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“We’re affected by every disaster”

Axel Theis, head of corporate insurance at Allianz, promises Japan quick help – his claims experts are already adding things up.

Interview by Alexandra Kusitzky. Originally printed in FOCUS, March 14th, 2011.

Mr. Theis, you insure skycrapers, harbors, factories all over the world. Are you involved in the Japan earthquake damages?

Sure, we also have clients in Japan. Worldwide losses are the reason we exist. That’s why I go to work. 

Are you able to say yet what the situation is there?

No, it’s much too early. The first priority are the people, not the insured losses. First of all we made sure that our local colleagues were safe. Our clients are doing the same thing. Only after that do you deal with financial issues.

How quickly can you help in a catastrophe like this?

We activate our global claims team immediately. And that’s already happened for Japan. Then we send one of our claims managers to that country as quickly as possible. After the earthquake in Chile last year our experts were on location within a couple of days. We had insured a highway there that was destroyed over hundreds of kilometers. Working with the operator, we helped devise emergency plans like rerouting traffic around a collapsed bridge. It’s important for business in a region hit by a catastrophe to be up and running as soon as possible. That’s where we can help.

Are you also active in other countries like Australia that may have been affected by the tsunami?

We’re an international company. All over the world, wherever there’s a major natural catastrophe, you can be sure we’re involved somehow. Who else might have been affected by the undersea quake remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: it’s going to be an exceptional year for the entire insurance industry with regard to natural catastrophes – and the year has just begun.

Does an accumulation of earthquakes, floods and storms like this put you difficult financial position?

No, that’s our business. A natural catastrophe like this reminds me of why there’s insurance: as a safeguard against the really big things.

It seems as though major natural catastrophes are coming more and more often. Is that the case?

It may seem like that. If you look at the last 30 years, there was indeed an increase in the number of natural catastrophes. However, if you expand that period to 50 or 100 years, that impression becomes more relative. There was a lot going on back then, too.

How many disasters like this can you withstand financially in a year?

We factor in one major event per year, but that doesn’t happen every year. We can withstand more.

What was the most expensive natural catastrophe in recent years?

By far that would have to be Hurricane Katrina in the southern US. That led to an insured loss of 71 billion dollars – and we also had our share in that.