The boss of Europe’s largest insurer on dealing with market turmoil
OLIVER BÄTE still goes to his office every day on Munich’s Königinstrasse, next to the English Garden, but it is mostly empty. “You are always alone as a CEO,” says the boss of Allianz, who took the reins of the 130-year-old insurance giant in 2015. And never more so than during a pandemic, when you are in charge of 147,000 employees in over 70 countries, who are looking after hundreds of thousands of customers, many of whom are in financial despair because of covid-19. “Italy is overwhelmed,” says Mr Bäte. Only 30 of its several thousand employees in Milan are at the office.
奥利弗·贝特（Oliver Bäte）每天还是去慕尼黑柯尼根斯特拉斯大街（Königinstrasse）上的办公室上班，那里毗邻英国公园（English Garden）。不过办公室里几乎空无一人。“CEO总是孤家寡人一个。”这位安联老板说。他从2015年开始执掌这家有着130年历史的保险巨头。在一场大流行病期间担当此任，就更是如此了。他统领着散布在70多个国家的14.7万名员工，这些员工又照管着几十万个客户，其中很多因为新冠肺炎陷入财务困境。“意大利已经沦陷了。”贝特说。安联在米兰有几千名员工，目前在办公室值守的不过30人。
The company will support clients wherever it can, says Mr Bäte. He is frequently on the phone with officials in Brussels and Berlin, discussing ways to help governments marshal money for programmes to support small and midsized companies.
Thousands of firms are looking to their insurers, as well as the state, to cover some of the costs of shutting down. But neither property-and-casualty nor life-insurance policies generally cover pandemics. This is mainly because the risk is huge and unpredictable, but also because such policies were not until now much in demand. Allianz covers certain elements of a pandemic, such as business interruption for two weeks. But it can only underwrite slices of the risk, says Mr Bäte. Otherwise even the strongest insurer would go bust.
Legal wrangles over policy exclusions loom over the industry. State lawmakers in America (where insurance is regulated at state level) have proposed new laws to force insurers to pay billions of dollars for business interruptions related to mandatory shutdowns. The issue is simmering in Europe, too—though fewer cases are likely to end up in court. Politicians are also urging insurers to lower premiums in other business lines, for instance car insurance, or to divert profits from these to help stricken corporate policyholders. Insurers can make more money than usual from motor policies during lockdowns, since quieter roads mean fewer accidents.
Allianz has many more immediate concerns. As the owner of Euler Hermes, a big provider of credit insurance—which firms buy to protect receivables from loss—Allianz is directly exposed to rising corporate defaults. Mr Bäte vows to try to keep small businesses going by not making drastic cuts to the credit lines it offers with such policies. France is set to offer a reinsurance backstop to limit potential losses for credit insurers that help keep covid-stricken firms afloat; Germany may follow suit.
Allianz’s huge asset-management arm—the world’s second-largest active fund manager—is heavily exposed to the carnage, too. The business, which comprises PIMCO, a bond-fund giant, and the smaller Allianz Global Investors, oversees some $2.3trn and generates up to a quarter of group profits. It had a very good January and February, but in March it was “like turning a light switch off”, says Jackie Hunt, who leads the division. Clients rushed to redeem funds, especially in fixed income, after stockmarkets plummeted (Mr Bäte says Allianz beat an “early” retreat from American equities). Hedging has become more difficult. The cost of protection for a book of variable annuities, for instance, “shot through the roof”, says Mr Bäte. “It’s a hundred million here, a hundred million there.”
安联庞大的资产管理部门（全球第二大主动型基金管理公司）也极有可能因这场浩劫遭受重创。该部门包括债券基金巨头太平洋投资管理公司（PIMCO）和规模相对较小的安联环球投资（Allianz Global Investors），管理着大约2.3万亿美元的资产，为集团创造了多达四分之一的利润。其负责人杰基·亨特（Jackie Hunt）表示，该部门今年头两个月势头很好，但到了3月份“就像关掉了电灯开关”。股市暴跌后（贝特说安联“及早”从美国股市抽身而退），客户争相赎回基金，尤其是固定收益的基金。对冲变得更加难做。例如，一份可变年金的保险成本“高到爆棚”，贝特说，“这里要一个亿，那里又要一个亿。”
Allianz is exposed to markets both in its life-insurance business, as an investor of clients’ premiums, and as an earner of fund-management fees. Ms Hunt thinks the crisis will speed up the move from active to passive management in equities and squeeze fee margins. Yet she insists that this is a time when active managers prove their value, especially in fixed income.
When time allows, Mr Bäte says, he is pushing on with a plan to slim Allianz down and increase efficiency by embracing AI and machine learning. He estimates that up to half of his working day is taken up with covid-related issues. The outlook is unclear: for now, he says, he is not pondering a profit warning. He is preparing for an annual general meeting on May 6th, which for the first time will take place virtually. It will be a lonely day for the gregarious former McKinsey consultant. ■