Letter to shareholders on the 2019 Annual Results.
Dr Andreas Burckhardt, Chairman of the Board of Directors (right), and Gert De Winter, Group CEO (left), with a view from the 23rd floor of Baloise Park.
Baloise achieved very good results in 2019, reporting a profit attributable to shareholders of around CHF 694 million. This equates to a year-on-year increase of 32.7 per cent that was thanks to non-recurring positive effects (including tax-related) of CHF 148.6 million. The non-life business proved very profitable, improving its combined ratio yet again to 90.4 per cent. Margins in the life business remain adequate, despite the low interest rates. We are on track to achieve the targets defined for our Simply Safe strategic phase, which will continue until the end of 2021. In three years, Baloise has signed up 514,000 new customers and transferred CHF 1.3 billion in cash to the holding company, and we have now moved into the top 15 per cent of the most attractive employers in the European financial sector.
Last year, Baloise also sharpened its strategic focus. It used its insights from the first three years of the Simply Safe strategic phase to set priorities for its digital initiatives. Baloise had initially experimented in various different areas, gaining invaluable experience, but is now concentrating on the ‘Home’ and ‘Mobility’ ecosystems. This is where it sees the greatest opportunities for building on its robust core business by expanding the portfolio of services for its customers. Baloise also made huge progress with strengthening, optimising and diversifying its core business. In the life business, it is continuing to improve the business mix by focusing on risk and unit linked products. The Company also capitalised on the opportunities for growth in Switzerland presented by the withdrawal of a competitor. The strategic reallocation of the non-life portfolio in Germany is having a positive impact. The German business’s turnaround is reflected in a considerable increase in new customers. The 2019 results for the Luxembourg business unit were also robust. Baloise unlocked opportunities and possibilities in Belgium’s attractive non-life insurance market when it acquired insurance company Fidea NV in the first half of the year. The announced acquisition of Athora’s non-life insurance portfolio will also markedly strengthen the market position of the Belgian business. These two acquisitions will underpin Belgium’s role as a second key pillar within the Baloise Group alongside the Swiss business. They will also help to diversify the business. The Athora portfolio will significantly strengthen Baloise’s position in the Wallonia region of Belgium. Baloise is now among the four largest insurance companies in Belgium’s attractive non-life insurance market. Baloise Asset Management expanded its range of asset management services for external customers in Switzerland and invested in a number of large-scale real-estate projects. In the context of Baloise’s sustainability activities, the responsible investment policy applicable to insurance assets was extended to all of the products managed by Baloise Asset Management for external customers at the start of this year.
«We remain confident that the course taken by Baloise will bring us lasting success going forward, even during these difficult and still uncertain times.»
Focusing on the ‘Home’ and ‘Mobility’ ecosystems, Baloise plans to widen the range of services that it offers outside its core business. To this end, it has expanded the ‘Mobility’ ecosystem last year. Baloise invested in companies such as Zurich-based start-up gowago.ch, a marketplace for car leasing platforms that enable customers to arrange leasing for used cars easily, transparently and affordably from the comfort of their own home. The two start-ups that we ourselves have established in European markets, Mobly in Belgium and FRIDAY in Germany, have enabled us to gain invaluable knowledge and experience in the ‘Mobility’ ecosystem. Building on this, we plan to expand the mobility platform even more. In the ‘Home’ ecosystem, we have developed various services in Switzerland and Belgium for homeowners, tenants and landlords. We have also expanded such services by cooperating with partners and through the acquisition of start-ups. One example is our long-term equity investment in devis.ch, a Swiss marketplace on which tradespeople and cleaners can offer services for inside and outside the home. We will expand this marketplace in cooperation with MOVU, our digital platform for home-moving services in Switzerland. In Belgium, another phase of a pilot project is just getting under way, in which various services for professional and private landlords will be offered on a platform. Integrating it with facilities management solutions would create the potential to bring together all landlord relevant services on a single platform. Baloise will host its next Investor Day at the end of October 2020, at which we will provide further details about the ecosystems and market opportunities.
By sharpening our strategic focus, we are delineating the range of services for our future business activities more precisely. This focus makes it easier to accelerate the implementation of initiatives over the next two years of the Simply Safe strategic phase. And we are optimistic about achieving our targets for this phase. At our Investor Day in October, we will provide a progress report and look ahead to the next strategic phase.
For several weeks now, the Company has been severely impacted by the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak and the necessary measures taken by governments to contain it. We remain confident that the course taken by Baloise will bring us lasting success going forward, even during these difficult and still uncertain times. This confidence is also reflected in our dividend policy: the Board of Directors will ask the Annual General Meeting to increase the dividend by CHF 0.40 to CHF 6.40.
Basel, March 2020