Swiss insurer is having best year ever

Zurich International Life is having a good year, despite the economic slowdown.

Carlos Sabugueiro, regional director of Zurich International Life, discusses the Swiss insurer's strategy to counter the economic slowdown in Asia.

Who are your clients?

Sabugueiro: We have a very clear target market. Medium/High net-worth expatriates and internationally minded Chinese and the companies that employ them. Our average premiums are typically a lot higher than those of a local direct salesforce distribution model, and the fact that we are investing offshore is a critical factor for our clients.

Do you have a tied sales force?

No, we only distribute through intermediaries. On the individual side we operate through independent financial advisers and on the corporate side through employee benefit consultants and consulting actuaries.

What products do you offer?

All of our products are unit-linked life policies issued out of the Isle of Man, one of the leading offshore financial centres in the world. The Isle of Man has established its own insurance act, ensuring that authorised companies have sound and professional management and that the interests of policyholders are protected.

We have our flagship product, called Vista, which is a retirement benefits plan. At retirement you have the option of taking an annuity, you can take it all in cash, or part annuity part cash. So it's very flexible.

Within Vista we also have something called a Retirement Investment Strategy. A lot of clients don't want to manage their money on a day-to-day basis. So we have a unique strategy that automatically moves you slowly from higher risk funds, gradually to very low risk cash funds, as you get closer to retirement. So on the day you retire, you wake up and you're no longer affected by a stock market crash. That is extremely popular and approximately two thirds of the pensions we sell opt for this service.

How has the economic downturn affected you?

We're actually having our best year ever in Asia. We're above our target. Obviously investment performance has not been brilliant, however, the majority of the money invested through us gets invested into Threadneedle's range of funds. Threadneedle is our in-house investment manager based in London. They have been fantastic for us, consistently outperforming benchmarks. We do also have links to a host of other funds from big brand names globally known in the investment management world.

What have you done to counter the downturn?

We foresaw that the market was getting tough, so we had some targeted incentives and campaigns that ran throughout the summer, to really get people to focus on Zurich International Life. We focussed on our core messages, that in all conditions Threadneedle outperforms. At the end of the day, we are not a short-term player here. We are here for the long term; we are providing commitments to our clients for the next 20 to 30 years. Markets have been extremely volatile but we'll look back on this as a blip in years to come