Pilar González de Frutos is president of the Spanish Union of Insurance and Reinsurance Entities (UNESPA), president of the Center for Sustainable and Responsible Finance of Spain (Finresp) and vice-president of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE). This week she was in Tarragona, invited by the Col·legi de Mediadors d’Assegurances de Tarragona.
How long will an act like today’s, made up only of female managers, continue to be something exceptional?
Indeed, and although it is not specific to the insurance sector, it is true that in our case the structure of women’s participation, where 53% of employment in the sector is female, is not maintained at all decision scales. Today, less than 30% of employment in management bodies is female. At UNESPA, our goal is for it to be 40% in a very short time. It is a very determined commitment and I am totally convinced that we are on the right path. Now, what I would like to know is how is the data from other industries.
When are we going to normalize this participation of women at all levels and in all sectors?
At the rate we are going it will still take us a few years, but it is true that the process can be accelerated by different factors. For example, in the insurance industry, 60% of new hires today are women. That means that there will be an acceleration in the distribution of responsibilities between men and women. Secondly, there is a movement linked to sustainability that will also favor it.
“The risks are going to change, they are going to mutate”
Because sustainability not only has to do with the environment, but also with social phenomena, and the responsibility of managers leads to a commitment to make a much more equal treatment, not only in a horizontal area, treating everyone world alike, but also vertically, meaning that wherever there are differences, they tend to disappear. Finally, the third element that is going to help is the new industrial era in which we are immersed, with the substitution of many jobs with little added value and that require strength for more intellectual jobs, thanks to new technologies, which make it easier for women can assume these responsibilities.
Equality plans have just reached SMEs. Are they going to be left in a drawer or do you think they will cause changes in salary gaps and glass ceilings?
I am convinced that if at some point there has been the temptation to believe that the commitment to equality could undermine the results of a company, that axiom is not true at all. In the first place, rationally, an entrepreneur, a manager, cannot give up 50% of the available talent, and women represent at least 50% of the available talent in Humanity. Secondly, these new ways of understanding sustainability are not only going to not create problems in your results, but they are also going to facilitate your access to financing. Therefore, this is going to win in reality and in speed, without a doubt.
Are you talking about sustainable finance?
Sure. Because the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) criteria, which are going to be applicable to all companies, are going to be the determining factors in certain financial products, and I am convinced that an entrepreneur who complies with them will have access to sources financing more easily than one that does not comply.
And that is not going to be optional.
It won’t be, actually. The society will not consider it optional.
What will happen to companies that do not know how to read this change?
Well, they’re going to find out. It’s going to be a drag move. Their own clients, their suppliers, the financial entities… are going to push them towards this field. And, of course, so will your own workers.
“The money from the Next Generation EU funds is taking time to reach the streets: we are going slowly”
Who is it? Is it a thing of millennials and new generations? We find boomers and is it something much more transversal?
It is society as a whole. In general, it is still taking its first steps in relation to all this. But there is our leadership in green bond issuance, and that is because there is a demand for it. Little by little, society will continue to recognize and, therefore, demand this type of behaviour.
Just as there is green washing and impact washing, there is a risk of falling into ESG washing. How to avoid it?
It is not easy, and above all it is not easy in the very short term, because what we do not have, at least in Europe, is a single information point where we can have a comparison system between the information provided by the different service providers financial. It will not be easy, but if there is an obvious reputational risk at this time, with a great impact on the business, it is the risk of washing of these characteristics. Although it is only to avoid that reputational risk, I believe that whoever actually declares that he is betting on ESG criteria is really doing it.
«The new ways of understanding sustainability are going to make it easier for companies to access financing»
It is difficult to remember, from the perspective of our generations, a time with so many uncertainties. What impact does it have on sectors such as insurance?
The circumstances we are going through show that we are more vulnerable than we thought, and that feeling of vulnerability effectively creates the basic conditions for the search for securities that help us individually to manage it. Therefore, it is fertile ground for insurance to continue fulfilling its basic role. Another thing is to what extent the risks we experience are insurable or not.
In what sense?
For example, the pandemic is a risk that the insurance sector, on its own, cannot face, because the principle of mutualization of risk is broken, because it affects the entire universe equally and with the same level of uncertainty, with which it is impossible to compensate one with the lack of risk of the other. That is why it is in these situations that public-private collaboration formulas become more essential, in which the financial measures that are available, combined with the experience of the insurance sector, can be provided from the public sphere. The risks are going to change, they are going to mutate.
«It is not easy to separate the effects of a labor reform from the effects of an economic recovery»
This interview is published in Primero de Mayo. Four months after the modification of the labor reform, what balance do you make from the CEOE?
It is not easy to separate the effects of a labor reform from the effects of an economic recovery, after a crisis as brutal as the one that came from the pandemic and confinement. The economic recovery is basically what allows the creation of new jobs, and I wish we could go much faster and with a greater degree of security in this commitment to job creation. Unfortunately, the incipient economic recovery has been somewhat marred by the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the economic consequences of hyperinflation caused by the energy and supply crisis, creating difficulties for the business sector , who really likes to create jobs.
Are we heading towards greater labor conflict due to this inflation and its impact on the purchasing power of employees and business costs?
The representatives of the trade union organizations themselves have stated these days that, in the event that an agreement is not reached within the framework of collective bargaining on wage increases, there would be an escalation of tension. On the other hand, we have the economic authorities making permanent calls for prudence, in relation to salary revisions and the transmission of the effects of second-round inflation. The business sector has to work with this prudence and take into consideration that it is not possible to work with phenomena that may be punctual, and that therefore we could find ourselves in scenarios of lower inflation in the medium term. We are waiting for a response from the union to the latest offer made by CEOE and Cepyme, and if there is indeed no agreement, there will be a recommendation to employers by CEOE to manage a complex moment like the current one.
Funds from the Next Generation EU instrument could help with that. Are you taking advantage of the opportunity they offer?
In general, I think we are moving slowly, and this very week CEOE published an assessment report in this regard on the use of these European funds. The money from these funds is taking time to reach the streets. Like there is a very long administrative path, which has had to be paved and everyone agree, because it is very good that the central government says that 60% of the funds are being executed, but they do not reach the companies , and that is something we will have to wake up about.
The Spanish State is a mere manager, because the funds belong to the European Commission. Do you see the possibility of any warning coming from there?
From what the Government has been telling us, it seems that there is no reproach on the part of the European Commission of the mechanism and the way in which Spain is managing this. Even if there were no such reproach, I think that from the economic and business sector we have to claim that the ultimate goal, that opportunity, will only be achieved if the money ends up draining where it is most essential, in the creation of economic activity and the employment generation.