Justice with compassion – Marc van Erven, CEO of ARAG the Netherlands
ARAG Nederland celebrated its sixtieth anniversary last April. The Dutch branch of the German family business specializes in legal expenses insurance and legal assistance, where law and compassion go hand in hand. Flevum spoke with CEO Marc van Erven about the innovative approach that ARAG is taking, and what challenges lie ahead for legal aid in the future.
Family business ARAG
Not a day is the same for Marc van Erven, CEO of ARAG Netherlands. With more than 800 employees, the company is part of an international family business, specialized in access to legal advice. ARAG was founded in 1935 by Heinrich Faßbender. “His vision was to give everyone access to justice, regardless of their financial position. We still use that purpose today. As a family business, we are independent and long-term thinkers.”
Innovative and personal
In addition to involvement, a family business also ensures continuity and a long-term vision. This fits in well with Van Erven, who describes himself as a pioneer. Several times the CEO underlines the importance of digitization and data, especially in the field of legal aid. Smart insurance is the future, in which people and technology work together optimally. For example, in collaboration with start-ups, ARAG Nederland developed several apps or online Rechtchecks, which help the customer with just a few clicks.
In all of this, the human dimension remains crucial. Precisely because of the indispensable role of legal certainty, Van Erven sees that some customers do not yet want to go digital for help. ”That’s why we keep asking if a new tool can help us and the customer. Not every customer wants digital help, so offering personal contact is an essential part of our services. We want a lot of digital interaction with the customer, but also keep our phone number on the website. That seems like a small thing, but with many large companies it is almost impossible to get them on the phone. It is therefore really an added value for many customers.’’
With the establishment of the Legal Tech department, ARAG Nederland is also bringing innovation inwards, in order to make even better use of the opportunities in the field. Both the Dutch divison and consumer are progressive in this. “Directors from the other ARAG branches always say: If it is developed in the Netherlands, it will automatically come to us. The Dutch consumer is more open to digital solutions, although we also see very nice products appearing in the Nordics.” It is the great advantage of the international network, where knowledge and products can be passed on quickly and effectively.
Solutions in your pocket
This flexibility and focus on innovation is desperately needed to meet the challenges of the future, according to Van Erven. With Gen Z as the new consumers, the demand for ”solutions in your pocket” is also increasing: fast and one-off solutions that can be handled digitally, by consumers with little budget. This growing diversity in consumers and their behavior requires solutions to acute problems, but also thorough legal knowledge in more complex situations. Although the CEO is fully committed to digitization, he does see that it will still demand a lot from his company.
“The field of vision really needs to be broadened. The legal profession is by nature conservative and has the image of the thick law books. The use of IT and AI can make it more accessible, but our lawyers also have to look through the lens of the digital client. Who are these customers and how do you best help them? All the new regulations are already overburdening the judiciary, and it will only get busier. It is therefore important not to lose sight of the human dimension in this digitization and busyness.”
The social connection is characteristic of ARAG, both between each other and the customers. The focus is on freedom, trust and an open culture. “For us, the employees are the human gold. Without them, we can close the store.” Van Erven also sees this as the development of his own leadership style. Since 1999, 600 employees have been added, and the CEO has gone from control to trust. ”I used to be much more on top of things, checking everything. It is still important that employees keep their promises, but we are now so big that I can never know everything. And that’s fine. I have great employees and we communicate a lot. That’s how you create trust.”
Van Erven has led ARAG Nederland for more than 23 years, with the aim of actually helping people. “Despite our commercial approach, we are really there for people who are in predicament. We often have cases where people are physically affected, and there you can really offer added value.” The company is therefore driven to promote a piece of justice and honesty outside its walls. For example, ARAG is a sponsor of the KNVB Referees. A modest contribution, according to the CEO, but one that is completely in line with the pillars of ARAG: fairness and justice.