High-potentials from the banking and insurance sector receive their MBA degrees in Dubai

On 10th October, 19 participants officially graduated from the Eighth Executive MBA course in Financial Services & Insurance (MBA-FSI) during a 3-day conference in Dubai. The event location was no coincidence. The aim is always to combine business with pleasure by highlighting the potential of a relevant market by means of a substantial conference at that location.

‘Best graduate’ Marco Ciceri (Chief Underwriting Officer for the Middle East at Zurich Insurance Company) works in Dubai and helped organise the conference. He sees clear differences between the banking and insurance sectors in the Middle East and those in other regions of the world: “While Dubai can be considered a modern city, the Middle East insurance and banking sector is still in the developmental phase and less mature than western markets such as the UK, Switzerland or Germany. Regulation does exist but is not yet strictly enforced. As far as insurance is concerned, the market – especially outside the UAE – still faces extremely low market penetration and limited risk awareness.

The conference mainly focused on specific characteristics of the Middle East as an emerging financial centre. Various topics were discussed, such as Islamic banking and the ‘takaful’ insurance concept, which, in line with sharia law, only allows interest-free bank and insurance products. The programme also included a visit to the AXA call centre and, of course, ample time to celebrate the students’ graduation.

With his degree in hand, Marco looks back on the course with satisfaction. “The MBA programme, and especially the contexts it provided, allows me to approach any business challenge with more maturity and I feel much more comfortable discussing cross-functional challenges and issues within our business unit. What is more, I definitely developed my leadership and managerial skills and matured as an individual”, he says.

Moreover, he considers this course a unique opportunity. “While it is difficult for me to name just a few of the many highlights, I especially recall the global approach to international modules, the mix between classroom teaching, company visits and simulations, and finally the exchange with executives and managers from other markets and industries.

New edition: module in Hong Kong and a greater focus on personal development

In the meantime, the ninth edition of the Executive MBA in Financial Services & Insurance has already begun at the Vlerick Business School campus in Ghent. The twenty participants, four of whom are women, represent nine nationalities. They have embarked on an eighteen-month study programme consisting of several two-week modules that are organised in six different locations around the world. This new edition pays extra attention to the new regulatory measures for the financial sector, as well as all the developments related to big data, digital business models, etc.

Another new feature is the module in Hong Kong. Programme Director Kurt Verweire explains this choice as follows, “Hong Kong boasts a very old financial centre as well as great freedom and a legislative framework that differs from the Chinese one, because in 1997, following transfer of sovereignty by the United Kingdom, Hong Kong received the title of Special Administrative Region. Participants will also enjoy a visit to Shanghai in China itself, to witness the contrast between these two locations for themselves and experience a remarkable tension.” The course also includes modules in Switzerland, London, Canada and the US.

Another important innovation is a greater focus on personal development and leadership skills. Throughout the entire course, a more integrated approach will be taken, in which participants are encouraged to think about their skills by means of feedback sessions and coaching. Moreover, they are encouraged to work on their personal development plan throughout the entire course.

Kick-off in Belgium

During the first two-week module in Ghent and Brussels, the participants have been immersed in the strategic aspects of the financial services sector. The programme included the SOFIA Insurance Simulation, a business game developed by Kurt Verweire, who explains the concept: “The participants are divided into small groups that have to manage their own insurance company. In doing so, they need to implement the strategic insights acquired during the module. This business game teaches them the basic skills they need in the insurance sector and allows them to understand and implement specific strategic concepts better. What is more, the game was recently upgraded to include simulations of the effects of the Solvency II rules.”

Visits to businesses, the European Commission and KBC bank also gave the participants the opportunity to get a glimpse behind the scenes. The Dutch insurer Interpolis even went one step further than merely offering a traditional tour by asking our students for their advice on certain issues the company is currently dealing with. The students were free to speak to the company’s staff and management and share their recommendations.

Last but not least, a few relevant tips from Marco Ciceri to the current participants: “Be sure to take advantage of the tremendous experience of all the various participants, outside normal teaching hours as well, and build up your network throughout the programme. Make sure that the topics of the paper you need to write after each module are relevant to your business, your development and your job. And be open-minded, committed and accept feedback from your peers.”

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