A recent study conducted in collaboration with ZHAW School of Management and Law reveals a critical gap in customer understanding of insurance companies' sustainability efforts. To leverage the potential of differentiating themselves through their sustainability strategy, the study suggests that insurance companies concentrate on proficiently communicating their sustainability initiatives and deepen the integration of sustainability into core operations.

In recent years, sustainability has gained significant importance among Swiss insurance companies, driven by demands from regulators, investors and the civil society. However, there is little knowledge on how customers perceive the sustainability efforts made by insurers, and if and how it impacts private policyholders’ decision making. In this study conducted in collaboration with Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) we explore customers’ expectations in the context of corporate responsibility engagement within the Swiss insurance market.

The results of a private customer survey answered by almost 1,500 Swiss residents suggest that, at present, sustainability does not significantly differentiate insurance companies in the private customer market. Notably, over 40% of respondents express uncertainty regarding their insurance company's sustainability efforts, despite substantial communication and reporting efforts at the corporate level. One of the reasons is that customers struggle to see a clear connection between sustainability and insurance, and current efforts by insurance companies often go unnoticed, having little impact on insurance purchasing decisions. Less than 20% of respondents consider sustainability very important, often combining it with price considerations.

The study however reveals that specific sustainability initiatives have the potential to influence customer preferences, particularly in claims processing and prevention offerings. Furthermore, while there is a diverse range of sustainability goals, private customers in Switzerland prioritize social issues over ecological concerns. 

The survey shows that social issues are rated more highly by private customers than
environmental issues when prioritizing the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What should insurance companies do to be acknowledged by customers for their sustainability efforts? Companies will need to improve their communication efforts to clarify the abstract concept of sustainability to their private customers. Furthermore, to make sustainability efforts more effective, insurers should focus on incorporating sustainability into their core operations. Integration of ESG considerations in investments, its product offering (especially in the area of e-mobility and natural disaster protection), and internal aspects like the treatment of own employees. According to the study, customers rate all these efforts as more valuable than an insurer’s own environmental footprint (e.g. waste, energy, and water consumption).

In summary, the study underscores the importance of effective communication of sustainability efforts to successfully differentiate insurance companies based on sustainability efforts, potential for improvement in core operations, and the need for further research to validate and extend these insights in different contexts and industries.

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