Established on the cusp of the new millennium, Atlas Insurance has evolved to become one of the island’s foremost companies in the insurance sector. CEO Matthew von Brockdorff believes this is thanks to the firm’s uncompromising dedication to the customer experience, and a leadership style that embraces innovation and creativity.
“Everything I do here at Atlas Insurance, I do through our people at the firm. It’s all about the team,” Matthew von Brockdorff insists. The CEO’s humility is infectious and forward-thinking, leaning towards a business philosophy that allows for agility and nimbleness in uncertain times. “My role, put very simply, is to lead, to inspire and, in doing so, to ensure the company achieves its plans and outcomes.”
Matthew started his career in the insurance sector in the late 80s and was instrumental in the evolution of the firm, which, over the years, has developed a reputation for continually pushing the envelope. “The foundations of the company go back more than a century, with the existence of small family businesses which used to act as agents for UK-based insurers.
Four of these companies merged in 1999 – they wanted to garner enough critical size to eventually become an actual insurance company, rather than to simply operate as agents for international firms. This transition happened in 2004 and I, together with a number of colleagues, played a key role in making this happen.”
Matthew was appointed Deputy Managing Director of the company in 2005 and, in 2006, Atlas became the first and only Protected Cell Company (PCC) of the time. This enabled it to internationalise its business through the creation of a facility to set up cells. The segregated cells – with their own assets and liabilities – created opportunities for foreign investment through the additional security this structure afforded, as well as giving the firm the ability to provide specialised services.
In April 2020, Matthew was appointed CEO and Managing Director, stepping into the thick of it as the country – and the sector – contended with a crippling pandemic and increasing regulation. This includes, in recent years, the implementation of the Insurance Distribution Directive and the Conduct of Business Rules, the latter controlling what products are sold and how.
“My focus has been to look at new ways of working, particularly considering the uncertainty of the future and the ever-changing landscape,” he explains. “Even on a personal level, I had to learn to adapt from a hands-on function, to one which was broader, and which necessitated a certain detachment from the details, allowing me to grow in my role as CEO. It’s a case of trusting the people I work with and helping them solve their problems so they can do the job to the best of their abilities,” he explains.
Elaborating further, the CEO says that COVID-19 triggered a change in how he and the company worked. “We were fortunate that our business, and the overall industry, was able to resist much of the fallout related to the pandemic. We were able to deal with it in a resilient manner, by continuing to support our customers despite the necessity to work in a hybrid mode and, for some time at the start of the pandemic, even close the office.” Matthew admits that the COVID-19 crisis was “a big shock” initially – particularly as travel was ground to a halt and many businesses incurred substantial losses, which created uncertainty to their own business. But once the dust had settled, and the market started to move, Atlas shifted gears to provide the necessities required in the ‘new normal’, by, for instance, including COVID-19 as basic cover for travel insurance and adopting more digital solutions.
These transformations also spurred on other initiatives and instigated a change in how the company is led. Matthew is a firm believer in adopting the ‘Agile methodology’, which allows for flexibility and enables the firm to shift direction based on feedback. He also endorses ‘servant-leadership’, a style which “encourages staff engagement where they come up with solutions, set the direction and contribute to the success of the company through their own initiative”, as well as ‘cross-functionality’; pushing employees working in different areas to work towards the same goals.
“At Atlas, people reacted differently; there were some staff members who were more resilient and others who struggled. However, it was touching to see staff collaborate remotely and reach out to each other to see if any help was needed, providing support and friendship,” he says.
Moreover, through all this time since the start of the pandemic, the team was dedicated to honing and refining the customer experience, identifying the touchpoints which could optimise and improve relationships with clients. “This has been and continues to be one of our key priorities – ensuring our clientele is catered for in a seamless, efficient and friendly manner, by refining the customer journey,” Matthew says.
Today, as the world starts to move towards recovery, Matthew has the scope to consolidate his experience and savour his new role. “I really enjoy the variety in the job; I have to deal with many elements of the business and that allows me the opportunity to grow in the different facets of the business. My job is so broad, nowadays, that it’s a challenge to keep up with the complexities. I’m not an expert in all areas, so I need to read up and conduct research to make sure I understand what’s shaping our business environment.”
To this end, his day involves a delicate balancing act of catching up with staff and collaborators through remote – and more commonly now – live meetings, as well as keeping an eye on his emails and any updates which are occurring in the wider sector. Indeed, he insists that a key part of his routine is to ensure strong communication between him and members of his team: “I don’t believe in top-down leadership but see it as a two-way process.”
Matthew is able to meet the demands of the job through ensuring an adequate work-life balance not only for himself, but also for everyone at Atlas. “I really do believe this is essential. It’s the simple things which I get to appreciate – even just taking the time to go for a walk in the country is enough to refresh and revive me,” he smiles. He adds that he also invests his free moments in contributing to various NGOs, such as the Rotary Club La Valette Malta, JAYE and Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, while more recently becoming a mentor in a programme organised by Malta Business Networks.
Looking ahead, by the end of 2022, Matthew would like to have successfully navigated the challenges presented by the pandemic, as well as the new regulations, including those created in the wake of Malta having been greylisted by the FATF. Linked to the massive importance of sustainability, Matthew is a strong supporter of Atlas’ focus in the area of Environmental, Social and Governance. “Our ESG working committee is heavily committed to tackling sustainability matters like reducing our carbon footprint and introducing other initiatives and policies involving staff engagement. In the area of social and community contribution, we are increasing our activities and financial contribution as is fitting with so many needy causes,” he says.
On a personal level, the CEO will continue to be focused on the company’s objectives – or ‘OKRs’ – and the resources required to achieve them. “It is my role to anticipate any upcoming changes to the business and the industry, since we need to prepare ourselves for the future. To this end, I will make sure we keep on track and achieve our aspirations, while also ensuring we adapt to new realities,” he smiles.
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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