Profile: Renate Wagner

Renate Wagner

Renate Wagner Allianz

Childhood in Romania

She’s a manager with admirably extensive experience in the insurance business. Having grown up in a communist dictatorship, Renate is no stranger to challenges. The daughter of a German pastor in Romania, she took on responsibilities from a young age. Of the parish, of a younger sister.

Back then, surviving cold winters was the least of the Wagner family’s worries. The fear of being picked up by the secret service always hung over the minority community’s head. A year before the fall of communism, the family received official permission to move to Germany.

Freedom came at a price.

A new beginning meant the disappearance of the family’s comfort zone in Transylvania. Worse still, starting at zero. “You learn to fight for your place in a new ecosystem, to cope with drastic overnight changes.” There were lessons in there. Those lessons are today an integral part of Renate’s personality.

The first steps

Studying theoretical mathematics was exciting. What was more exciting, however, was to see how it applies to real life. Renate discovered the joys of practical application of academics in Australia while still a student. In life insurance and mortality tables, no less. A path-changing decision was made. Goodbye, university career; hello, corporate world.

First stop: the risk management department of Westdeutsche Landesbank in Düsseldorf. A wide range of tasks, freedom to try out new ideas.

But a deeper understanding of business was missing, a gap that she filled with an MBA from Scotland. Renate learnt to multi-task efficiently, balancing a full-time job with studies.  

This was followed by five years at KPMG in Munich in audit consultancy, with a focus on banks. Then she entered what she back then considered an "ultra-modern, innovative" world of online banking. “It was a mistake.” Not the concept of online banking but the choice of bank to experiment with it. “It was a small, more local bank, not the best fit for someone like me, who prefers international dynamics.”

Entry into insurance

Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. On her online adventure, Renate stumbled upon Zurich Insurance. For seven years, she commuted between Munich, where her husband worked, and Zurich. The birth of a daughter brought another balancing act into the picture. “I was lucky…and grateful, that my bosses went beyond traditional practices to give me the support I needed to walk the tightrope between motherhood and a demanding job.”

At first she was in charge of change management, which took her all over the world. Enthusiasm and energy was required to set all the wheels in motion – from Santiago de Chile to Tokyo – from a central engine. A new responsibility followed: balance sheet management.

And then came a trial by fire.

Renate had scarcely stepped into the new position when the Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the financial and banking crisis erupted. Liquidity planning, capital management, management of ratings agencies and compliance with Swiss regulatory guidelines – everything was suddenly on a war footing. "Very intense, enriching times."

She counts her contribution to the stabilization of Zurich's balance sheet as one of her greatest professional experiences. In 2010, Renate moved into the life insurance operations. Now the focus was on strategic financial planning, product pricing, M&As and financial reporting.

The Allianz story

At some point, the commute between Munich and Zurich got tiring. Dieter Wemmer, her former boss at Zurich who had shortly taken over as Chief Financial Officer of Allianz, got in touch. He wanted Renate to head his office in Munich, a precursor to grooming her for a bigger role in operations. When Michael Diekmann, then the CEO of Allianz, made that surprise call: "Are you ready to head the CEO office?”, the answer was obvious.

During the passing of the CEO baton from Michael Diekmann to Oliver Bäte, she assisted in the transition; even worked on the "Renewal Agenda 1.0" with the new boss. She led a project that recommended selling the unprofitable life insurance unit in South Korea and the backbook in Taiwan. Oliver Bäte’s response: “Best do it yourself.”

Years in Asia

It’s not just developing strategies that motivates Renate but also implementing them and delivering results. This was a chance to really do it. Her assignment? Based in Singapore, she was tasked with whipping the Asia-Pacific life and health insurance business into shape. South Korea and the backbook in Taiwan would have to go, quite the ‘mission impossible’.

With a strong team, she made that and much more possible, restarting the growth engine in the region (16 operating units in 10 countries; in short: a complex structure) with new initiatives, new co-operations, new business models. On the financial side, they grew turnover and profitability and on the business side, both customer as well as employee satisfaction increased – never an easy feat. Indicators of customer satisfaction doubled three years in a row.  In addition, some of the units of Allianz that ranked the highest in employee satisfaction were from Asia.

Trust, the motivating factor

When Renate thinks of what her bosses across functions and companies had in common, there’s just one word that comes to mind. “Trust.” In her ability to take on much larger tasks than her experience and background would suggest. "That has shaped me." She has the same management style. "I tend to focus strongly on strengths. Everyone has them. If we bring together complementary strengths, the result has unbelievable power." Indeed, even during difficult times, Renate has welded people of different skills and personalities into efficient teams.

Priorities first, then speed

Details are important but so is speed. Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.  She recalls the lesson from her first boss: “80:20 solutions are often good enough.” Be pragmatic and get moving. The first question should always be: is it worth the effort? If yes, what is possible in this particular situation?

Not everything is worth the fight. "You have to pick your battles": was the teaching from another boss.

Leadership principles

What are her three guiding principles for successful leadership? “Question your strategies and your business model daily.” Are they still good enough? Leave the past behind if it does not benefit the present. And don’t underestimate the strength of diverse teams. "Thanks to our internationality, we have a lot of potential in Allianz.”

The off-duty Renate

Strategy plays a role in Renate’s off-duty life too. “I love board games.” Traveling, reading and sports such as badminton, tennis, skiing, swimming, ice skating are her other hobbies.

And yes, if there is a pop concert in town, Renate will try to make time for it. Most recently, she shared an enjoyable evening at the Phil Collins concert with another fan – her assistant Monika. Time spent with her husband and daughter and their wide circle of friends is sacrosanct.  

Her approach to life and work is more or less the same. “Embrace every opportunity to try something new. That’s how you grow.”

Further information

The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers with more than 122 million* private and corporate customers in more than 70 countries. Allianz customers benefit from a broad range of personal and corporate insurance services, ranging from property, life and health insurance to assistance services to credit insurance and global business insurance. Allianz is one of the world’s largest investors, managing around 714 billion euros** on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore, our asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors manage about 1.7 trillion euros** of third-party assets. Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, we are among the leaders in the insurance industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2022, over 159,000 employees achieved total revenues of 152.7 billion euros and an operating profit of 14.2 billion euros for the group***.
* Including non-consolidated entities with Allianz customers.
** As of June 30, 2023.
*** As reported – not adjusted to reflect the application of IFRS 9 and IFRS 17.

Press contacts

Christian Kroos
Allianz SE
Holger Klotz
Allianz SE
Petra Brandes
Allianz SE
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