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An Inspiring idea from Ian Robinson, former AXA Group CAE

All along my career, I have met, exchanged, or worked with remarkable leaders, either colleagues in EY or Allianz, or peers from other organizations. I always learned from all these interactions. In this series I will share one idea, lesson or experience I learned from others, and that I translated into my own work.

Ian Robinson, AXA Group CAE: “based in Madrid and reporting to Paris”

I met Ian in early 2015. I was back from France after serving 5 years as a Management Board member of Allianz France, and I was asked to serve for a second time as Allianz Group CAE. I moved and settled in Munich again, where the Group head office and holding company (Allianz SE) are located.

I resumed my benchmarking activities (on the how, never on the what) with informal conversations with my peers. AXA is an Allianz competitor, but there is also a lot of mutual respect between the two organizations, and that applies to our respective Internal Audit functions.

I quickly got along well with Ian – we have a lot in common. One of our shared interests is cultural diversity, and we both had anecdotes to tell, Ian as a British citizen with a major responsibility in a culturally French group like AXA, myself a French national leading IA in global but historically German organization. Soon after Generali (Italy based) appointed as CAE Nora Guertler from Germany, her predecessor being Anne Jaeger, herself from Denmark – confirming that talent matters more than the passport!

I realized that Ian had settled in Madrid, not in Paris, and that this was working quite well for him. These were pre-COVID times, so working remote was not really a thing back then. I understood from Ian that location didn’t fully matter: in the CAE job, there are so many entities to visit, with audit teams everywhere. For sure Ian needed to go to Paris very regularly, but he seemed to be dealing well with the logistics.

And this was the idea! Perhaps I do not need to have all the Group Auditors based in Munich?

The capital of Bavaria is a great place to be, and Allianz SE has an incredible concentration of talent and knowledge. Yet I had been struggling for a while to develop the Group Audit team. It was rather difficulty to find good talents for a reasonable cost, and I needed to keep the budget under control. I had also developed a focus of getting talents from the operating entities of the Group, to avoid the “ivory tower” syndrome that can sometimes plague a central bureaucracy, with smart individuals that have stayed too long away from operational realities.

As a matter of principle, I did not want to outsource IA capacity, nor to have a team too far. So I went for a “nearshoring” solution, opening an office in Milano, where additional resources would be sitting:

·       Milano is also an exceptional university town, and the prestige of the Allianz names attracts the best graduates for prestigious universities (Bocconi, Cattolica…), yet with lower salaries compared to Bavaria, a very expensive city,

·       English is the working language in Group Audit, and it was no problem to find profiles with a good command of the English language,

·       Italy has a very strong and good insurance Regulator (IVASS – Istituto per la vigilanza sulle assicurazioni), so I was not going for a less demanding environment, with the same Solvency 2 requirements,

·       Milano is geographically close to Munich, in the same time zone: no operational constraints,

·       Malpensa is a well connected international airport, making it easy for auditors to go on any assignment abroad,

·       Allianz in Italy is a very big player, and the second largest company of the Group after Germany. Its own local audit team is large, very mature, and experienced, led at the time by a very dynamic CAE (Norbert Lommer): all this created a stimulating environment for the Group auditors,

·       A mobility opportunity was created for local auditors in Italy: they could move to Group Audit while staying in Milano. It proved to be a good way to reconcile personal life and career development,

·       I made sure that the biggest number of auditors stay in Munich: it has never been a delocalization exercise.

After clearing some practical constraints (tax, workers council), we moved ahead. It has been a success ever since, the international team of Group Audit in Munich working well with the Italian Group auditors.

I replicated this solution when I became Group Chief Compliance Officer, with a Milano based Group Compliance branch, and the model got used but other Group centers.

Thank you, Ian, you made me think out of the box!