Stepping outside one’s comfort zone and being open to new experiences and environments is essential to growth, as demonstrated by one insurance leader’s story.
Stefan Ritz (pictured), chief operations officer at Allianz Life Insurance Malaysia Bhd and chief digital officer at Allianz Malaysia Bhd, grew up interested in computers and dreamed of working at Mercedes-Benz. He studied business computing and, upon the recommendation of a family friend, landed an SAP software-related job in the insurance giant’s home market of Germany.
“I was born in Stuttgart, Germany where the main hub for Allianz Life Insurance is located, so naturally everyone in my hometown knows Allianz,” he told Insurance Business. “It was an attractive opportunity and I joined the company at the age of 26, and the rest is history. I have been with Allianz for nearly 20 years now.”
Ritz had two stints with Allianz’s Korean branch, from 2000 to 2004 and 2007 to 2012, working on various technology projects.
In 2013, Ritz was appointed head of operations of Allianz Malaysia’s life insurance arm. He credits the move as an opportunity to leave his comfort zone and learn more about the insurance industry. He also saw it as a chance to travel Asia with his family and learn more about the continent.
“It was a huge learning experience and gave me a chance to know our products better and interact with customers, intermediaries/agents, and other various stakeholders,” he said. “I had to learn how to listen to our customers and empathise with them. Human touch is still the key to good customer service and goes a long way in building lasting relationships with our customers.”
His expertise in digital technology still plays a major part in his current career, as he was given an additional role as chief digital officer for Allianz Malaysia.
In Ritz’s roles, digitalisation is one of the most pressing issues, as new technologies affecting the insurance industry are developed at a rapid pace.
“One of our strategies moving forward is ‘digital by default’ as we need to keep up with the fast-paced environment we live in and to stay relevant to each generation,” he shared. “Allianz has made significant investments in this area and we will invest in more digital propositions… We have a multi-year roadmap to drive digital initiatives and this consists of a few pillars such as digitally-enabled distribution, digital customer solutions, digital communications and marketing as well as e-operations and e-services.”
Some of Allianz Malaysia’s digital programs include technology-assisted policy issuance and underwriting, the ‘Imagine’ digital sales tool for agents, and partnerships with fintech accelerator SuperCharger and social enterprise community Impact Hub KL.
With regard to technology, Ritz has the following advice for fellow insurance professionals:
“We have to make full use of technology as it offers so many options and solutions to businesses,” he said. “We should not see new players such as insurtech or fintech start-ups as competition. We should be focused and work with them as technological advances in the industry drive the demand for specific and differentiated non-traditional insurance solutions from very well-informed customers.”
He also advised peers to keep their ears and minds open to clients and other practitioners.
“Always appreciate your customer and make sure the customer is at the heart of everything you do. In our industry, our intermediaries play a vital role, so listening to them is equally important – they are very close to the pulse of our customers.”