Founded in 1883, Nationale Suisse is one of the oldest insurance companies on the Swiss market. With a streamlined structure and marked commitment to quality, Nationale Suisse unfailingly wins over its broadly based clientele with individual service, and first-class risk and pension solutions in life and non-life insurances as well as an increasing number of customised specialty insurances lines. Since it was established the business has developed several niches and competencies, not least in the field of engineering insurance.
“Our engineering team is one of our biggest strengths,” explains Philipp Oesch – Engineering Large and Special Risks at Nationale Suisse. “All team members have worked in the industry for several years prior to moving into insurance, and are highly experienced in different fields. As such, we have many core competencies from civil and process to machinery and electrical engineering, at all different levels of expertise. In the engineering sector alone, we have close to 2000 years of experience in the business.”
Of course, Nationale Suisse is not only active in project insurance, but also provides services to clients in all lines of business, such as insurance of operational plants. The company works directly with clients and also acts as a third-party insurance company. As such, Nationale Suisse conducts a lot of business through both international brokers and manufacturers’ in-house teams. “We try to maintain excellent relationships with our clients and brokers by focusing on their needs, and personalising our services to meet these. We have a lot of expertise in underwriting, both local and international, and have employees from all different cultural backgrounds speaking a wide scope of languages. This means that we are able to speak with our clients on a similar level,” describes Philipp.
Although these capabilities are true of any insurance sector, they really come into their own when considering major infrastructure engineering such as railways. Each project faces its own scope of challenges based upon its location – from dry or wet climate, to mountainous areas or flat country. “This is something that is special and unique to each project, and as an insurance company we are focusing on this kind of niche market,” highlights Philipp. “There is a need to be flexible, responsive, and to have an understanding of the kind of protection the industry needs, and therefore having underwriting expertise in this niche is very important.
He continues: “We also have to make sure that we can always fulfil the legal requirements of each country, as well as the obligations of the different regulators in each market. In this respect, Nationale Suisse has its own legal department and compliance officers, which we consult whenever we move into a new field of business or country to ensure we meet all regulations.”The Gotthard Base Tunnel
One of Nationale Suisse’s biggest contracts at present is the insurance of the construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT). At 57 kilometres in length, the GBT is the world’s longest rail tunnel and a milestone in the history of transport in Switzerland. The GBT forms the cornerstone of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), which also includes the Ceneri and Lötschberg Base Tunnel. Designed to come into operation in 2017, the GBT is intended to increase transport capacity across the Alps, and in the process shift freight volumes from road to rail. There will also be significant reduction in passenger journey times between Zürich and Milan, and Zürich to Lugano.
With contracts such as this demanding specialist competence, as well as a high level of client communication, Philipp outlines why Nationale Suisse has been entrusted with insuring this landmark project: “We have a prominent role in the GBT project, where we are insuring not only the civil construction and tunnelling works, but also similar involvement in the electrification and manufacture of the tracks themselves. Nationale Suisse also has very strong connections with the rolling stock manufacturers, both of the locomotives and train cars, in insuring the construction and assembly as well as testing of these products. With any project of this magnitude, continuity of personnel, a very good service level commitment and expertise in claims handling are essential in order to provide the customer with the best possible service.”In the pipeline
To date Nationale Suisse is applying its expertise in engineering insurance to a wide range of railway and metro projects across the world, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy, Israel, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and Thailand. This includes a prominent share in London’s Crossrail programme, and the Metro do Porto in Portugal, which is a 60 kilometre railway network with 70 stations and a fleet comprising over 70 trains.
Having enjoyed substantial success in this niche sector, Nationale Suisse is remaining vigilant to other opportunities that may be in the pipeline: “Looking at the various emerging countries and markets, we can see that there are a lot of new projects currently being planned and considered,” states Philipp. “This includes the proposed Gulf Railway project, which looks to link individual regions into one network extending from Kuwait into Oman, and through Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where we hope to have a presence.
“For many of these projects, our ambition is to be involved as a specialist and service-oriented insurance provider, not only for construction, but also rolling stock manufacture. A lot of these countries have a need to invest in excellent means of transportation, which are not only efficient and fast, but also ecologically sound. Therefore we see a lot of opportunities for investment into electrically driven railways in the future.”The art of insurance
The business of insurance certainly isn’t new. In order to operate successfully in this market experience and deep-rooted understanding of the trade are core requirements. These terms of reference are present throughout each facet of Nationale Suisse from the traditional private and business client segments, to more select target groups and specialist lines. Given the magnitude of the projects in question, and overarching investment involved, it is not hard to understand why Nationale Suisse’s dedicated personal advisory service and highly-trained insurance experts have seen the business taking part in some of the world’s most ambitious engineering developments. These capabilities, combined with the financial strength of Nationale Suisse, which is demonstrated by its current solvency ratio of over 183 per cent, will also help the company achieve more business in the future.
With this in mind, Philipp concludes with Nationale Suisse’s plans to continue to define itself as a specialist provider for the most challenging insurance requirements: “Nationale Suisse is focusing on a niche strategy where we have defined a number of areas including engineering, marine, and art insurance, with the ambition to grow further in these sectors. I believe that the business has chosen an effective strategy, particularly given our success in the engineering division, and would like to continue to maintain, and drive forward, our current growth.”
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