Photo/IllutrationKengo Sakurada, group CEO and president of insurance company Sompo Holdings Inc., responds in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun. (Shuhei Shibata)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor’s note: The United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015 and urged all its member countries to make efforts to achieve them by 2030.

The 17 include “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” “good health and well-being, “quality education,” “gender equality” and “climate action.”

But how should companies introduce those goals in their businesses?

The Asahi Shimbun interviewed 10 top executives of companies belonging to the Global Compact Network Japan (GCNJ), which mainly consists of firms supporting SDGs.

The following interview with Kengo Sakurada, group CEO and president of insurance company Sompo Holdings Inc., is the ninth in the series.

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We are now in the process of moving away from being a company involved only in insurance. For a long time, insurance companies have been selling policies with the basic question of "What would you do if something should happen?"

That covered everything from becoming ill or being involved in an accident. However, we began thinking if the company should continue with just that mindset.

Moreover, the market will shrink with the declining population in Japan. While there are some who feel the trend can be dealt with by developing new products that cover new risks, I truly feel such a path will be filled with difficulties.

With that as background, we changed the way our company was structured. We moved to a thinking of creating a "theme park" that could provide services for the security, health and well-being of our customers by working to resolve social issues through our business operations.

That is nothing less than the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that call for eradicating poverty, eliminating disparity and protecting the environment.

Within the framework of an insurance company, we have, for example, been selling a "climate index insurance" in developing nations. Developing nations, where agriculture is the main industry, quickly feel the effects of climate change. In Southeast Asia and India, the damage to rice farmers from drought is very severe. To deal with the issue, we have begun selling a product in Thailand that pays out insurance benefits when the amount of rainfall is low.

There were some regions in Thailand that suffered from drought for two straight years so there has been a growing recognition of the need for such insurance. We want to continue expanding insurance products related to farm products in various regions by also combining the farm insurance that had been handled by the U.S. insurance company that we acquired in 2017.

In Japan, we are placing greater emphasis on care services targeting senior citizens. When we entered the field five years ago, there were some within our company opposed to the plan, but I made the decision to proceed because I felt that unless something was done about elderly care, Japan would face a difficult future.

Before we entered the field, I never imagined there was such a serious shortage of personnel for elderly care services. Japan's elderly care service will not be sustainable unless we also promote a reduction of the burden on workers and increasing efficiency while at the same time also upgrading the quality of the service that we provide.

As one way to deal with that issue, we have mobilized every aspect of digital technology that we could find. For example, at some of our facilities, we have installed sensors to help determine if a resident wants to urinate. That leads to a reduction in the burden on facility workers.

Another project covers the compilation of care plans. We are seeking to establish a system using artificial intelligence that would provide effective advice from the data that has been accumulated. Another important element will be the introduction of robots to reduce some of the heavy labor tasks involved at care facilities.

While investment for such projects will extend from several billions of yen to several tens of billions of yen, we feel it is possible for a company with a certain capital level. We want to create a standard for the industry in Japan so that we can resolve the various issues now found in the elderly care sector.

While there are many specific programs that we are undertaking, the important factor will be to incorporate such projects into the company's organizational culture. A key point will be whether we can conduct management oriented toward the providing of security. I believe we can make progress in the SDGs if we conduct our operations as a result of such efforts.

(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun Staff Writer Shuhei Shibata.)

OTHER PROJECTS DESIGNED TO REDUCE RISKS

The property and casualty insurance industry has long been involved in efforts to deal with climate change and disaster prevention as well as activities to reduce accidents because the frequency of natural disasters and accidents has a direct impact on its profits.

In recent years, property and casualty insurance companies have moved beyond selling only insurance policies and started various projects designed to reduce risks, such as the cybersecurity of companies.

From 2018, the General Insurance Association of Japan has named as an important issue contributing to the achievement of the SDGs. It plans to consider what issues are involved in relation to the SDGs and release the results of that study after revising the association's code of conduct to reflect those results.