Appointed CEO of MAPFRE MSV in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Etienne Sciberras brought the experiences gleaned from his two decades with the company to bear on his new role. Now, together with a strong management team, he continues to steer it into a future where new technology and growing customer demand spell success.
Etienne Sciberras takes his role at MAPFRE MSV Life very seriously. In essence, he believes, it is about providing leadership to the organisation and to a very experienced management team; inspiring and motivating a committed workforce; while also providing and executing its strategic direction to achieve the organisation’s goals and aspirations.
While this may seem like a tall order for the relatively new CEO – who was appointed to the position in April 2021 – Etienne has 20 years’ experience working within different departments of the company behind him. “While I’m new to the role, I am not new to the company,” he says, explaining how he joined as a trainee executive in the investment unit in 2001, and went on to move through the ranks, enjoying different roles and responsibilities along the way.
By 2012, Etienne was appointed Investment Manager before moving into risk management when the company set up a dedicated function from scratch. Later, he had the opportunity to assume the role with MAPFRE Middlesea too, which saw him lead the risk management section across MAPFRE in Malta, until he was appointed CEO of MAPFRE MSV Life in 2021.
Speaking of his experience within the role so far, Etienne says it’s challenging, but also very exciting and fulfilling. “I’m lucky to be working with some great people, and a very engaged Board of Directors. I’m happy to assume the challenges it brings because I can see that there is a lot of confidence in me and my team. This motivates me,” he shares.
Divulging his personal goals at the helm of MAPFRE MSV Life, the CEO cites continuity as the first item on the agenda. “The company has been performing very well, with strong results registered over the past few years. So, the first thing I’d like to do is ensure continuity in that respect but also take it to the next level. There has been a lot of change around us, particularly with COVID-19, and we have seen how certain norms can change in a short period of time. It is important that the company evolves with what our customers will be demanding of us in the coming years, utilising technology that will continue to transform our lives, while continuing to achieve objectives and bring value to our stakeholders,” Etienne maintains.
Delving into its history, the CEO explains that MAPFRE MSV Life was established in 1994 by Bank of Valletta, Munich RE and Middlesea Insurance. Since then, shareholding has evolved to include Bank of Valletta and MAPFRE Middlesea, which is a subsidiary of the global MAPFRE Group. The company started by providing life protection and, over the years, has branched out into other areas including savings and investments, more recently becoming a leading player in the market for personal pensions plans and voluntary occupational pension schemes.
Discussing how the landscape has changed, Etienne says, “like any other industry, we’ve seen significant changes over the years – changes driven by a changing regulatory environment, as well as by increased competition, which I think is very positive.” In tandem, customers have become more demanding and sophisticated, he continues, describing these as “very exciting times for the business”, and also citing new technology that has transformed the way the company interacts with its customers.
Against this backdrop, the CEO says that several factors continue to shape MAPFRE MSV Life’s success, including the company’s shareholders, financial credentials, its willingness to innovate, reputation, and core values, which Etienne considers a distinguishing feature. Ultimately, however, he credits the trust of policyholders as a primary factor. “We are a business based on trust. Our relationships with our customers span a long period of time, so it is all of these ingredients that make MAPFRE MSV Life the success story that it has been so far.”
And when the pandemic hit in 2020, these ingredients served to right the ship in times of trouble. Going into the different areas that were affected by the pandemic, the CEO explains, “from an operational point of view, the fact that we had been investing heavily in our IT infrastructure for a number of years helped us in the transition to a remote working business model. At one point, over 90 per cent of our employees were working remotely.”
Meanwhile, the company also prides itself on continuing to provide a good level of service to its customers throughout the pandemic. “Obviously, there were periods when we had to close our offices. But, what it did do for our business, was cause us to be more flexible, innovative and creative, so as to continue in the new environment we were facing,” Etienne admits, affirming that this showed the company’s resilience and resourcefulness, which is very much thanks to its people. “Ultimately, you can have the technology, but if you don’t have the people with the right values and the willingness to go the extra mile and adapt as quickly as possible, you won’t succeed,” he maintains.
Having assumed his role in the midst of the pandemic, Etienne admits that he would have liked the opportunity to be more in touch with people in a physical way, yet with the negative also came the positive. “Unfortunately, my first interactions with our people have all been on a virtual basis, so that did make it a bit impersonal. However, it was also an opportunity to relate to people in a very difficult period of time, and I think that helped me to establish stronger relationships to a certain extent. We were in such a particular moment when solidarity was so pervasive across the entire country and even across the world – it is in times of crisis that people really come together with one common objective.”
As for the business, while the initial impact was a negative one, the CEO admits that, as the country began to recover and see light at the end of the tunnel, things began to look up. In fact, 2021 was a relatively good year for MAPFRE MSV Life.
From an operations point of view, the new norms that came about as a result of the pandemic are still being embraced, Etienne says, explaining that MAPFRE MSV Life is still promoting remote working. “We believe that this is something that should not be considered as a business continuity activity throughout the pandemic, but which could also be an alternative way of getting more people engaged in the workforce, and also providing the necessary flexibility to help in their work-life balance. Plus, with the right tools and measures in place, it can actually improve the output of the organisation, in terms of helping people to be more creative, productive and even more collaborative.”
Meanwhile, from a customer standpoint, he continues, “we have accelerated our digitalisation initiatives to provide a better omnichannel experience, so that customers don’t necessarily need to engage with us by physically visiting our offices.”
Sharing his outlook for the sector in general, Etienne believes that, over the next five years, developments in robotics and AI are going to continue to influence the way insurance is transacted, as well as the ways in which competition approaches the market, giving rise to increased demand.
Highlighting the strategic plan that will see the company through to 2024, Etienne says that part of the company’s plan is to leverage the digital foundations it has already built, as well as continue to improve the customer journey of policyholders and new clients. “I’d like to see the company become ever- more innovative, to offer new value propositions to our customers, and to continue to address customer demands and excel in terms of our service.”
Also, apart from the financial objectives that any CEO might have, Etienne cites providing a healthy and safe environment to employees among his priorities, noting that “we take a lot of pride in developing our workforce, and have a number of initiatives to help people further their careers and develop on a professional level.”
Last but not least, the CEO considers it equally important to keep on contributing to society in general. “We are very active in the community aspect, and I look forward to continuing to play an important role in our community in 2022.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.
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