HanseMerkur doing well despite corona
The Hamburg-based insurer, HanseMerkur, has drawn a positive, interim corona balance. The pandemic has not been a particularly heavy burden on the company. Employees tried and tested the flexible working conditions at the height of the coronavirus outbreak and have welcomed their continuation into the future. That is likely to benefit the next generation of HanseMerkur employees as well. In an interview with Hamburg News, Eberhard Sautter, Chairman of HanseMerkur's Board of Management, talks about the loss ratio, new collaborations and trainees.
Hamburg News: Mr. Sautter, how has HanseMerkur weathered the pandemic so far?
Eberhard Sautter: The corona-induced, additional health insurance expenditure is not a burden presently. It has been compensated for by the reduced use of health services as people are wary of contracting coronavirus. Our present loss ratio is comparable to that of 2019. However, we cannot gauge the situation reliably at the moment. This hinges on the German government's apportionment of costs to private health insurance and additional expenditure resulting from any legislation passed.
We have suffered heavy losses only in travel and tourism insolvency insurance. However, we cannot assess the real extent of the losses until the first quarter of 2021. Our partners in the travel industry are operating in crisis mode. The route back to normality depends on the availability of vaccines and medication. All in all, we have come through the crisis well.
Hamburg News: The pandemic has led to increased awareness of health issues. That's good for your industry, right?
Eberhard Sautter: There is a greater sensitivity to health issues in a society marked by demographic change. This is even more evident amid the pandemic and the widespread reporting on COVID-19. As a private health insurer, which has always facilitated medical innovations, our sales networks are benefiting from increased attention especially in terms of high-quality insurance cover.
Hamburg News: HanseMerkur has been co-operating with Tchibo since late May. Is this your approach to an improved position in future?
Eberhard Sautter: Apart from the typical sales channels, HanseMerkur has prioritized collaborations for almost two decades. We are partners of renowned companies such as DAK-Gesundheit, the Fielmann optician chain, Hamburger Sparkasse and the BUDNI drugstore company. Tchibo is an interesting expansion. The company is innovative in terms of marketing and appeals to women with a greater affinity for prevention. Our collaboration there consists of a high-performance supplementary health insurance policy.
Hamburg News: The whole of Germany gained experience with working from home during the corona lockdown. Have your employees come to appreciate this as well?
Eberhard Sautter: Yes, this has been confirmed by an anonymous and voluntary employee survey from May to June 2020 of almost 1,100 staff. It revealed among others a broad desire for continued flexibility in terms of working hours and locations. Clearly, we will certainly give more employees an opportunity to work from home in the long term, which is an advantage in a crisis. This lets us adapt swiftly and efficiently to emergencies. Our company will become less susceptible to challenging scenarios.
Hamburg News: How quickly did you switch over in March?
Eberhard Sautter: Our high degree of digitalisation allowed us to increase the number of people working from home to 90 per cent between March and May at short notice and without losing productivity. The present ratio of people working from home to on-site operations at our headquarters in Dammtor is 75 to 25 per cent. We want to wait and see how the pandemic situation develops when the holiday season ends.
Hamburg News: How will people work at HanseMerkur in future?
Eberhard Sautter: We will operate a more flexible, (breathing) model in terms of working hours and a mix of working from home and in the company. This cannot be mandated as it is a question of whether people can mix their private and professional lives or whether they prefer to keep them separated. That also applies to productivity. Improved work conditions for employees benefits the company as well.
Hamburg News: The corona crisis has led to a lower number of apprenticeships in Hamburg. Can you describe the situation at HanseMerkur?
Eberhard Sautter: HanseMerkur has provided between ten and 20 apprenticeships every year for some time now. We always manage the subsequent takeover in line with demand. Thirteen new trainees will be starting on September 1, 2020. Six will be training as insurance and finance clerks and seven in the dual system. The corona crisis has not impacted our trainee situation.
Hamburg News: Mr. Sautter, thank you for the interview.
Interview by: Yvonne Scheller
HanseMerkur goes back to the "Hanseatische Krankenversicherung von 1875 Merkur VVaG". Health insurance is the company's main line of business. Hanse Merkur specialises in private supplementary health insurance for people with statutory health insurance. Around 1.2 million policyholders make it one of Germany's largest insurance providers in the segement. Last year, the company notched up an 11 per cent increase in gross premium income to just under EUR 2.3 billion.