Insuring Tomorrow in a Volatile Age
A conversation with Tokio Marine Holdings president & group chief executive officer Satoru Komiya about the keys to unleashing a positive cycle of social value and business growth in uncertain times
Humanity has perhaps never faced a greater confluence of threats to its welfare and prosperity from so many different directions.
Just as the world saw hope of emerging from a two-year pandemic ordeal, a new crisis erupted with war on European soil that brings further geopolitical instability. Continually looming over these challenges, climate change poses an existential threat that requires urgent action and imaginative solutions.
Since its founding in 1879 in Japan, Tokio Marine Group has built insurance solutions for resilience, security and wellbeing in one of the world’s most disaster-prone nations. From global roots, through post-war reconstruction, major earthquakes and a yearly cycle of typhoons, the insurance group has time and again delivered on a promise to support society in times of greatest need, and experienced remarkable growth itself.
And not only in times of disaster. In every era, Tokio Marine has striven to build a more resilient and sustainable society through the adoption of emerging technologies and leadership in disaster readiness. The group brings unique insight and expertise to its mission to help the world navigate today’s transcendent challenges.
In a wide-ranging interview, Tokio Marine Holdings group chief executive officer Satoru Komiya spoke about his business philosophy, the power of insurance and the value of a diverse global team.
What is your view on the purpose of an insurance company and how can it drive both social value and business growth?
About 15 years ago when Tokio Marine Holdings was on a strategic drive to add companies to the group and diversify our global portfolio, we felt we needed a clear vision of who and where we wanted to be as a global organisation. We wanted to allow our group companies the independence they needed to serve their local markets, while infusing a shared purpose for a sense of unity, to convey exactly why these companies were an integral part of the group. So, back in 2012, reflecting on our then almost 135-year history and the essence of who we are, we created the concept of “To Be a Good Company”. “To Be a Good Company” is our belief that by doing business in the right way, by enabling our people to act in the interest of our customers and delivering on our commitments we will earn the trust of our customers. By working to solve and manage the risks society faces, we will in turn generate growth both for us and for society.
This vision became the rallying call for group members to come together and realise alignment among our group management. And what happens when this collective purpose is truly shared across the global group? We build strategy better. We improve the quality of our services. Implementation and execution get better. This is because strategy and services become infused with a genuine unified purpose to serve society and create mutual benefit. That’s how our ethos drives a dynamic cycle of social impact and enterprise value today.
Ultimately what earns our clients’ trust is delivering on the commitments we make to support people, businesses and society in their time of need
Today we’re seeing the exciting things that result when global diversity and specialised knowledge meet a “One Team” spirit. GCube Insurance, for example, which we added to the group in 2020, specialises in renewable energy insurance. Integrated into our overall structure, GCube gives us unique sustainability expertise, which we can then scale through our global network to support the transition to renewable energy. Our collaboration with Finland’s ICEYE and their unique satellite imagery is helping us react with greater speed and accuracy in the case of a disaster. By bringing new companies into the group and collaborating externally, we are continually expanding our capabilities to deliver on our purpose.
How does Tokio Marine leverage its history to drive solutions for the future?
Entrepreneurship and innovation are in our DNA. For each era’s emerging risks, we’ve built unique solutions to tackle those needs. How? By anticipating the future. Tokio Marine began life providing Japan’s first marine insurance, covering ship cargo in the early stages of Japan’s emergence in global trade. In 1913, when there were barely 1,000 automobiles on Japan’s roads, we anticipated that road accidents would become a social issue and launched Japan’s first auto insurance products. In the late 1980s, we realised that Japan’s rapid ageing and low birthrates would become a demographic crisis and became the first company to offer insurance that covered nursing care expenses.
Today, not only in Japan but also on a global scale, we continue to work to anticipate future trends — offering solutions for tomorrow’s problems. For example, corporations face huge risks from cyber-attacks so we are continually evolving our portfolio of solutions to ensure we can support our customers. In the global race for digital advantage, we see intellectual property becoming a key theme around the world, so we’re creating new products around the protection of IP. Insurers need to help clients navigate the complex and ever-changing risk landscape, this is where we bring value. At every historical juncture we have listened to the voice of our customers, anticipating needs and providing solutions to meet those needs — earning trust.
But ultimately what earns our clients’ trust is delivering on the commitments we make to support people, businesses and society in their time of need. That’s the essence of insurance’s value, especially in volatile times such as we face now.
Please discuss the global leadership team you are building to forge the future of insurance
Thanks to strategic acquisitions over the past 15 years, more than half of our fiscal 2021 profit comes from outside Japan. We’re in the business of taking on risk and pride ourselves on our enterprise risk management framework. Our strategy is to distribute risk globally — across divergent and emerging business lines and geographies — to achieve business stability and generate new paths for growth.
As we support society’s resilience, Tokio Marine itself becomes more resilient as a company. For example, the dual mission of climate mitigation and enterprise value enhancement is critical to creating a sustainable society and a sustainable business. To solve these types of issues, it is essential that we are connected with all local stakeholders.
We’re perhaps unique in the Japanese corporate landscape in deploying global talent at the highest levels of our leadership structure. For example, Christopher Williams is co-head of international business. Donald Sherman, in charge of our Delphi Financial Group from New York, is co-chief investment officer. As of April, Chris and Don have both been appointed “vice-president executive officer” of the group, reporting directly to me. In such a way we’re charting a bold and unscripted management path that takes the best from Japan and the West, in a spirit of mutual trust and respect.
Was this perspective on diversity informed by the time you spent studying at Columbia University, when you were already an executive director? How else did it shape your leadership vision?
I’ve always been interested in culture from outside of Japan, and when I was young, we had a lot of exposure to American culture. I liked the direct style of communication and how people speak their minds. I always believed that one of America’s strengths lies in its ability to embrace diversity. This was really driven home when I went to study in New York in 2016. I encountered such an inspiring variety of perspectives, all expressed with freedom. Studying at Columbia was therefore fundamental to shaping my vision of diversity and inclusion at Tokio Marine Group. This is reflected not only at the top levels of management, as I just mentioned, but also across all 40,000 employees in our group — from Japan to Britain, Thailand to Brazil. I firmly believe that our company will thrive through the creative energies born from interaction between all members of our global team.
One last point on how my year at Columbia influenced me. I was attending a lecture, when an esteemed economics professor at the university said, “The global economy exists to make as many people as happy as possible”, it struck a chord — and aligned with our group’s vision of the Good Company.
After all, the idea goes to the heart of the question we ask ourselves every day at Tokio Marine Group. What is business for? For us, the answer is the health, happiness and success of people, businesses and society as a whole.