Chartis Seeks Opportunities With New Brand
By Yoon Ja-young
This has been a very special year for Chartis. The U.S.-based insurer, which had been operating here for decades under the widely-known AIG banner, changed its name.
Brad Bennett, President & CEO of Chartis in Korea, stressed that Chartis has been doing very well over the past year despite the troubles in the United States. It is set to post around a 7-percent growth this year despite the bad economy.
"We are very proud of our staff and really honored that our customers continue to have great faith in us. I think it has been proven by the fact that we're going to post that growth this year," the CEO said.
The problem that hit AIG in the United States affected its company here. However, according to Bennett, it successfully survived thanks to the trust it had built up. "The biggest concern for me initially was for my staff, producers and business partners. Without those three key elements, businesses really struggle. And virtually across the board, all three of those elements of the business were really patient; they waited for information and didn't react to conjecture or rumors. We were also supported very strongly by the local regulator, who came out right away and explained that we are solvent, fine and have no issues," Bennett said.
Chartis, the New Brand
AIG started in Shanghai in 1919, blossoming out of Asia into the rest of the world. As the economies and regulatory bodies were in different stages of evolution, the insurer opened up under a variety of different licenses and names.
"We only really started to have concerted brand strategy around AIG about six to seven years ago. Guess who did that first and best? It was Korea. So, Korea really became one of the best branded AIG insurance organizations in the world, both general and life," Bennett said.
In a 2007 survey, the brand awareness of AIG here stood at 98 percent.
While moving away from such a successful name was tough and even painful, Bennett said it was also an opportunity.
"It is the first time for all of our general insurance operations around the world to move forward under one single go-to-market brand, Chartis. This is very meaningful for us," he said.
"Chartis is now going to represent the global entity that we represent here. So, actually I feel like it's an opportunity now for us to really leverage a global footprint that's consistent with one brand in all 160 countries and jurisdictions," he said.
Despite the name change, Bennett stressed that it was the same entity with the same expertise. "For the last 55 years, we have been here, and we're moving into the next part of our legacy with a consistent brand across the world."
Chartis, which derives from a Greek word, means "map." "Map implies navigation. In our business, our heritage is synonymous with navigating new markets, being innovative, being creative and opening up new business opportunities. It's also synonymous with what our business represents, that is, our expertise and our obligation in providing services that guide clients to customized solutions," the CEO said.
Chartis has been known for its creative products and solutions. Bennett said it would continue this tradition. "I think there are some market opportunities here and the Korean market is very dynamic. Korea is the eighth-largest insurance market in the overall Chartis domain. This is very important market to us," he said, adding that things move quickly and the market moves fast in this dynamic country.
"We will continue to look for opportunities that exist now, but continue to look for ones that we can anticipate based on how we think the market will evolve."
He picked aging as a trend to look at. "Korea is one of the world's aging societies, and we continue to be very proud of the fact that we really do look for products and services to render to a very large and growing part of the population here," the CEO said.
The travel insurance business, which Chartis leads in the market here, is an opportunity that can't be missed, said Bennett.
Hence, he doesn't agree with those who say that the Korean insurance market is saturated. "The market is saturated with a few products. However, less than 1 percent of average Korean homeowners have insurance coverage for risks of their house and belongings. We offer that product, and we're providing that product very successfully now. One of our major competitors has now moved into the market, and it actually is great for us because it increases awareness among consumers."
He said the key in this market is distribution. "Agency has a huge slice as it goes forward, the direct marketing platform has a slice of the pie, and e-commerce has a slice of the pie. There are multiple avenues of distribution. We're constantly trying to make sure that we leverage distribution platforms with opportunities that exist."
Business and Baseball
Bennett has had an interesting career, having played minor league baseball in the United States for four years in the early 1980s. The former outfielder, who successfully transformed into CEO, said there are similarities between business and baseball.
"I would say that having the opportunity to participate in any team sport helps people in business. Baseball specifically has unique nuances to the game that are applicable in a lot of ways."
"There are fundamental basics, and the key to success is to make sure that you learn those fundamentals. In order to be successful, you must apply yourself to execute them. The other important thing that I've taken away from baseball is that individual efforts matter. No matter where you are in organizations or on the baseball field, you can't play the game with one person. You got to have individual efforts, and everybody understands and connects to the overall objective. So, everybody is important."
He added that how to interpret failure also matters. "If you stay down, you will be down. If you get up and continue to pursue and learn from your failures along the way, then that will lead to success."
"A guy makes a million dollars a year if he gets three hits out of ten. By definition, you could say he fails seven times, but, he actually hits three times."
He said the same goes for insurance, where the core of the business is an interaction between customers and representatives. "It might take time to understand how and what you have to offer to that particular client. One might see it as a failure and the other might see it as a learning opportunity," said Bennett, who also started his career in the insurance industry as an agent.
Insurance Is an Honorable Business
Bennett defined insurance as a good and honorable business, where one is actually involved in providing services and benefits to individuals and communities at large. This attracted him to the field as well.
Chartis, which runs a call center in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, recently held a walkathon there to raise funds for its scholarship program to give back to the community.
The call center was greatly welcomed by the provincial city, which lacks decent jobs for women. "For us, it's been an incredible success. Employee retention is nearly 100 percent. We are extremely pleased. Specifically, the call center created jobs for women and seniors. That is one of the good things," Bennett said.
The CEO said Chartis will focus on developing programs especially for disadvantaged children. "Our brand represents a map that provides our customers a way to hedge risks and find solutions for their insurance needs. The meaning of navigation and guiding that our brand name carries can be linked with activities helping children find a way to develop their bright futures," he explained.