability and profitability go hand in hand.

 

* Source: Novethic

** Source: the French Asset Management Association


BNP Paribas Cardif Survey Protecting oneself to achieve future plans thanks to insurance

11 October 2019

 

BNP Paribas Cardif presents results of a survey of 26,000 people in 26 countries on 3 continents conducted with Ipsos

 

 

·         Concerns are primarily financial and social.

·         A predominant feeling of confidence looking ahead to 2025.

·         People play an active role in their future, with ambitious and multiple aspirations and concrete projects.

·         People also concerned about unforeseen life events, both financial and physical.

·         Insurance figures at the heart of expectations regarding protection and looking ahead to the future.

·         Creditor insurance and loans secure and facilitate projects.   

·         4 fundamental challenges for the insurer: maintain human contact, strengthen recognition of distribution partners as insurance providers, reconcile individual and collective benefits, support policyholders beyond compensation.

 

BNP Paribas Cardif has released the results of a survey of 26,000 people in 26 countries on 3 continents (Europe, Latin America and Asia) designed to assess the need for personal insurance coverage, and analyze changes in behaviours as well as peoples’ expectations towards insurance[1]. The online survey, which includes questions from a 2008 survey, was conducted with experts from the Ipsos opinion research company.

 

In 2019, people are mainly concerned with financial and social issues 

The concerns expressed by people surveyed in different countries are mainly linked to financial and social issues: pension financing (only 39% of respondents feel their situation is comfortable), social protection (43%), care for the elderly (46%), and purchasing power (47%), are the main individual and collective concerns.

The French are especially pessimistic compared with the European average in their assessment of the general economic situation (34% positive assessment compared with 53% in Europe), growth in purchasing power (23% vs. 46% in Europe), and pension financing (31% vs. 37% in Europe).

On the other hand, positive individual and collective perceptions dominate regarding housing (71 %), personal protection (nearly 65%), health and quality of health care (nearly 64%).

 

Multiple aspirations and plans for 2025 

Nearly 75% of respondents globally say they are confident in their personal future. However, there are significant differences between certain regions. Confidence in Asia was both highest (96% in China and India), and lowest, since only 48% of Japanese respondents expressed confidence in the future.

The French are less optimistic than the European and global average: 66% say they are confident, compared with 71% and 74%, respectively.

Asked to share photos or open ended answers, respondents expressed a multitude of ambitious aspirations for 2025. These plans ranged from dream jobs/financial stability, travel, a pleasant home, and an ideal family life, to happiness or purchasing a car. There were also very concrete responses regarding plans. Topping the list were holidays and material needs (purchase of household equipment, home renovation, purchasing a car or purchasing property), followed by education plans (for self or children, cited by nearly 53%) and entrepreneurial projects (nearly 50% globally and 75% among Latin Americans). People are thus more confident when they are actively involved in shaping their future.

Respondents are nevertheless concerned regarding life events: financial risks (financial loss or loss of income were cited by 72%), take precedence over physical risks (serious illness: 70%). This is a new development compared with the 2008 results, in which financial risk did not figure among the top three concerns.

 

Insurance for protection and to look to the future with confidence 

In this context, insurance is completely aligned with respondents’ expectations. To start with, insurance lets people protect themselves against unforeseen life events. Even though more than 60% of respondents (especially in Asia: 72%) feel well protected, nearly 67% (also especially in Asia: 83%) plan to subscribe insurance to protect against life events (financial loss, death, accidents, disability, illness, family event, theft, assault, etc.). 69% of the French feel better protected than the global average (61%) and the European average (64%). The French are also among those with the most insurance cover, although levels of cover are unequal: car theft and damage (61% vs. 36% globally), accidents (56% vs. 41% globally) and hospitalization (53% vs. 35% globally).

Insurance lets people look ahead to the future. Beyond savings and disposable income (58%), people want to know that their families and property will be protected thanks to insurance (28%), and 23% envisage taking out a loan to realize their projects.

Insurance will therefore play a pivotal role in the years ahead since it figures at the heart of major plans made by individuals and the means they intend to use to realize their projects. The feeling of security provided by insurance is therefore an important lever that allows people to take action and look to the future with confidence.

 

Creditor insurance and loans to secure and facilitate personal plans 

Credit is used to fund major projects: 51% of respondents have taken out a loan for a property acquisition and 72% expect to either take out a loan (or second loan) to purchase property, a car (56%) or to create a business (55%).

