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While Antoine Denoix is a member of the Comex ofAxa France as Chief Marketing, Digital, Data & Customer Office, his future is darkening.

Doubts, questions, awareness. He is finally beginning a sharp and determined turn in favor of the climate cause.

With the confidence of the Axa board, Antoine Denoix launches Axa Climate in 2019.

But at the beginning, it wasn't just about climate. Above all, it was a project of alternative culture and organization.

Show that a business can function differently:

  • be controlled based on living things and without deterministic logic,
  • allow employees to find their way, to pursue it while respecting collective rules, decided collectively,
  • move away from volume logic and adopt a regenerative approach where the apparent constraint of a decrease in flows is in reality an opportunity.

For RaiseLab, Antoine Denoix looks back on the creation of Axa Climate. He shares his reading of the changes that the climate will cause on businesses, the way in which our relationship with living things must evolve and finally the unique functioning of Axa Climate, where autonomy is the keystone of the organization.

Can you come back to the genesis of Axa Climate?

At the end of 2018, when I joined Axa, I had the feeling that the insurance sector was not very innovative. Then I fell in love with parametric insurance. This innovative insurance where, when there is a disaster (hurricane, flood, drought...), it is not experts who are sent to the field but satellites that analyze the damage. Following these analyses, the insurer quickly pays a pre-defined sum of money. It is a product that is more intended for large companies and governments. Thanks to this speed, we recreate trust between the insured and the insurer.

This new form of insurance was my spark but I had the intuition that I had to continue to pull the thread to secure a mission, a broader reason for being. In particular, I asked myself the question of the purpose of parametric insurance, and I arrived at climate and climate adaptation.

This gave me new life and motivated me to offer Axa a development axis on this subject of climate adaptation, through an autonomous entity.

4 years after its launch, Axa Climate has 200 employees with a good third of scientists, a structure that is not yet profitable due to the investments made but with good traction since we achieved a turnover of several tens of millions in 2022.

Once the mission of the project was determined, how did you identify the different areas of development?

We started by testing knowledge about climate issues. Faced with our questions, there were few answers. Our first instinct for innovation was therefore extra-financial knowledge. Indeed, there was no digital solution that addressed climate knowledge, especially for a large company that wants to train its employees.

Another innovation intuition for Axa Climate was advice. Businesses know today's weather, but not the future climate in a few years. This is where our knowledge as an insurer was decisive, because we put it at the service of the cause in order to make climate projections for 2030 and thus help companies understand the impact on their activities.

The last brick is financing. Because if we manage to properly combine our 3 businesses (insure, train, model risks), we are in a position to de-risk value chains that scare investors. It is in this context that we have, for example, launched a fund with Unilever and Tikehau Capital on land and regenerative agriculture.

On the other hand, we are still too global in our approaches and the impact must be treated finely and locally. I would like our impact to be greater. To do this, we will have to move to a more local logic in order to help the concrete transition, for men and women. Digital technology is good for raising awareness but inexorably, we will move on to face-to-face.

You are an offshoot of a large group, and your offer is also aimed at large groups. What is your vision of this type of public and its relationship to climate change?

Indeed, Axa Climate currently works mainly with investment funds, manufacturers and agri-food companies.

Climate change is a rupture that will generate systemic shocks that will have to be adapted to. Digital technology was the previous breakthrough but finally, it is in the normative vein of a large company because digital technology involves tools, norms, standards, so we can replicate it. In fact, digital technology has done little to shake up big businesses.

With climate change, they will have to solve concrete problems with a local impact, in connection with territories. They must be redivided, changed culturally, put back in the right direction and return to more acceptable sizes and to territorial and cooperative logics.

For example, we work with a school that supports a logistician in road transport. Their equation is complex: how to decarbonize when they have a volume logic in which, the more you drive, the more profitable you are? It is then necessary to change our posture, to reason by the consequence: to consider a world where we drive less as a postulate. Then ask yourself how to generate maximum opportunities and create value while driving less. We then realize that a multitude of ecosystem benefits are emerging: recovery of credits linked to investments by local authorities to maintain roadways, carbon credit, etc.

It is a regenerative logic. By doing less, what do we generate? And climate issues are causing these business model changes that will shake all businesses. We must fundamentally reduce our appetite for volume and the logic of volume in business models. We need to change the way we look at business models to create opportunities for innovation and new businesses.

To win this fight, it is important to show, without falling into caricature, examples of happy sobriety and to create positive imaginaries so as not to depress. We need to slow down, inexorably.

Axa Climate is distinguished in particular by its very specific corporate culture. Could you come back to it?

I have always had the intuition that employees of large groups could easily feel trapped in these big machines, to lack meaning or even sometimes to be unhappy.

The human organization and culture of Axa Climate were designed to liberate employees. There are no constraints or organizational structures and the autonomy of each person is established as an absolute basis.

To make this work, we based our model on that of living beings. We understand by analogy: the cell has a membrane, so does Axa Climate. We are very selective about the ability to adapt of those who join us. Then, my mission is to create the glue between all these people who want to follow their path and this glue is the mission, the values and especially the rituals to guide collective functioning.

We have 8 rituals in place to frame strategic issues such as recruitment, performance or compensation. Because rules are the key to autonomy. With a clear decision-making process, each employee gains legitimacy, responsibility and autonomy.

Our recruitment process is a good illustration of this: there are 4 interviews on 4 different skills, a collegial debate and each individual involved in this process has a no-go right that takes precedence over the decision of the domain leader.

For increases, we also have precise and clear rules. No individual performance, only collective. The increases are based on learning new skills. If the employee grows up as an asset, then he makes the Axa Climate ecosystem grow and that is what we value. These exchanges take place during concrete feedback sessions, with pairs drawn at random.

In these two examples, we can see that it is the ritual that gives authority.

After 4 years of existence, what is your relationship with Axa?

I am very grateful to AXA for making this adventure possible. After 4 years, our priority is for AXA Climate to be able to contribute to the Group in return. It's about finding balance and a way to make an impact and make a difference. In this sense, the compass remains in alignment with purpose. AXA Climate must contribute to the “Act for Human Progress” part of that of the AXA Group, that is my conviction.

Let's end this interview with a few confidences, what was the worst piece of advice you have received during your career?

The worst advice is compliance advice.

Giving a young recruit the advice to follow career plans and developments according to established patterns is almost like encouraging them to move up floors in a building that is in danger of collapsing. Long live the singular, zig-zag routes!

And finally, what failure are you most proud of?

I joined Axa through digital technology. After an initial sense of accomplishment, I went through a more difficult stage, of doubt. I no longer knew where my place was. I am very proud to have overcome this and to have been able to re-launch a positive dynamic with Axa Climate, at the service of a larger cause, which exceeds me and gives me infinite energy.

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