A man of trust in fast-moving times
Ike Kim speaks quietly. The Branch Manager of Munich Re, Seoul, who does not consider himself an adventurer, has known only turbulent times in the course of his career. Having experienced Korea’s financial and economic crisis in 1997, he now finds himself in a Korea whose economy is highly dynamic and continuously developing. He believes his country learnt a lot from the crisis and is better prepared for the future as a result.
But speed is as important as ever: “quickly, quickly” is the daily motto for business in Korea. Expectation management is therefore one of the key competencies insurance managers working in Korea also have to have. You need to be fast, pragmatic and solution-oriented to gain the trust of Korean clients. And Ike Hyun Kim has those qualities.
Ike Kim was born in Korea and has a profound knowledge of the market. As a young graduate, his aim was to go into commerce, but the opportunity presented itself to work in the insurance area of Hyundai, one of Korea’s largest groups. “That was fate”, he says today. He stayed in the insurance business and now, 25 years on, he is one of the best-qualified experts in the both insurance and reinsurance industry.
Trust is something between people
Alongside ability and experience, good connections are extremely important in Korea. In a country that has had one of the fastest growth rates among the industrialised countries, people tend to base their trust on personal relationships. But in Seoul, most staff in the Korean companies rotate job responsibilities within the organization every three to four years, which is a challenge because when a counterpart leaves, relationships of trust are lost and it takes a lot of effort to rebuild them at the client company. Therefore, the interpersonal skills are one of important features for the staff. Ike Kim is pleased that MR Korea has been successful not only in attracting highly motivated and enthusiastic staff, but also in keeping them. Seoul currently has 37 staff, with 14 looking after the non-life sector and producing a premium volume of €170m.
Achieving success through competent advice and proximity to the client
As the first Korean in charge, Ike Kim has headed up our branch in Korea for one-and-a-half years; the branch has been operating with full mandates since 2008. The most important task at first was to execute the business plan initiated together with his predecessor. The four-year strategy to orient all fields of business to the future launched in 2009 is scheduled to be completed in 2012 – successfully, as Kim can proudly say, with his team now optimally structured to both exploit international networks and meet local needs. Clients appreciate the way the staff of MR Korea develop individual solutions and consequently place their trust in them as a knowhow and growth partner too. Ike Kim emphasises that Munich Re Seoul is more successful than its competitors at finding solutions to problems – both in underwriting and actuarial services in product development – and this has enabled the branch to differentiate itself from competitors and continue to produce decent profits since 2009. Indeed, the facultative business, with its underwriting consulting, is especially profitable.
In reinsurance, Ike Kim can benefit from the good reputation of a global player: many conglomerates with worldwide operations – electronics, semi-conductors, motor manufacturing, construction, etc. have their headquarters in Korea. Cedants are pleased to rely on the experience of Munich Re’s international experts. Korean insurers are also increasingly on the lookout for growth opportunities in foreign markets, which provides openings for a reinsurer considered by its clients to be top-class. As Kim puts it, “With our global network and high standards of quality in underwriting and actuarial services, we are in a position to support our clients at every point in the value chain.”
“I have a high opinion of common sense and balance”
MR Korea’s Branch Manager is at the interface between different communication cultures. He knows what Koreans expect of people negotiating with them and how they "read between the lines", and has at the same time developed the skills of discussion and finding a consensus acquired from his European colleagues. He has a high opinion of “common sense” and “balance”. What he appreciates about being at an insurance company is the opportunity to work with other people. In his reserved way, he unites the advantages of the different cultures and combines them with his own brand of optimism. He believes in people and their abilities. Professionally, Ike Kim intends to work with his staff to grasp the opportunities the future will bring. In his private life, he would like to help disabled people when he retires and has more time. Asked what difference his company can make to a global future, he quotes Munich Re’s strategy: “turning risk into sustainable value” in the ever changing environment – an aim that perfectly matches his character and optimism.