Patricia Ayuela (Oviedo, 1975), CEO of Línea Directa Aseguradora since last February, stands before the press for the first time. Before, she has undertaken an internal reorganization in the company that she directs, in which she has been working for nearly 20 years. She has been in management since María Dolores Dancausa, current president of Bankinter, gave her the opportunity in the midst of maternity leave, as she recalls, this industrial engineer with an Executive MBA from IESE under her belt.
Ask. We are living in a convulsive moment due to the war in Ukraine, the escalation of inflation, the rise in interest rates… What are the challenges facing Línea Directa Aseguradora?
Response. I want us to accelerate the growth of the company and to do it profitably and efficiently. To this end, I have focused my strategy on conveying to the market that we are a large multiline insurance group, that we have a direct model with clear advantages in terms of efficiency that allow us to offer customers better prices with excellent service; with the second best retention rates in the entire market. I want us to focus on the customer, that’s where the reorganization I just undertook came from, and on efficiency. Digitization opens up a world for us to be even more efficient. We are digitizing many internal processes now that 85% of clients work with us through digital means.
P. What has the internal reorganization that you have carried out consisted of?
R. Before, we were organized by branches, a motor business line, a home business line, and a health line. What we have done is merge them. And create a commercial area that is dedicated to attracting new clients and a portfolio area that wants to take care of each client regardless of the policies they have. In addition, I have made the digital transformation and risk areas report directly to me.
P. They have been an independent Bankinter company for more than a year, since they went public in April 2021. How do you value that independence? And to what do you attribute that Línea Directa is the most penalized insurance group on the floor?
R. Bankinter has always left us with an impressive level of independence. In that sense, our life has changed little. It is true that being a listed company gives you another dimension and other responsibilities regarding the information you transfer to the market. We went public, our stock hit an important high. Right now the market is experiencing incredible volatility, but we are not worried. The reality is that I do not manage the company looking at the stock market because it would be a mistake. We are going to put our strengths to work to accelerate growth and that will end up being transferred to the valuation of the company on the Stock Market.
P. What wickers are they going to use to grow and increase efficiency?
R. We plan to multiply by four this year the growth in premiums that we had in 2021 and we want to reach 1,000 million billings, at the latest in 2024 [el año pasado el aumento de las primas fue del 1% y su cifra de negocios de 907 millones de euros]. How will we do it? With a direct model that is a winner and focusing on customers. In this way we will be able to innovate in the services and products that we make.
P. And how are they going to turn around the 18% drop in profits?
R. The sector is coming off a year of falling premium income in the automobile line, our main business, but in 2022 we are already seeing a change in cycle. That strong growth, the continuous improvement in efficiency and commercial competitiveness are going to gradually be transferred to the lower part of the income statement, to profits, but it always takes a certain time lag.
P. Are you thinking of new products or entering new branches?
R. The client has many additional insurance needs for his motorcycle, his car, his health or his home and that leads us to go out in other branches. But now we are focused on consolidating our health business, which has grown tremendously, with more than 105,000 clients. It will be in the long run.
P. When do you expect to make your health business profitable?
R. We will have to double our current customer volume. We want to do it relatively soon, but in health we have to be very careful with the risks. It is easy to grow in insurance, what is difficult is to grow with good risks. We are very hopeful because with Vivaz we see that we are opening the market. And we hope this continues.
P. Car insurance, the most important for you, is not going through the same situation, with very weak car sales and a growing accident rate. How do you see this market?
R. The accident rate is rising with respect to the pandemic; We are more or less like before covid. We see a fantastic opportunity in this insurance because the average age of cars in Spain is 14 years. On top of that is the future ban on combustion vehicles. This fleet of vehicles has to be renewed and what we are doing is being the reference for electric and hybrid vehicles. We have reached a share in electric vehicles of 20%, much higher than that which corresponds to the market share we have.
P. And the household branch, which is the one that is growing the most?
R. It will continue to grow strongly because there are still five million homes in Spain. It is important to insure the houses, it has been seen in circumstances like those of La Palma.
P. How is inflation affecting them?
R. It is a very serious issue that greatly affects family savings and interest rates. We follow her closely. It is true that claim costs will grow in the future, but it is also true that we have an enormous absorption capacity due to our operating model, which is very light on costs.
P. Are or will the prices of the policies rise?
R. Our pricing structure is different from other companies. We have a very sophisticated subscription and pricing system, we apply personalized prices. We do not make general uploads or downloads. We analyze the risk of each client and we give a price according to that risk.
P. But in the end there will be a balance of prices among all customers…
R. Some will go up and others will go down. Right now we are absorbing the costs that we have.
P. How do you see the current situation of the sector?
R. Insurance companies are at combined ratios close to 100, which contrasts with us, which is well below, around 89, and in an inflationary environment that ratio is likely to continue to rise. It is not an easy time for the sector.
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