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FINANCE

The benefits of budgeting

Zurichs ethos is underpinned by its core values:

Introduction
Zurich Insurance Group is a leading global provider of insurance
services. Zurichs mission is to help customers understand and
protect themselves from risk. The company employs 60,000 staff

Integrity

Openness, reliability and honesty

Customer centricity

Putting the customer first and at


the centre of all operations

Sustainable value creation

Generating value for customers


and shareholders on a secure,
long-term basis

Excellence

Quality in management, operations


and products

Teamwork

Pursuing strategy through sharing


expertise and ideas

and serves customers in 170 countries around the world.


Zurich offers General Insurance and Life Insurance products,
for example:
General Insurance: car insurance, home buildings and contents
insurance
Life assurance: life insurance, investment and pension plans.
Zurich offers its products to retail customers (mainly individuals)
and corporate customers (i.e. businesses).

A key component of Zurichs values is corporate responsibility.


Life is full of uncertainty. The building you work in could catch fire.

Being a responsible company is fundamental to Zurichs long-term

Your computer could be stolen. You may have an accident. These

sustainability. For example, Zurich Community Trust in the UK

are all risks with a small but real probability that they may occur.

actively helps over 600 charities make a difference to the lives of

Insurance provides protection against that risk. In return for a fee

thousands every year.

(a premium) it provides a financial payment in the event of


financial/personal loss.

Insurance is an extremely competitive market. Customers will


obtain quotes to find the best value either from Zurich directly or

So what makes Zurich one of the leading insurance companies? It

through a financial adviser. This case study shows how Zurichs

starts with Zurichs brand, reputation for quality customer service

careful approach to budgeting is a contributory factor in gaining

and solid financial strength. The insurance industry is tightly

competitive advantage.

regulated, requiring strict standards and highly skilled finance


professionals. Zurich, therefore, aims to attract the best graduates.

What is budgeting?
An organisation must earn enough revenue so that, after all costs
have been subtracted, there is a profit remaining. One of the most
useful financial tools is the budget. A budget is a business plan
expressed in financial terms. Budgets can be drawn up for sales,
costs or investment spending.
A budget will include a degree of prediction of performance which
is usually based on past data e.g. sales.

Curriculum topics covered: Types of budgets Setting a budget


Using a budget Benefits of budgeting

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It is important that it is a realistic financial plan that the business can

Benefits of budgeting

fulfil. Managers at all levels will have their own budget plans, designed
to co-ordinate with and contribute to the overall plan or master

Budgets are a financial representation of an organisations strategy.

budget. Therefore, managers need to be involved in contributing

The process of budgeting requires managers to plan ahead, for

information to the budget to which they will be committed.

example, to identify the resources required to meet targets. This is


particularly important in the insurance industry due to the complex

Budgets should be stretching but achievable. They should enable

nature of the products offered. Insurance generally addresses

companies to meet both short- and long-term financial and strategic

medium- and long-term needs of customers. Decisions taken now

objectives whilst providing motivational targets (potentially linked to

are likely to have financial implications for many years to come.

bonus payments) for managers to promote the right behaviours. All


budgets must be carefully monitored, reviewed and, if appropriate,

For example, in the UK, Zurich

re-assessed as internal factors (e.g. a major project costs

offers a protection product which

significantly less or more than expected) and external factors

provides a payment in the event

(e.g. regulatory developments) change.

of the death of the policyholder


to pay off an outstanding
mortgage. Typically, this product

Profit objectives are set by the company

offers protection for 15 to 25


years. Zurich guarantees a price
to the policyholder for the whole

Sales budgets are determined to allow profit


objectives to be met

term. If the outcome is different to that which was assumed when


the price was set (e.g. fewer or more deaths occur or fewer or more

Production budgets are drawn up which illustrate


the costs required to meet the planned sales

policies are cancelled than expected), Zurich will either make a profit
or a loss on that product. Due to the long-term nature of these
products any profit will emerge over many years.

Zurich has three core business segments: General Insurance (e.g.


car, home), Global Life (e.g. life assurance, pensions and

The budgeting process can be used for monitoring and control of

investments) and Farmers (core North-American business). These

financial performance. Results can be reviewed as frequently as

segments are divided into regions, for example Europe, and then

necessary against budgets to identify good and poor performance

into business units, for example UK Life. Through discussion with

areas. Managers need to investigate the difference or variance

various stakeholders, budgets are set for each business unit, with

between budgeted and actual results. Where actual figures are

the combined budgets supporting Zurichs overall corporate aims.

worse than budgeted, these are called adverse variances. Adverse


variances may suggest problems. Where budgets are not being

For example, the table below shows the revenue and expense

met, action can be taken. Budget targets can be highly motivational

budgets for UK Life. The expenses budget is broken down by

and staff who meet or exceed budgeted targets may be rewarded

function. (All figures are for illustration only.)

with bonuses.

UK Life Revenue and Expense budget (6 months to end June 2012)


JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

JUNE

48

62

70

63

66

61

Sales

11

13

12

12

14

Propositions

Revenue budget 2012 (m)


Expenses budget 2012 (m)

Operations

14

19

21

19

20

22

Finance

IT

11

12

11

13

43

56

63

54

59

67

Control function
Total

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Setting and using budgets


Having established the core financial objectives, often referred to
as key performance indicators, the strategies to achieve them can
be set in one of two main ways. The budgeting process can be:
'top-down' - i.e. set by senior managers and directed
downwards, often based on previous results
bottom-up - i.e. evolving upwards from middle managers,
through the use of detailed analysis, for confirmation by senior
management.