However, a loan can be a source of concerns: 69% of respondents believe that a serious illness could lead to an inability to repay a mortgage. 67% cite inability to work, disability and accidents, while job loss and death are cited by 66% and 64% of respondents, respectively. These concerns seem well-founded since 36% of respondents say they have previously encountered difficulties in repaying a loan (all categories of events included). This proportion shows significant growth: in 2008 only 22% of respondents said they had had problems repaying a loan.

In 2019, loan repayment protection is thus a more important issue than it was a decade ago.

In France, 62% of respondents (vs. 51% in Europe and globally) have previously taken out a mortgage. While purchasing property (76%) or a car (62%) are the two main projects for which people in France plan to use a loan, renovation work ranks third (53%).

Starting a business is fourth, with 42% of respondents (vs. 45% in Europe and 55% globally). Since they are well-assured, thanks in particular to loan repayment insurance, only 19% of the French have had problems meeting their monthly repayments (compared with 26% of Europeans surveyed).

What’s more, nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) worldwide are aware of the availability of creditor insurance. They subscribe this insurance especially when they purchase property (42%) and cars (36%). The global respondents cite numerous advantages of creditor insurance: it protects their property (80%), their family (79%), it reassures them and provides peace of mind (77%), and facilitates the achievement of projects (74%). Creditor insurance also makes people want to achieve their projects (71%). In Latin America and Asia, percentages are significantly higher than the global average (+5 points for property protection and +6 points for family protection). Creditor insurance is above all perceived as a means to achieve plans by nearly 60% of respondents (compared with 41% in 2008). The trend is even stronger in Latin America (56% in 2019 vs. 36% in 2008). In France, creditor insurance is perceived as a means to achieve plans by 55% of respondents (compared with 64% at the European level).

 

Insurers are recognized as legitimate partners to support projects, but face numerous challenges 

  • Maintain human contact: With the digital transformation, the primary challenge for insurers is to forge closer personal contact. The study shows that the insurance advisor is the contact of choice for 58% of respondents seeking information. What’s more, 72% of those surveyed say they would prefer a physical sales location to subscribe insurance. These channels must be supported by digital resources (websites, comparison tools, mobile apps, etc.) that facilitate the client journey.
  • Strengthen recognition of distribution partners as insurance providers: 30% of respondents cite banks as the primary source for subscribing insurance products (ranked second, behind insurance companies), while 26% go to their bank when they want information (ranked 5th). The other insurance subscription channels (distribution partners from the automobile, telecoms, retail and other sectors) are currently not as well-known (cited by just 6 to 7% of respondents). BNP Paribas Cardif thus has a role to play to support the development of partners’ insurance expertise, as well as their recognition among the general public.
  • Reconcile individual and collective benefits: insurers must find the right balance between:
    • the individual benefits of insurance with a refund of insurance premiums if no claims have been filed at maturity is ranked no. 1 among the criteria of an ideal insurance policy (39% of respondents), followed by personalization (36%), simplification (34%) and clarification (31%) of offers.
    • the collective benefits of insurance, about which respondents are more divided. The principle of solidarity is an essential criteria for just 13% of respondents. On the other hand, nearly a third agree that insurance should be accessible to the largest possible number of people “even the most vulnerable”.
  • Support policyholders: Beyond claims processing (disability, immobilization, death, etc.), insurers must be able to offer additional services to policyholders to support them at all important stages of their lives. For example, if they had to stop working to care for a family member in the event of disability, 54% of respondents believe that it is indispensable to benefit from insurance cover that provides monthly payments, as well as aid to return to employment (advice, training, etc.: 40%) or psychological support (38%). In the event of immobilization, they feel it is essential to benefit from mobility support (47%), care for elderly relatives (43%), family assistance (38%) and medical tele-assistance services (35%). Lastly, in the event of death, they expect assistance with funeral arrangements (43%), repatriation of the body (47%) and transportation of a family member to the place of death (37%).

 

“Alongside our 500 partners in 35 countries, we are continually striving to improve our insurance offers around the world. To better meet the expectations of our clients we want to better understand and analyze their behaviour, as well as the ways they purchase insurance. By enriching our protection insurance and savings offers as well as our services and by making insurance accessible to the largest possible number of people, BNP Paribas Cardif is meeting the challenges identified by this study. We have pursued this approach for many years and we will continue to drive progress in the future,” stated Renaud Dumora, Chief Executive Officer of BNP Paribas Cardif.

Brice Teinturier, Deputy Managing Director of Ipsos France, added: “A billion people around the world today use their mobile phone as the sole means of accessing the Web and have a tablet. In 2020, 80% of adults will have a smartphone. This is why we used a 100% online methodology for this survey, which covers nearly 60% of the global population in this representative segment. Respondents were able to complete the survey from a computer, tablet or smartphone. They could also dictate answers and upload photos they felt were meaningful.”

