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Portrait of Dr. Norbert Rollinger: “Insurers as godfathers of transformation”

Norbert Rollinger is the new President of the German Insurance Association. Meet the chairman of the management board at R+V Versicherung who has set his sights high for his new position at the GDV.

Karsten Röbisch (© Christian Kruppa / GDV)
Karsten Röbisch
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© GDV/Christian Kruppa

The macro environment certainly could have been better for Rollinger's start as the new President of the German Insurance Association (GDV). The world seems to be in crisis on so many levels: there is the Ukraine war, inflation, energy shortages, natural disasters, new geopolitical risks; the list goes on. No reason to despair, says Norbert Rollinger, who actually sees these circumstances as a source of motivation: “Especially in these uncertain times, there are huge opportunities for us as insurers. After all, providing security is what we do.”

This is the kind of encouragement Rollinger offered when he addressed industry representatives at the GDV's annual convention one day after the GDV Presiding Board had unanimously appointed him to succeed Wolfgang Weiler as president of the association. The 58-year-old is the 17. president of the GDV and the first in the association's history that goes back to 1948 to come from R+V Versicherung.

A GDV veteran

Rollinger is not new to the GDV. He joined the association in 2001 as a member of the steering committee for the ZÜRS zoning system for flooding, backwater and heavy rainfall, before serving on a number of other committees: liability, transportation, motor vehicles, commercial and industrial clients. In early 2010 he became a member of the parent committee to all these expert groups: the main committee for property & casualty insurance, which has since been renamed and is now called Presiding Committee on Risk Prevention for Society and Business. Two years later, in June 2012, Rollinger became chairman of that body, which automatically gave him a seat on the Presiding Board of the GDV.

He has contributed to many important topics since he has joined the association. It is partly thanks to him that the pool of insurers for midwife liability insurance could be saved, even though that line was losing money for years. It was also important to him that more people get natural disaster insurance, which is why he supported the “Stadt.Land.unter” awareness campaign. And he played a leading role when the association developed the first model terms and conditions for cyber insurance products.

Catholic and carnivalist

Rollinger is a citizen of Luxembourg who was born in the Rhineland. In his case, that does not only tell you where he is from but also who he is: an unpretentious Roman Catholic carnival enthusiast always quick with a quip. When asked about the status of cyber security in the insurance industry at a GDV annual press conference, he said insurers kept their data on microfilm in the basement where it was safe from hackers.

While he does rub some people the wrong way with such repartee, others appreciate this quality in him. At the GDV, in any case, he is well liked for being a strong leader with clear goals who is still easy-going and approachable. Before every annual press conference he takes the time to chat with colleagues from the back office thanking them for all the preparatory work. Although he never actually needs a lot of preparation because he knows many of the topics inside and out anyway.

Comprehensive expertise

Although Rollinger's work at the GDV has only covered P&C topics so far, it would be a mistake to assume that's all he knows. There's hardly an insurance-related topic that is not on his radar. Which comes as no surprise, seeing as he is Chairman of the Board of Management at R+V Versicherung, a group offering almost all lines of insurance. And his previous professional experience at Axa and Generali had not been much different. Those are all full-range providers, as they say in retail.

Also, Rollinger is not the kind of executive who is satisfied with a cursory glance at anything; he wants to get to the bottom of things. Some say his obsession with detail goes back to his days at McKinsey where he began his professional career. As a consultant he learned that clients will only listen if they are convinced of your expertise. That kind of experience leaves its mark, says someone who has known Rollinger for a long time.

© GDV/Christian Kruppa

GDV President Norbert Rollinger (right) and GDV CEO Jörg Asmussen

The sector is under pressure

In his new role as GDV president both his knowledge and his experience will come in handy, because the insurance sector is under pressure on so many levels. One example is the federal government's plan to make natural disaster insurance mandatory for homeowners, a notion rejected by the industry as long as there is no significant progress on prevention and adaptation to climate change. Another issue is government-subsidised pension provision, an area that has not seen any progress for years. Rollinger sees this as a key topic, and he wants to prevent the insurance industry from being left behind in this regard.

It won't work with a defensive attitude, though, says Rollinger. He is convinced the industry needs to challenge its established approach and come up with compelling new ideas: “What is it that we can bring to the table?” The GDV president wants to see creative ideas – not only on this but also on other topics, such as protecting against risks that have traditionally been difficult to insure, such as cyber risks for example. “We will need to abandon our old ways of thinking and try and cooperate with reinsurance, maybe also with capital markets and politics to come up with solutions, so we can stay in the game.”

Compatibility is key

What Rollinger and other insurance executives are concerned about, is a loss of political relevance if the industry fails to adapt to social change. “It must be our goal to remain politically and socially compatible”, says Rollinger who thinks this is actually a good time for the industry to make its mark. Germany was experiencing the dawn of a new era and the old economic model wasn't working any longer. “We need to reinvent Germany”, Rollinger explains. And insurers could play a leading role there – as “godfathers of transformation”.

The need for reinvention also applies to the GDV itself, says Rollinger. During his many years at the German Insurance Association he has always appreciated committee work and he acknowledges the added value the GDV generates, especially for small and medium-sized insurers. However, he also knows debates can seem endless at times. Rollinger would like to see the association become faster, more digital and more agile. “We cannot keep settling for the lowest common denominator.”

He wants to involve the GDV member companies and give them the opportunity to make suggestions. “What are your ideas? We want to incorporate them in our agenda for the coming years”, is his promise to insurers.

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