Challenges of effective budgeting

In practice, at Zurich
there are elements of

Suppose sales volume, prices and costs were all projected to rise

both approaches.

annually by 10% (incremental budgeting). This would make

Senior management

budgeting easy, but it is highly unlikely. To increase sales may

undertakes the top-

require price reductions and discounts. Successive rises in sales

down 'ambition

volume might bring economies of scale, but might need

setting'. This gives the

investment to expand production in order to meet that demand.

strategic context.

Senior managers
set strategy
and key
assumptions

Business
Partners

Managers then
Effective budgeting is full of challenges. Whilst financial accounts

consider historical

relate to the past, budgets are about the future. All data is therefore

data, prevailing trends

planned rather than actual, probable rather than definite. Budgets are

and any new drivers

based on a number of assumptions. Some of these are explicit, such

in order to formulate

as what the cost of labour and raw materials will be or what market

proposed budgets.

Middle managers
respond with
detailed
proposals*

Back to senior
managers
to confirm

* For each department

research results indicate about likely customer demand. Others are


more implicit. A change in leadership in the sales team, a good
relationship with a new supplier or changes in the organisation's
external environment could all affect budget projections.

Zurich Business Partners help to ensure 'joined-up budgeting'


between areas of the business:
Revenue centres generate income. They prepare sales budgets.
Cost centres generate expenses. They prepare operating or

Zurich may face unanticipated changes in legal or financial


regulations or a change in market dynamics brought about by
economic factors or the actions of competitors. An insurer needs to

production budgets.
The profit budget draws together all the budgets for revenues
and costs to meet overall financial objectives.

predict the risks its insurance policies protect against, both shortterm risks, such as floods and earthquakes and longer-term risks,

An alternative approach to incremental budgeting is zero-based

such as mortality rates. Budgets also need to reflect the business

budgeting. This means that each expenditure budget starts with a

need to invest in specific projects or long-term improvements.

zero allocation each year. Managers must justify each element of the
budget they propose. This has the advantage of making managers

Budgets may also cause conflict between departments. For

think proactively about what funds they need. It also avoids the

example, the allocation of additional budget to sales and marketing

tendency simply to add a percentage of the previous years budget

could result in operational areas receiving a reduced budget. Within

or assume that expenditure will remain the same. However, one

Zurich, conflict between departments is resolved with the help of

major disadvantage of this approach is the increased demand on

Business Partners. These work with the different departments to

staff time, which is an expensive resource with an opportunity cost.

achieve an appropriate and fair division of the budget, in line with


the business and senior managements objectives.

The first results against budget may show that the business is not
exactly on target. The budget then becomes a dashboard to

Analysing budgeting data may uncover opportunities that would

assess all the factors and make the necessary changes to reach

otherwise have remained hidden. Therefore budgets must be set

goals. Variance analysis is used to identify differences between

using the best information available but have flexibility in order to

budgeted and actual figures. This can be demonstrated using the

respond to the changing business environment.

illustrative expenditure budget for UK Life.


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www.zurich.co.uk

UK Life - new business

UK Lifedashboard
- Expense2012
budget
m to end-June)
Expenses budget
m dashboard 2012
(6 months

FUNCTION

YEAR TO DATE (end April)


Budget

Actual

FULL YEAR OUTLOOK

% budget

Budget

Forecast

% budget

137

134

98

Sales

45

48

107

Propositions

28

33

118

82

100

122

Operations

73

64

88

229

212

93

Finance

20

19

95

60

55

92

IT

40

45

112

123

134

109

Control function
TOTAL

10

80

30

23

77

216

217

101

661

658

99

KEY

Trend

A deviation may be explained by an unforeseen event; it may be


Worse than a 10% adverse variance (i.e. >110% of an
expense budget or <90% of a revenue budget)
Less than 10% adverse variance
Favourable variance
Improving trend

the beginning of a major adverse trend that requires a counterstrategy. Analysing recent trends can act as an early warning
system and may indicate how the business performance will
evolve in the future.

Conclusion

Stable trend
Worsening trend

The Zurich brand is associated with trust and reliability. Quality is


at the heart of its customer appeal. However, it is also about

Results better than or on budget are green and represent no


immediate problem. They may be worth investigation to
understand new practices or to exploit new opportunities. Results

innovation and being an industry leader, both in its operations and


responding quickly to emerging risks and opportunities. This
allows Zurich to deliver what matters when it matters.

that are only mildly outside expectations are 'amber'. These may

The budgeting process is a source of competitive advantage.

need attention particularly if there is a worsening trend. Finally,

Effective budgeting requires careful research and realistic planning

there are the adverse (red) results. Red areas demand immediate

as well as collaboration. It can help to set high objectives or move

investigation and remedial action to bring performance back to

the business into new territory. The level of stretch or challenge in

budget. All results should be investigated based on the level of

a budget will depend on an organisations culture and ambition.

risk each deviation poses to meeting the overall business goals,

Some businesses may be prepared to accept a higher risk profile

but priority should be given to red areas.

for a better return. This in turn will depend on the influence of key
stakeholders, such as shareholders.

Zurich Business Partners assist managers in understanding and


explaining current performance by identifying the root causes of

To ensure the company has the capability to achieve its aims,

any deviations from the budget. They also look forward known

Zurich employs graduates and finance professionals who are

as forecasting to assess how those deviations will affect the

skilled in managing and interpreting budget dashboards.

performance compared to the budget over the remainder of the


period and in the context of overall objectives.
1. Describe the main purpose of a budget. (2 marks)
meet overall financial objectives. (4 marks)
3. Using Zurich as an example, draw up a mind map to
show the internal and external factors affecting the
preparation of budgets. (6 marks)
4. To what extent is budgeting an effective tool for
business management? (8 marks)

Zurich | The benefits of budgeting

Exam-style questions

2. Explain how an organisations profit budget can help it