SMEs in Export: "Learn to get away from traditional business case thinking and start gambling."

Exporting SMEs are experts in the optimization of processes and products. In the face of continuing pressure on margins, increasing competition and the strong franc, there is not much scope for differentiation. In order to take account of digitalization, AXA Winterthur relies primarily on openness and a willingness to integrate new partner models into the existing business model.

Dieter Gosteli, Head of Corporates at Axa Winterthur in conversation at the CEO roundtable.
Dieter Gosteli, Head of Corporates Axa Winterthur: "Openness is crucial."

In the future, success will come to those who adapt quickly to changing customer and market requirements by questioning and, if necessary, adjusting their business models in individual markets – this was the thesis of Switzerland Global Enterprise’s (S-GE) CEO-Roundtable this year. In mid-April 2017, the strategic partners from S-GE (Credit Suisse, Axa Winterthur, Swiss and Asendia) discussed this along with host Daniel Küng, CEO of S-GE.

Digitalization is also a major challenge for the insurance sector. In particular, because this industry is traditionally based on human work. “The automation of processes will sustainably change our business,” predicts Dieter Gosteli, Head of Corporates at AXA Winterthur. How does AXA Winterthur deal with these challenges?

Cooperation partners are integrated into the business model

“Openness is crucial,” stresses Gosteli. To be open means to think outside of the box, to sense trends and to be able to integrate them into the business model with cooperative partners.

“Everything becomes more transparent and dynamic. For us, it is important that we are open to adapt our business model to the needs of the market.”

AXA Winterthur actively seeks cooperation with technology start-ups, maintains its own venture funds and thus keeps on top of developments.

Internal cultural change is necessary

This also requires that the internal corporate culture is prepared for the challenge of digitization. “How do we position ourselves as a company to deal with an agile world? What kind of culture does this require, what kind of staff?” These are the right questions to ask. For Gosteli, it is clear: “It begins internally. Traditional management models are outdated. Self-organizing teams are becoming more important.”

Courage to take more risks

With digitization, new fields are also emerging for the insurance sector, such as cyber risks. “This is a new area that is significant in the context of internationalization and the digitization of our customers. Our mission is ultimately to enable companies to take risks,” says Gosteli. AXA Winterthur thereby also indirectly fosters the innovative strength of Swiss SMEs. “Because we take the risks on behalf of the customer, the burden on them is reduced leaving them more capital to invest.” Above all, Gosteli advises exporting SMEs to have the courage to take more risks. The days in which one could rely on a well-calculated business case are gone. Today it is necessary to bet on two or three different outcomes before you can see what works. “One must learn to get away from traditional business case thinking and start gambling.”

In this video, Dieter Gosteli, Head of Corporates at AXA Winterthur talks about the effects of digitization and automation on the insurance sector.

The individual

Dieter Gosteli, 1959, lic. Oec. HSG spent around 30 years at AXA Winterthur, during which time he held various management positions in entrepreneurial functions. Alongside his experience in controlling, marketing and distribution, Dieter Gosteli also boasts broad technical expertise in P&C business, particularly as head of private client business. He has been in charge of the Corporates division since 2015.

The company

AXA has been rooted in Switzerland for 140 years, and in 2015 achieved a transaction volume of 11 billion francs. As the largest insurer in Switzerland, AXA also offers comprehensive services and specialized consultation for business clients – for which it is trusted by 40% of all Swiss SMEs. Through flexible, industry-specific solutions and an extensive international network, AXA is able to serve its 1.9 million customers.

The strategic partners of S-GE in conversation: Read the interviews with Andreas Gerber (Credit Suisse), Christian Wyss (Swiss) und Marina Bartetzko (Asendia).

Forum for Swiss Foreign Trade 2017 on 18 May 2017, Messe Zurich: Rethinking business models:

Taking place 18 May at Messe Zurich, the Forum for Swiss Foreign Trade by Switzerland Global Enterprise is the rendezvous of the year for Swiss exporters. Here, small and medium-sized businesses find inspiration and practical advice for their international operations: for instance, with the keynote speech by Dr. Christoph Loos, CEO of the Hilti Corporation, on "Tools as a service" or in the small-group executive talks with people like Marcel Pawlicek, CEO of Burckhardt Compression on “Changes in contemporary corporate structures – enabling organizations to meet customer requirements.” The ample breaks and cocktail reception also provide an opportunity to engage with the 600-plus participants and numerous SMEs who are facing similar challenges or have already successfully mastered them. Registration and program at


Dieter Gosteli, Leiter Corporates bei Axa Winterthur


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