Etienne Sciberras was appointed CEO of MAPFRE MSV Life at a time when multiple global crises created a number of challenges. Now, more so than ever before, he holds steadfast to the belief that, in the insurance sector, adaptability is critical for success – both now and in the future.

MAPFRE MSV Life was established in 1994 by three main shareholders. Two of them – Bank of Valletta and MAPFRE Middlesea – remain shareholders to this day, but what started as a relatively small operation has grown significantly since those early days.

“Our balance sheet at the end of 2021 reached the €2.7 billion mark, which makes us one of the largest local companies,” remarks CEO Etienne Sciberras. “We have evolved together with our customers’ needs. Whereas originally we provided life insurance when our customers took out a mortgage, now we have also branched out into the savings business, investments and pensions.”

Etienne joined MAPFRE MSV Life 22 years ago, rising through the ranks to become its CEO in April 2021. His years in the company’s Investments area, followed by those in the Risk department, of which he was Chief Officer, were as challenging as they were professionally rewarding, and they prepared him well for the role of CEO – which he feels is his biggest career milestone to date.

“My experience in both departments was invaluable and gave me a detailed understanding of the company, which ultimately proved to be an asset when I considered applying for the role of CEO,” he shares. “Throughout these years at MAPFRE MSV Life, I’ve had the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds, which has been both fulfilling and exciting – and a great learning experience along my journey to CEO.”

Etienne was thrust into the role at a time when the world was still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and companies everywhere were still needing to adapt to the changing circumstances. “I have been trying to provide leadership and inspiration to my colleagues during this very difficult period. It has been an undoubtedly challenging time since my appointment,” admits Etienne. “Financial markets are very volatile and cost pressures are increasing in the local economy. And, we are obviously seeing a deterioration in consumer and investor sentiment.

However, a CEO needs to be adaptable and flexible. I don’t think there is a stereotypical CEO because each and every person doing this job has their own character, and a lot will also depend on the industry they operate in and the company they lead. I don’t think that there is a perfect way to do this job, but I definitely believe that a CEO should be able to adapt. In the past, crises used to be few and far between, but we have seen them happening a lot more often over the past few years. It’s a sad reality, but one that we can probably expect to remain present in the future, which is why we must be prepared for change.”

Although things have not been easy, Etienne has managed to lead his team with positivity. The company already had a three-year plan in place when he took on his new role, but he knew that reprioritising and replanning were necessary. “My position is also one of resource allocation, and sometimes you have to balance resources depending on the current priorities,” he says.

“The first thing you do in a crisis is to adapt to the new reality, which is what we had to do in 2022. The year started with the war in Ukraine, followed by a surge in inflation, which is expected to remain higher for longer. Add to that the continued supply chain issues and the pressures they have created, and we had no choice but to revisit our plans. However, it is important to focus on the opportunities that any crisis brings with it, either in the immediate future or when the crisis subsides.”

One such opportunity was the acceleration of an ambitious digitisation process that MAPFRE MSV Life was already implementing when the pandemic started. “Customer expectations are changing, and while there are still those who prefer to meet in person, younger generations are more inclined to do business online. Moving forward, we want to continue with our digitisation efforts, with an increased online presence and more digital products planned for the coming months,” shares Etienne. “Our industry is changing rapidly and becoming more efficient thanks to technology. In our case, for instance, part of the onboarding process used to be carried out manually, with significant input from the underwriter to accept or reject a proposal. With today’s technology, we have what is referred to as an ‘expert underwriting system’.”

Apart from adding investment products to its portfolio, MAPFRE MSV Life has recently started offering pension products and is now one of the largest players when it comes to the pension space. Etienne predicts significant growth in this area over the next couple of years. “In fact, we are seeing an increase in momentum when it comes to voluntary occupational pension schemes, and we expect it to grow further over the next few years,” he says.

Diversifying the products and services offered is not the only way the insurance company is investing in its future. One of Etienne’s major concerns is climate change, which is why he gives great importance to the company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda. “We want to play our part when it comes to sustainability, both in how we invest, but also in coming up with products which align with the sustainability preferences of our clients,” he explains. “Although the insurance industry is not one of the major direct polluters, insurance companies have significant investment portfolios, so they can also contribute to the sustainability drive by channelling capital to more sustainable projects and investments.”

Etienne might have taken the helm of MAPFRE MSV Life at a time of great uncertainty, but his vision for the company’s future is very clear. “Apart from making the products we offer and our investments more sustainable, we look forward to launching digital products that will provide a totally different user experience,” he concludes. “We are very excited about the future.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2023 – the sister brand to and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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