 

[1] Methodology: The survey was conducted from April 3-29 2019. A representative sample of individuals age 18 or older responsible for decisions in the household concerning financial products and services (banking and insurance). Age limits differed by country: 65 in Europe (except Turkey : 50), 59 in Latin America (except Peru: 55), 55 in Asia (except China: 50). 26,000 interviews conducted (1,000 interviews/country). Quotas applied to ensure representative sample in each country by age, gender and region. Specific quotas in Russia (questions in certain cities). Online survey of Ipsos panel. Device agnostic questionnaire lasting an average of 20 minutes (variable according to country: approx. 30 minutes in Latin America). Questionnaire could be completed online (via computer, tablet or smartphone), with direct dictation of answers to open questions and optional photo upload. Data processed against 3 criteria: gender, age and region. Results analyzed globally, by geographic region and then by country.

 

Download the press release

 

Download the survey : "Protect and project oneself with insurance"


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Will Blockchain be the game changer of the insurance industry in China?

07 October 2019

 

After years of hype we may finally be on the brink of blockchain breakthroughs in 2019. Provenance, identity, anonymised data sharing and asset tracking are obvious examples of early successes that are key to many businesses within the insurance industry, from shipping to property, cyber to fraud.

Blockchain is peculiar in that it itself is not a technology. It is a protocol that enables or facilitates other technologies. Accordingly, the protocol is proffered as a solution, often incorrectly to an extraordinarily broad array of challenges. However, there are a number of processes in which blockchain is proving to be effective.The application of Blockchain within these processes presents meaningful opportunities to a number of Insurance businesses and segments of the insurance supply chain. Amongst them we are seeing particularly successful trials in Fraud & Risk Prevention, Claims Management, Reinsurance, Property and Casualty Insurance, Health Insurance and Travel Insurance. Some of these trials are for private blockchains, reducing fraud through increased levels of anonymised data sharing between insurers. Some of them are leveraging smart contracts to expedite the claims management process. And some are shared registrars of ownership for insurable assets.

 

If Blockchain is mainstream anywhere, it’s China

For the last three years China has led the Blockchain world. It filed the most blockchain patents in 2017 (225), followed by the US (91), and Australia (13) and has more than tripled that figure in 2018 with 790 patents published, followed by the US (762), South Korea (161) and Australia (132). It is Interesting to note that the United Kingdom was the only European nation to make the top 10 with 36 patents published even if some french blockchain start-up like Stratumn are promising. In addition to that, China runs more projects (263 projects, 25% of global total) and mines more crypto currency than anywhere else. It has dedicated massive amounts of resources to maintaining a market lead. If Blockchain is mainstream anywhere, it’s China. The Insurance industry is no exception, as explained by Anton Hristoff, Blockchain & Emerging Tech Strategist:“Insurance is one of the most tangible use cases for Blockchain (...) For example. car Insurance. An accident occurs. You have to call the insurer who needs to liaise with a mechanic, who needs to confirm with the insurer. It can take a long time to get your money back. Blockchain could make payment automatic on approval.” Chinese companies have been distinctively aggressive in their application of blockchain protocols within the industry, often taking more risks than contemporaries in other markets.

What follows is an overview of some of the most prominent Blockchain trials, projects and partnerships in China.

 

Blockchain is expending on the regulation ground

China Cyberspace Administration has announced a list of 197 approved Blockchain service providers. Chinese authorities approved the first cohort of Blockchain service providers on March 30 2019. The list includes major players like Alibaba, Tencent and JD.com. The chinese government have been very active on blockchain initiatives.

 

Unity makes strength

Chinese Insurers are collaborating to exploit Blockchain opportunities. Shanghai Insurance Exchange has partnered with 9 insurers to trial different blockchain solutions. The objective seems to have been focused on establishing the security and traceability features of Blockchain. The significance of the announcement is that Chinese Insurers are actively collaborating to identify blockchain opportunities at an industry level. The participant insurers included Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance, AIA Group, Cathay Life Insurance, China Continent Property & Casualty Insurance, and Minsheng Life Insurance.

We can also add the example of State Owned PICC (People Insurance Company of China) which has recently partnered with VeChain in an effort to improve data management systems. VeChain is a Shanghai based blockchain provider specialising in governance and business ecosystems. They have created a tokenised public chain called VeChainThor. The goal of the partnership is to improve claims management by digitalising traditionally paper records on the VeChain blockchain and combining with their IOT competencies to provide “instant compensation”.

