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Message from the Chairman & CEO

Chairman Bart De Smet and CEO Hans De Cuyper look back on the past year at Ageas and give a sneak preview of what is in the pipeline for the years to come.

Message from the Chairman & CEO

Making progress in a complex world

The world is evolving faster than ever. The pace of change driven by new opportunities, new risks, and new challenges in 2023 was at times breath-taking. There is every indication it will continue to gather speed with new impactful trends emerging on our horizon. It is how we prepare for and react to these changing circumstances that will define our future and the positive impact we will have on all our stakeholders. 

In 2023, the impact of inflation made its mark particularly on the Non-Life business in several markets, but we managed to respond with smart solutions adapted to the local context. We also witnessed Asian economies in slow-down mode. The low interest rates remained challenging in China in particular, while in Europe we noted an increase in rates after decades at low levels, which benefitted our activities through higher returns on investments.

On the geopolitical front, the wars that the world is facing had an indirect effect on our business, adding increased volatility to the financial markets. But ultimately, we must remember that these remain first and foremost human tragedies. And let us not forget the devastating earthquake in Türkiye at the start of the year 2023. The support of the Ageas family around the world for Turkish employees, partners and customers who lost their loved ones or their homes, was quite remarkable. We came together to do what we do best, being a supporter of people’s lives. 

Throughout 2023, Ageas continued to benefit from a resilient and highly diversified business model which helped absorb the effects of unstable market conditions. As we enter the final straight in our Impact24 journey, we are pleased that we remain on track to achieve our strategic and financial objectives. And in preparation for a new strategic cycle, we have announced the new composition of our Executive Committee, which aligns with our strategic ambitions and better reflects our current business profile.

In 2023, we reported using the new IFRS 17 & 9 accounting standards for the first time. Preparing for these new standards was an enormous logistical task. We welcome the greater transparency these new standards offer, which better reflects our performance. We are grateful to the countless colleagues across the entire business who worked intensely over the past years to make this transformation a success. And with the increased attention on ESG, new non-financial reporting standards such as the CSRD requirements, are already around the corner.

A continued strong commercial and operational performance

In 2023, Ageas delivered a strong commercial performance. This was mainly driven by a remarkable growth in Non-Life across the Group and by the strong Life activities in China. Our strong operating performance is reflected in the solid margins in Life and the combined ratio we achieved in Non-Life, but also in the strong Operational Capital Generation that amounted to EUR 1.8 billion. 

Thanks to all our efforts and solid performance, we have once again managed to deliver on the commitments we made to our investors, achieving a Net Operating Result of EUR 1.17 billion, well within the upper half of the initial guidance of EUR 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion. 

We remain on track to deliver on the EPS growth target of 6 to 8% in Impact24. With this earnings growth, we are confident in the operating entities’ ability to upstream more than sufficient cash to ensure an attractive dividend growth in line with the Impact24 ambition also beyond this strategic cycle. With a total gross cash dividend of EUR 3.25 per share over 2023 investors receive an attractive final dividend of EUR 1.75 on top of Ageas's commitment to pay-out going forward each year an interim dividend of EUR 1.5.

We are very grateful to our committed people and valued partners for their significant contribution to our strong performance in 2023, and we want to thank our investors and customers for their unwavering trust.

Regarding the progress on our Impact24 strategy, we took important steps in delivering on our ambitions in terms of growth, commercial excellence, integration of tech & data, and sustainability.

We decided to divest our business activities in France in line with our strategy to focus on our core markets in Europe. Reinsurance is now a fully-fledged business unit within Ageas, supported by a strong team of around thirty reinsurance experts. It is already proving its added value in diversification of capital and spreading risks. With a successful 1st of January 2024 renewal campaign and a net operating result of EUR 101 million, Reinsurance is already demonstrating its strong contribution to the Group.

