Faculty News | Structure vs. Strategy – the case of CHERRISK’s transformation dilemma by Krisztián Kurtisz and László Eszes

An exclusive blog post by Krisztián Kurtisz (CEO of CHERRISK and Chairman of the Board at UNIQA Hungary and Lichtenstein) and László Eszes, our Faculty Member about the last years’ transformation process of the UNIQA insurance company and their unique insurtech brand and approach, CHERRISK by UNIQA.

The article features a true insider’s perspective of this successful transformation from Krisztián’s appointment to CEO of UNIQA Biztosító, his strategic vision, the essence of his thinking through a well-defined “6 transformations” of the insurance industry concept and the role of László, as an advisor and facilitator in this process.

The original post appeared at Insurance20.blog.hu (in English) – the personal blog by Krisztián Kurtisz, dedicated to his management and transformation challenges and his views around the insurance industry and beyond.

Hereby, we share an edited version of this post. 

The Beginning

The “6 transformations” concept’s primary point is to put the client in the centre of the transformation. This sounds good, but as we all know, if your structure does not follow your strategy, you have a pretty fair chance to fail. The insurance industry is per definition (even regulation-wise) organized by products, not by client segments.

In 2016, when I took over the CEO role of UNIQA Biztosító, the company and the whole UNIQA Group was in the classical life and non-life split.

That was when I met dr. László Eszes for the first time, and started to work together on the transformation of UNIQA Biztosító.

László’s perspective

“When we met first and Krisztián explained me the situation, his vision, and his plans, I felt it was an advantage that my previous experience was in several other industries (mainly telecom, IT, banking, manufacturing and FMCG) but I had not worked in/with insurance before. It allowed me to really look at things from the perspective of the naive external observer.

Having understood Krisztián’s “6 transformation” concept and looked the org-chart of UNIQA, one of my first questions was: “if in insurance you claim that you are all about serving your customers, then why are you organized around products?”. For the service industries where I had worked before, it was natural to be organized by customer segment, in Telekom for example, the debate that time was only in the details, e.g., whether the really small SME’s (the SOHO segment) should belong to the Retail or to the SME division.

Krisztián’s answer was that it had been always like this in the insurance industry, but we soon agreed that if we are serious about the vision of putting the customers in the center of our attention, then we should change it!”

It was quite clear from the beginning that it would be impossible for the fresh CEO of a loss-making company to immediately push through an entirely new operational structure. We had to slice up our “structural journey”:

Step 1: Simplicity program with a high client focus

Step 2: Turn to client-centric organization

The Process

László always “nagged me” whether I know my “I have a dream speech”? I knew it, but I felt that it was too drastic politically and organizationally to announce it in 2016 in the traditional environment UNIQA was at that time.

László’s perspective:

“The story and the vision were great, I felt that we had at our hands most of the important ingredients of a successful transformation:

  • There was a young CEO with a superb purpose (rethink insurance and make it an industry which everybody can be proud to belong to) and an exciting vision.
  • We had a Board who had the trust in each other, a true alliance to make it happen together and the professional competence needed.
  • An industry that is ripe for change and the technology that can drive that change.

What was missing, and we had to create fast was a strong HR function that can support the required cultural transformation and put the focus on people.”

For two years, we were pushing the simplicity and client satisfaction topics to prepare the big jump to the new structure. By 2018 we:

  • decreased the number of products from 300+ to 40+,
  • managed to gather hundred thousand client feedbacks on a 5-star rating system every year,
  • turned the company to be profitable.

During this transformation process, a regular “Gárdony” (holiday place near a small lake) mid-management off-site meeting played a key role.

László’s perspective:

“Gárdony” soon grew to an internal institution: each year, we had a “Spring Gárdony” and an “Autumn Gárdony” where all mid-managers got together for two days and discussed the current topics of the transformation journey.

The choreography of the Gárdony events soon became a ritual: 30-40 mid-managers getting together in the same hotel by the lake, in the same room, around tables in mixed groups, always welcoming somebody new on the team (there were many changes especially in the beginning), Laci is the facilitator, Krisztián making a speech in the beginning about where we are on the journey and what are the next steps ahead, discussing these topics in all combinations of small and big teams, the occasional outdoor or indoor teambuilding exercises, and a dinner together with lots of conversation usually until (very) late in the night.”

The Results and Outcome

By the beginning of 2018, we were ready for the big restructuring jump. We were lucky enough to get support from the Group to go ahead with it as a pilot. So, in Q3 2018, three years after the original idea was formed, we changed to the new structure.

The most significant learning/feedback became visible on the Gárdony event when we announced the new structure.

László’s perspective:

“We prepared for the announcement of the new structure to the middle managers with all sorts of plans and scenarios: presentation, discussing in small teams, Q&A session, debating it, what if there is resistance or lack of understanding etc. But after Krisztián announced it, the whole team went: ok, of course, this is logical, what’s the next point on the agenda? We even had to replan the event because the acceptance of the new model was so fast and smooth, that we could bring further topics forward…”

Somehow, the structural change “simply” became a consequence of our past two years’ systematic client-focused journey. (Recently, UNIQA Group also changed its structure to a client-centric one partly based on our learnings.)

Biggest learnings by László:

  • It is so much better to lead change when you derive it from a good, motivating cause or purpose than to introduce change based on top-down orders or simply to improve certain KPI’s. Improvement of financial performance should not be the purpose of change. If you have a good purpose and you make everything needed for the purpose, then improved financial performance will simply be the outcome.
  • Even big, paradigm shifting changes can be prepared in a way that when you finally introduce it, it comes as a natural, smooth step (rather than a big-bang shock that you have to manage and “heal” for a long time after the announcement/ introduction).
  • It is so much more productive to lead change with an aligned leadership team (Board). Many times, most of the energy and time invested into a transformation is spent on managing somehow the internal power-fights and competence gaps.


In 2020, CHERRISK expanded its activity to Germany as well and in less than 2 years has already 150.000 users in the whole CHERRISK ecosystem.

Due to the successful transformation, CHERRISK is now a prospering, inspirational insurtech company in the region, which won also numerous professional awards in the last period.

Next Program with László Eszes and Tamás Bernáth

27 May | 10 June | 24 June 2021 – Leading Change and Transformation

More than ever, change and the need for transformation are continuous challenges of businesses, organizations, and leaders.

This program – led by László Eszes and Tamás Bernáth (SEED Faculty Members) – is specially offered for senior executives to address these challenges from their perspective, offer new ways of thinking and practical tools for them.

The course is built around the two Faculty’s combined experience of over 40 years in leading, consulting and researching change and transformation, the most modern change leadership thinking and do-how and SEED’s unique leadership development methodology and approach.

If you want to join this program, click here and register your place!

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