In this emergency situation, the role of the Chamber was essential in our business community, both in protecting existing companies and reinforcing the bridges between Italy and Serbia. We are not magicians, but as a chamber we support our member companies in their everyday business life and cultivate longterm relationships with them. This seems to be appreciated as a value proposition
Italian FDI will continue for sure, says Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce President Giorgio Marchegiani in this interview for our CorD special edition. Indeed, as can be read in the lines below, the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce is doing its best to keep the existing business community safe and sound, and to attract new members and prospective investors. And we can therefore look with hope towards new Italian investments in 2021.
Mr Marchegiani, the previous months weren’t normal for any of us. What was the “not normal / new normal” for the Italian- Serbian Chamber that you head?
– You are right, nothing was normal – first of all for all of us as human beings, even before considering our professional role.
Thinking back to the previous months, I can describe two phases: the emergency and the restart. For the first part, I remember very well that week starting on 9th March: I flew to Serbia on the Monday, hoping that flights would be maintained. Italy was already experiencing a health tsunami and we were all worried for our companies and our families.
The whole of Europe, and also Serbia, implemented more severe measures that week, closing airports and locking down borders with neighbouring countries in a few hours. In that situation, where all of us were confused, scared and also had huge logistical problems (trucks blocked, drivers quarantined, families displaced), the Chamber behaved as a community to help, cooperating with the Italian Embassy in Belgrade, sharing information about the situation at the border crossings, health regulations, safety measures in the workplace, solutions, concerns, experiences.
That first phase brought us back to the original role of the Chamber of Commerce: to meet and share information, in a difficult environment. Compared to the past, the meeting place was on the web and via social media, or over the telephone.
During those days, I immediately pushed the staff to issue our newsletters almost daily via email, with all relevant official information. Further to this, a huge number of special cases was dealt with, with some thousands of phone calls that our staff answered, to support specific situations.
After a few weeks, in May, the second phase started, which I define as “the search for new markets”. In that phase, Italian companies – in most cases ones with no existing presence in Serbia – started calling us to understand how this market can help them generate new business. This activity is still continuing and I hope it will bring new investments to Serbia in 2021.
From the perspective of your members, which measures of the Serbian government were the most important for companies to proceed to work?
– The COVID-19 impact is specific by industry and company size. Each industry sector had its own approach. In general, I can say that both the salary contribution and the moratorium on tax and other payments were highly appreciated by companies. I personally observed and praised the quick reaction of the Government and rapid implementation of measures. Speed is key and our members appreciated that. How complex is it for your company to navigate and organise workers and operations in volatile times and during sudden changes in the health situation? – Now that the we have several months of experience with the new situation, I can say that we must be satisfied with how we reacted to the new conditions of business with the epidemic.
DDOR osiguranje is a large company with a large network and the challenge was to reorganise processes in order to protect employees and clients, while still providing a high level of service. We decided to remain open the entire time, but we also adjusted. That said, we enabled the option of working from home for more than 70% of our people, immediately introduced high health and safety measures on our premises and introduced the contactless purchasing of policies for both citizens and companies. In the Claims department we introduced a system of contactless claims reporting and scheduling of damage assessment, in order to reduce the number and volume of contacts between employees and customers.
All the measures taken were implemented in a timely manner and I can say that we did a good job in protecting people while maintaining the level of business operations.
We were the first to introduce the product ‘Epidemik Protekt’, which provides assistance to those who must be hospitalised. We also introduced special travel health insurance that included COVID-19 for all tourists travelling abroad
How successful was the shift to the online domain for the insurance industry and your company in particular?
– The whole world shifted online. Unlike some other industries, insurance is one of the most conservative and, to some extent, this situation accelerated the shift online. On top of our regular online shop that offers standard insurance products, mainly for travel, we provided the option of completely contactless purchases of policies for all insurance products and services within the regulations in Serbia. Besides this situation, DDOR osiguranje has also been preparing new products and services, but also channels that will enable customers to have better information, purchase policies, but also report claims.
The ‘new normal’ that awaits us in the future will have a strong online component of everyday activities, and we are going to be a value adding part of that.
Which of your services did clients need the most and how has your offer adjusted to cope with the new circumstances of the market?
– From the beginning of the epidemic, DDOR osiguranje called on people to act responsibly and follow prescribed measures of behaviour. However, in the case of COVID-19 infection, we were the first to introduce the product ‘Epidemik Protekt’, which provides assistance and financial help to those who must be hospitalised.
The citizens can have it as additional insurance with their life insurance policy and companies as a group accident policy for a life insurance policy that already cover risks against epidemics.
Additionally, we introduced special travel health insurance that included COVID-19 for all tourists planning their holidays somewhere abroad. At the same time, we offered special insurance for hotel guests who decide to stay in Serbia.
Given that Serbia operates on a tight budget, which non-financial measures could help the insurance industry better catch up with the needs of the market?
– There are a number of measures that we can apply: we have to listen continuously to our clients, use their language – including digital media – work on the availability of insurance and providing it when its needed, and in a way that can be understood by most people. At the same time, the whole industry, along with regulators and partners, should continue joint efforts on educating the general public, which is a continuous and enduring process.
That said, we used to say that insurance is most expensive when you don’t have any. This also means that citizens can buy insurance that could save their homes or other property for amounts that are affordable to most people.
For business clients, some forms of insurance are obligatory or required by partners, and for them insurance is part of their investment in business continuation.
We have a good example in the agriculture business, where the state provides incentives for producers by subsidising 40% of the premium. In this way, food production – as one of the most important branches of industry – has support.