While we remain committed to physical distribution including bancassurance, brokers and agents, we also recognise that adapting our offer to ecosystems and digital platforms keeps us close to the customer and provides us with access to real scale. New B2B2C digital channels launched in India already allowed us to reach a milestone of EUR 5 million inflows within a year, providing coverage to more than 500,000 new customers that we previously could not reach. As our traditional distribution partners progress their own digital journeys, we have responded quickly to their call for new tools and expertise. And at the same time, we are working with Next-Gen partners to embed innovative insurance offers into their customer journeys. 

Supporting the transition towards a more sustainable world

Sustainability has been a deliberate strategic choice for Ageas. Its relevance across the world continues to increase and remains a high priority for society as evidenced by the recent COP28 meeting. We put clear targets on what we promised to achieve under our current Impact24 cycle, and we are proud to report that we are delivering ahead of plan. We already exceeded our sustainable investments target, with more than EUR 13 billion invested in sustainable assets. At the start of our Impact24 journey, we also set a goal of 25% of gross written premiums coming from products that support our customers in the transition to a more sustainable world. This target has already been exceeded with 28% meeting the criteria. Achieving this requires an innovation mindset, stimulated through events like our ESG Hackathon in 2023. We brought together 60 employees with diverse backgrounds who were challenged to work on five important societal themes (Savings, Well-being, Green Mobility, Sustainability Housing, and Inclusivity) with a goal to create scalable and sustainable product propositions and inspire new concepts. Our efforts were recognised by the ESG rating agencies we actively engage with. Five out of the six increased their rating for Ageas over 2023. Although we are proud of the new milestones reached, there is no room for complacency in our sustainability story. We consider it work in progress, with more to be done.

Humans at the centre… empowered by AI

There has been a lot of noise around AI and Generative AI (Gen AI) in the past year. And there is no doubt that AI has the capacity to revolutionise our business over time, benefitting every part of our value chain, as proven by multiple AI-applications that already exist across the Group. But ultimately, we believe insurance is fundamentally a people business. It’s our people who make the difference. We view AI and Gen AI as a way of augmenting what we do, for the good of our clients and for the growth of our own people. It has the capacity to support us to further finetune risk models, hyper-personalise our offer, improve operational efficiency and spark innovation. Our ethos is simple in the AI arena – let’s do more with the same people. In line with this, the Group developed a responsible approach to the deployment of AI and Gen AI, monitoring the risks, setting clear priorities, creating synergies, and respecting a transparent ethical framework.

Like everyone else, we are still in experimentation mode with Gen AI, learning how best to adopt and integrate this new technology. Inversely, we are also using Gen AI as a tool to learn! Gen AI is helping us to improve our agents’ and salespeople’s skills through an interactive sales conversation simulator, one of the first of its kind in the insurance world. Our salesforce plays a particularly important role in the world of Ageas as the face of our Group. That’s why we continue to explore ways to support them to improve the customer experience. In the agency channel, we have never been more convinced it’s about quality over quantity. Over the past year, 74% more agents achieved the requirements to qualify for the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) membership, which is a true recognition of the quality of their work.

AI may be the ‘cool kid on the block’ right now, but let’s not forget there is more to digital transformation than AI. In many markets we have successfully re-platformed our legacy systems as a prerequisite for further digitisation of our services, while continuously improving data & management, the nutrients that ‘feed’ AI. 

As a people business we have continued to work hard to position Ageas as a Great place to Grow: developing our talent and attracting new talent along the way; paying attention to diversity and inclusion; and providing the best environment to work which included welcoming employees to our new head office in Brussels, attuned to the hybrid way of working. We were proud to once again receive the recognition of ‘Top Employer’ in Belgium and UK, while our entities in Türkiye, India and the regional office in Hong Kong have received similar recognitions. 

Who knows… by next year, Generative AI could be writing this letter to stakeholders. Although we still prefer the personal touch. So let us end with a personally written, sincere thank you to our 50,000 remarkable employees and partners who made everything you read in this report happen. And we also have our 47 million customers and valued investors across the globe to thank for their continued trust in Ageas.