UNIQA Group Austria services customers across Central and Eastern Europe
The UNIQA Group Austria is one of the leading insurance groups in Central Europe. In the eleven years since its formation, the UNIQA group has quickly established itself in both the Austria domestic and the Central and Eastern European markets. More than 40 operational insurance companies out of the entire UNIQA group currently have a premium volume of more than 6.2 billion euros - of which about 38 percent is generated outside of Austria. With approximately 22,000 employees, 7.5 million customers serviced group-wide and nearly 16.5 million policies in 21 regional markets, UNIQA is among the most dynamic corporate groups in Europe.
In Austria, UNIQA is one of the leading insurance groups, with a market share of approximately 22 percent and more than 6,500 employees. In addition to the publicly listed corporate parent UNIQA Versicherungen AG, the group includes UNIQA Sachversicherung AG, UNIQA Personenversicherung AG, Raiffeisen Versicherung AG, Salzburger Landes-Versicherung AG, CALL DIRECT Versicherung AG, FinanceLife Lebensversicherung AG as well as other service and financing companies. UNIQA enjoys a brand awareness of 93 percent among the Austrian public and is the undisputed top brand for 51 percent of Austrians. UNIQA is also the clear innovation leader among the top ten Austrian insurers. 40 percent of Austrians consider UNIQA to be especially innovative.
Outside of Austria, UNIQA is active in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and the Ukraine, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo as well as Russia. In Austria alone, the group processes approximately five million credit transfers with a volume of some 3,500 million euros and 20 million direct debits with a volume of some 4,200 million euros annually.
The UNIQA Group Austria project - questions and answers
Newsletter: When did your organisation decide to set up the Single Euro Payments Area () implementation project?
Thomas Weissmann: UNIQA Group Austria decided to set up the implementation project in June 2007.
Newsletter: What motivated your organisation to set up a implementation project despite the fact that to-date there is no legal obligation for customers to implement payment schemes and standards?
Thomas Weissmann: Our experience with regard to the UNIQA euro-project; i.e. the change-over to the common currency, has shown that it is strictly necessary to start activities related to a project of these dimensions as soon as possible. From a project management perspective, the transition to is comparable to the introduction of the euro.
Newsletter: Did your organisation opt to implement Credit Transfer () and Direct Debit (SDD)?
Thomas Weissmann: Yes, we implemented both and SDD.
Newsletter: Did you set up a implementation team? If so, which departments of your organisation were involved in the project?
Thomas Weissmann: We created a ' Core' project team, which consisted of several colleagues whose main responsibility was to coordinate implementation. Eventually, almost all departments of our group were involved in the project. Internal communication was key to engage all departments concerned, as many did not immediately realise how would impact their operations. Eventually however, it became clear how impacts the entire payment business; i.e. collections and disbursements of premiums, claims and losses, remittances for bills, salaries, commissions, fees and more.
Newsletter: Is implementation viewed as a stand-alone project or is it part of a review of processes and applications beyond payments?
Thomas Weissmann: We set up implementation as a stand-alone project.
Newsletter: Did your organisation opt to upgrade the existing IT architecture or to implement new IT applications and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems?
Thomas Weissmann: We continued to work with our existing systems which were updated to achieve compliance.
Newsletter: What were the main challenges in the implementation project?
Thomas Weissmann: We were able to achieve technical compliance with the Schemes and standards quite smoothly. The conversion of account information from the local identifiers to the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and the Business Identifier Code (BIC) was however, very complex. With regard to the implementation of SDD, the main challenge was definitely to adjust our processes to the timelines for a collection as defined in the Rulebook, as these are very different from the timelines we observe in the existing Austrian direct debit scheme.
Newsletter: In order to share further information with our readers - keeping in mind that the process of collecting a payment by direct debit is initiated by the biller, the biller (and, in consequence, the biller's bank) must respect the following timelines under the Core Direct Debit Scheme (). The payer's bank must receive the request for a first direct debit collection or for a one-off direct debit collection at least five business days prior to the due date. For subsequent direct debit collections, the payer's bank must receive such a request at least two business days prior to the due date. For reference, the updated version of the Rulebook, which will be published in November 2011 and take effect in November 2012, includes a new optional element regarding timelines applicable to the presentation of direct debit collections. There are two related articles in this edition of the Newsletter (see 'related links' below).
What were the other specific challenges you identified during the implementation process?
Thomas Weissmann: The real challenge was the communication with customers and business partners who were either unfamiliar with or - even if they were aware - had not yet started the migration process.
Newsletter: Is it possible to quantify the investment necessary to implement the payment schemes and standards?
Thomas Weissmann: It is not yet possible to quantify the entire expenditure invested in order to achieve compliance. We expect however, that the investment will be in line with our original estimates. We also expect that the investment will generate a return due to the fact that our customers' premium payments will be transferred to our accounts faster using the Schemes. We are still in the process of specifying the timeframe as to when this return on investment will materialise as well as finalising related figures.
Newsletter: In your view, what are the main benefits of implementation?
Thomas Weissmann: There are two main benefits for UNIQA Group Austria associated with implementation: firstly, migrating to the harmonised payment schemes allows for more efficient account reconciliation; secondly, being able to collect direct debits throughout Europe using the harmonised SDD Schemes is also a principal advantage for us. In our opinion, implementation is an excellent and necessary idea to harmonise and simplify the extremely different payment-systems existing throughout Europe today. The initiators of the process and the professionals involved in realising this initiative deserve our respect and our great compliments.
Newsletter: Mr Weissmann, thank you very much.
Thomas Weissmann is project manager at UNIQA Group Austria.
The Website features a dedicated page ' Migration - Reports, Case Studies and Indicators'. To view this page click here.
Related articles in this issue:
Related articles in previous issues:
SEPA Direct Debit for Billers: The SDD Mandate. EPC Newsletter series provides support for billers preparing migration to the SDD Schemes ( Newsletter, Issue 10, April 2011)
Facing Up to the IT Challenge. Choosing the right IT strategy for SEPA compliance ( Newsletter, Issue 8, October 2010)
SEPA Survey 2009: Corporate Readiness on the Rise. The findings confirm that early movers have everything to gain ( Newsletter, Issue 5, January 2010)
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