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Ulrike Mönnich has a “broad knowledge” of EU and Swiss insurance law and has become the “go-to for German and European legislation”, according to peers.

Questions & Answers

Ulrike Mönnich specialises in legal issues relating to the insurance and financial services sector. Her advisory and litigation work focuses on life insurance, D&O, reinsurance and insurance supervisory law. In addition, she advises on areas of law that usually arise in connection with the operation of the insurance business, e.g. competition law, tax law, data protection and compliance. Ulrike Mönnich mainly advises and represents (re)insurers, brokers and financial services companies, in particular with regard to cross-border insurance business in Europe; distribution of insurance and other financial products; alternative risk transfer (ART); insurance supervisory law; Insurance Supervisory Law; legal representation in court and arbitration proceedings; and portfolio transfers and run-off.

What is the most interesting case you have been part of?

I find it difficult to point out the most exciting case of my professional life. Most of my mandates involve very exciting questions, especially when there is no established case law or binding directives from the supervisory authorities on certain topics. In the procedural area, I regularly find D&O cases quite exciting, as they are very complex and have liability issues, corporate law topics and (in coverage litigation) insurance law issues. In addition, the facts and actions of the managers involved in these cases are often so bizarre that one would consider them exaggerated and unbelievable in a novel.

How has the Swiss insurance market changed since you began practising?

I have only been active in the Swiss market for about 10 years, as I worked in Germany before. Within these last 10 years, the Swiss insurance market has, in my opinion, changed mainly due to digitalisation. On the one hand, a trend towards so-called InsurTechs can be observed and on the other hand, numerous new digital risks have emerged during this time (cyber risks, robotic risks, risks related to autonomous mobility and to the Internet of Things). According to my personal perception, the Swiss insurance industry is relatively innovative in this respect and tries to identify these risks proactively and to offer solutions. On the customer side (especially in the SME sector), I have the feeling that awareness of these risks (which is particularly evident in the case of cyber risks) has grown in recent years, which is reflected in the fact that there is a significant increase in demand for insurance products to cover cyber risks.

What are the main challenges lawyers are facing when assisting clients in implementing technological innovation in the current regulatory framework?  

Until now, it has been extremely difficult to implement fully internet-based insurance solutions in Switzerland, as insurance contract law still calls for questions on risk-relevant pre-contractual issues to be asked in writing and answered by the applicant in writing (ie, with a signature). If the insurer does not query such risk relevant circumstances (eg, pre-existing conditions in health insurance) in writing but via the internet, the insurer cannot currently invoke a violation of the pre-contractual duty of disclosure if one or more of these questions have been answered incorrectly, which has definitely been an obstacle in several lines of insurance. 

However, this problem has been addressed and eliminated with the partial revision of the Insurance Contract Law, which has finally been approved by the Parliament in June 2020. From January 2021, when the partially revised VVG expectedly comes into force, it will be possible to inquire about risk-relevant circumstances only via the Internet and to sanction them accordingly in the event of incorrect answers. 

In addition, as Switzerland is not a member of the EU/EEA, Swiss insurers have no access to European internal market just as little as European insurers can directly sell their products in Switzerland on a cross-border basis. Innovative and new products, which, eg, an insurer in the Netherlands has developed, can be sold under the EU principle “freedom of services” in all EU/EEA states, but not in Switzerland. Here, a foreign insurer would either have to establish a subsidiary or a branch office or become active through a fronting company, which is duly licensed in Switzerland. This complicates and slows down the implementation of innovative insurance concepts and reduces competition (especially in the field of cyber-insurance and online solutions).

In your opinion, what will be the long-term effects of the covid-19 pandemic on the insurance industry?

I’m generally cautious with predictions about the future, because in general everything turns out differently than you think. In any case, it can be said that not all companies have been affected equally by the direct effects of covid-19. Direct losses have been affected especially by insurers, which have sold business shut-down-covers. All in all, these losses are likely to be limited since business shut-down insurance itself is not so widespread. 

Nonetheless, the cancellation of major events (Wimbledon/Olympics/Octoberfest) is likely to cause significant losses, especially for reinsurers. If an enormous number of people should die because of covid-19, a loss potential for life insurers or reinsurers could arise. Currently, I do not see this risk in Switzerland yet.

The indirect effect on the insurance industry should not be underestimated: the threat of recession in the economy is likely to make new business more difficult. In life insurance, the coronavirus pandemic has further intensified the already existing problem of a low interest rate environment: the vehement support measures of the central banks have led to a further drop in interest rates on government bonds, which are popular for life insurers. The situation is certainly challenging for all life insurance companies. 

On the other hand, the crisis may also present an opportunity. A holistic view of the company and a structured coordination of all countermeasures are actually of great importance. The CEO’s agenda now includes short, medium and long-term measures. Companies that, in addition to effective crisis management, also master day-to-day business and long-term transformation can emerge stronger from the coronavirus crisis.

What measures need to be taken to increase diversity in the legal market?

I think it is especially important to give young people from all social and ethnic backgrounds access to education. In particular, it should be possible for anyone who has the necessary skills to take the A-levels and be accepted for a course of study at university. Currently, the rate of Matura students in Switzerland is very low at about 20 per cent and it cannot be disputed that children from academic households currently have significantly better chances of obtaining a coveted place at the Gymnasium than children from educationally disadvantaged classes. 

With regard to the proportion of women in legal professions, I would first like to note that the number of female in-house lawyers and female executives in those insurance companies I frequently work with is fortunately quite high. Purely female conference calls or Zoom meetings are not exceptional to me.

On the other hand, there is certainly some room for improvement in Switzerland with regard to the compatibility of family and career (and this issue mostly concerns women). Daycare places (for the zero to five year olds kids) are scarce and the prohibitively high prices of these daycare places discourage many young women from entering the workforce. 

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