 

Supply Chain Efficacy

In the Health space, Hong Kong Insurer Blue Cross recently adopted blockchain to speed up claims. Indeed, the Hong Kong Government has launched an initiative to encourage residents to buy private health insurance by providing a tax rebate of approx. $1,000 per year leading to a rash of new consumer innovations in the Hong Kong Market. This, inevitably, has resulted in the word “Blockchain” being used with increasing frequency. Using permission-based, Hyperledger technology, health insurer Blue Cross (owned by Bank of East Asia) believe that they can reduce the cost of claims management by reconciling multi-party medical data. If effective, this may make the closed network more attractive to medical providers interested in working with BlueCross over time. When asking Dr Wei Cui why private chains are the preferred solution, the eminent researcher answered : “the insurance data involves very sensitive privacy of consumers and should not be tracible on public chains (...) and because Consortium Blockchain provides an efficient way for improving the collaboration efficiency of different parties.”  

 

Data Management

As data is new oil, Blockchain can manage it in a safe way. Zhong An - the insurer owned by Tencent, Ping An and AliBaba - has announced a deal that will see it partner with 100 hospitals to share medical data. The partnership allows Zhong An to provide data infrastructure to participating hospitals that will allow them to securely access patient medical data. The real significance of the deal is that it may result in a shift away from hospital or medical professionals holding patient data to an environment where the insurer held it for safekeeping and charged the medical providers a fee to access it. The benefit to the hospitals and medical providers is that they can mitigate the cyber risk and cost of being hacked.

 

Technology cross collaboration

Ping An, the world’s largest insurance company, has partnered with Blockchain  AI start-up, SingularityNet, to explore opportunities across their business. Ping An have had a long history of spinning off successful fintech ventures and this could be an instance where the parent is looking to augment internal resource capacity through new partnerships. The idea of decentralised AI is somewhat distinctive. SingularityNet also provides access to a marketplace of algorithms and AI services including optical character recognition (OCR) and model training.

 

Joint Reinsurance Platform emerging in China

China Re, Hannover Re, GenRe, and Zhong An have recently published a Reinsurance Blockchain Whitepaper. The intention is to validate the need and use case for a joint reinsurance blockchain platform. The project was undertaken principally because reinsurers believe that they are at an information disadvantage over primary insurers which results in higher levels of operational risk and consequently higher premiums. They believe this excess can be mitigated through access to transaction data. A PoC has already been created by China Re and Zhong An. The PoC was wide-ranging, covering negotiation and contracting, reinsurance, document exchange, claims processing, and integration into a multi-chain trading ecosystem.

China has a fundamental need to develop insurance capacity for a rapidly emerging and endowed, underinsured middle class. But traditional insurers are broadly unsophisticated in their approach, relying heavily on analogue systems and ineffective risk models. This has resulted in a cohort of new digital insurers with commercial links to both product manufacturers and sellers, who rely heavily on aggregated scoring data and integrated application platforms (e.g. Wechat) to provide their services.

Blockchain plays a role within the system in that it can provide certain efficiencies when it comes to asset provenance and data aggregation. The Chinese government's desire to manage the dissemination of new technology through vetted channels has meant that only private, permission-based blockchains have seen significant adoption. There is a notable absence of public ledger initiatives.

Chinese Blockchain efforts within the Insurance industry should be viewed within the parameters of Chinese objectives for technological supremacy. The “Made in China 2025” plan is state enabled effort to make Chinese companies the leaders in emerging infrastructural technology from AI, to BlockChain to 5G. This plan relies on massive amounts of state funding and coordination and consequently China’s efforts within different fields of technological endevour are typically coordinated.

 

Consequently, it remains unclear as to just how much the western world can glean from the success of China’s Insurers Blockchain initiatives. In some instances, it is apparent that existing database technologies in Europe and the US can outperform China’s Blockchain efforts. But it is increasingly likely that China’s approach to accumulating citizen and commercial data will provide opportunities for amalgam technologies, e.g. permission based neural-nets with quantum computing capacity, to create value that western societies will resist due to privacy and democracy concerns.

 

Startup elected "Fintech of the year 2018", Stratumn establishes automation and reliability via their innovative solution using blockchain. Stratumn is a software company that delivers traceability, transparency and data integrity in processes involving multiple stakeholders. Stratumn is also a BNPParibasCardif’ C Entrepreneurs portfolio start-up.

 

Powered by Cardif Lab’, in partnership with L'Atelier BNP Paribas.


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