In the face of growing environmental challenges and climate change, insurance companies like UNIQA Group are taking significant steps to embrace sustainability. Andreas Rauter, Head of Sustainability, Ethics & Public Affairs at UNIQA, discusses the company’s ecological transformation and its commitment to exceed ESG requirements in a candid interview with Paul Spittau, Head of Carrier Relations & Insurance Mediation at GrECo Group.
The Economic and Environmental Landscape in CEE
Spittau: Mr Rauter, both our companies are operating in Austria, Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. How do you see the overall economic development of the environment/sustainability topics in these regions?
Rauter: Despite disparities among countries and stakeholders, we observe a growing momentum towards sustainability-oriented services. Global growth projections indicate a shift towards sustainable practices. This needs to be accompanied by regulation and robust financing which must be split between private and public debt. Regulatory and financial frameworks are essential to support the green transition.
UNIQA’s Commitment to Sustainability
Spittau: What is UNIQA’s general position on sustainability and could you give us more insight into the Group’s existing sustainability strategy and the associated corporate strategy for the future?
Rauter: UNIQA is committed to fostering a better life through sustainability. We’ve established five core pillars for our sustainability strategy:
The UNIQA set-up: delivering positive impact for customers, investors, employees, and the public.
Spittau: What is your personal focus and are there dedicated people or teams working exclusively around this topic at UNIQA?
Rauter: My focus is on internal consultation, stakeholder engagement, and external communication with ESG rating agencies. We’ve onboarded over 40 ESG experts to integrate sustainability across various departments, from investment management to product development. Our aim is to reduce risks, offer opportunities, build trust, and contribute positively to our stakeholders.
Spittau: We heard about UNIQA’s focus especially on “Green Hydrogen”. Could you please explain in more detail what this means?
Rauter: While we’re not exclusively focused on “Green Hydrogen,” we recognize its importance in the renewable energy landscape. It plays a role in transitioning industries like green steel production and heavy vehicle transport. We manage associated risks and seize opportunities within these innovative investments, especially given the support from regulations and subsidies.
Fossil fuels vs. renewables: helping clients to transform
Spittau: According to the media, there has been no underwriting of new business for the coal industry since 2019. From 2025, there will also be restrictions for companies that generate electricity from fossil sources. There are industries (e.g., the chemical industry) that cannot simply do without the use of coal for certain processes. Do restrictions also apply to these companies?
Rauter: We stepped away from coal in early 2019 due to its negative environmental impact. All industries will need to adapt, and this will not happen without market pressure. With 2024 we will start to step out from crude oil and natural gas industries. Nevertheless, our underwriting approach is designed to support existing clients during the period of transition. That means we will not step away from clients that have a clear plan to reduce the CO2 emissions according to the “science-based target” initiative plan.
Spittau: We think that it is very important that risk carriers support their clients and accompany them in their transformation and do not immediately speak of a general exclusion policy. Can you tell us how UNIQA sees its role in driving forward the transformation of its customers in this area, and are there already things being implemented?
Rauter: Engagement is crucial for the transformation of the European economy. We engage with investors and customers, assessing and documenting their progress. Also, we plan to reward sustainable approaches with specific products.
We even go one step further and integrate ESG-consulting and risk management of new sustainable journeys in our core business model: We are starting in 2024 with our dedicated ESG and risk experts as a vertical of UNIQA Group to support our corporate clients on their way to a greener and more sustainable future. We will communicate more in due time on this project.
Mitigating Risks in Green Energy Transformation
Spittau: What are the biggest risks and how do you prepare? A transformation to green energy presumably sometimes also involves a higher technical risk (e.g., fire hazard, hydrogen, and batteries, etc.)?
Rauter: Actually, the greatest risk is underestimating the need for change. Of course, with new technologies we face different risks. Our approach is to define the required risk standard which enables us to write exposed risks. The philosophy we have is to differentiate exposure and risk quality. Insurance of green energy requires further technical skills and proper assessment of the different risk components. Our ambition is that risk pricing is supported by deeper knowledge and the consequent engagement in these new technologies.
Anticipating Future Green Innovations
Spittau: Finally, I would be interested to know what innovations you expect in the not-too-distant future – “green techs” etc.?
Rauter: We expect progress within Europe in the fields of battery production, photovoltaics techniques, and Green Hydrogen. With all of this accompanied by digitalization and improved autonomy of European technical expertise.
We, as an insurer, are also forced, together with our broker partners, to support our clients more intensely with regards to climate change resilience, ESG correlated risk management, and decarbonization. No matter what role we must play.
About Andreas Rauter
Andreas Rauter has been working in the insurance industry in various management positions since 2000. He studied at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and began his career in 1989 at international consulting firms where the financial and non-financial reporting of listed companies kept him busy. In the insurance industry he was leading Group Finance at UNIQA for 15 years, before he turned into exploring future challenges for society and the insurance business. He currently heads the Sustainability, Ethics & Public Affairs department at UNIQA Insurance Group AG and focuses on shaping a holistic corporate management approach for meeting future European societal priorities.
About UNIQA Group
The UNIQA Group is one of the leading insurance companies in its core markets of Austria and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Around 21,000 employees and exclusive sales partners serve more than 16 million customers across 18 countries. UNIQA is the second largest insurance group in Austria with a market share of about 21 per cent. In the CEE growth region, UNIQA is present in 15 markets. In addition, insurance companies in Switzerland and Liechtenstein are also part of the UNIQA Group.
Head of Sustainability, Ethics & Public Affairs
Head of Group Carrier Relations & Insurance Mediation
T +43 664 537 17 42
In the face of growing environmental challenges and climate change, insurance companies like UNIQA Group are taking significant steps to embrace sustainability.
If carefully designed and managed, a captive is a tool in the risk manager’s toolbox for large companies that can help build resilience to future transformation risks as a result of climate change, amongst other things.