AUSTRIA - Hemma Massera, former head of actuarial and benefit consultant Greco, is joining Generali to head a new unit in Austria specialising in occupational pension products.

Generali is hoping to triple its income from occupational pension sales over the next years from currently €50.5m, as a result of this restructuring.

The firm's income from this part of the business grew 26% in 2007, which means it has now doubled since 2001.

Generali officials say they see huge potential for occupational pensions, mainly in the field of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

"Austria is a developing country when it comes to occupational pensions," explained Peter Thirring, head of personal insurance at Generali.

"Approximately only 4% of pension income in Austria comes from occupational pensions, compared to one-third in countries with a longer tradition in this field," he said.

Only 12% of SMEs offer pensions for their employees, so Thirring suggested the main problem was a lack of information and incentives to offer retirement provision.

As a first step, he has urged politicians to raise the tax-free pension contribution threshold from €300 - where it has been for the last 26 years - to at least €800.

Furthermore, he believes there is a need for greater flexibility in the ability to change from a Pensionskasse to an insurance based occupational pension solution, the so-called "betriebliche Kollektivversicherung".

Similar demands were made by Generali's competitor Allianz earlier this month. (See earlier IPE story: Market turbulence harms pensions insurance market)

Alongside pensions insurance products, Generali will also offer advice on Pensionskassen and severance pay funds ("Mitarbeitervorsorgekassen", MVK), as the Bonus MVK is part of the Generali group.

Massera, who will head the new unit, worked in the field of Pensionskassen at various companies before joining Greco in 1993.

Generali will initially target its existing clients with the new pension advice and retirement products, as only 8,000 of the insurance's 100,000 business clients are offering occupational pensions.

According to a recent Generali poll, 40% of Austrians would prefer to have salary raises paid into a pension fund, rather than handed out in cash.

If you have any comments you would like to add to this or any other story, contact Julie Henderson on + 44 (0)20 7261 4602 or email