Sylvie Gleises – Global Head of Distribution, Marketing, Communication AXA Art & Regional CEO Continental Europe

AXA XL Art & Lifestyle insures art works, collectibles and other exclusive valuable objects, ranging from jewellery and classic cars to vacation residences and furnishings. In addition to partnering with museums and institutions, they also provide tailor-made insurance solutions to private clients who enjoy an exclusive, international lifestyle. With more than 50 years’ experience they offer a high-level blend of all-round protection and specialist expertise – backed by a strong global presence and an international network of expert support.

Here we talk to Sylvie Gleises, Head of Revenue Synergies AXA XL, Head Distribution, Marketing, Communication & CEO Continental Europe AXA ART.


Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work at AXA XL Art & Lifestyle?

I graduated from a ESCP-EAP French business school and from LSE, I started my career as a strategy consultant and joined AXA Group in 2006. I held several positions at AXA headquarters, notably in Investor Relations team and as Chief of Staff to Henri de Castries (former Chairman & CEO) and Secretary of the Board of Directors. In 2014, it was time for me to have an operational experience with full P&L responsibility, and I started at AXA ART as CEO for France Benelux Middle East. I have always enjoyed art and culture, I wanted to become a professional pianist myself – AXA ART was a unique opportunity to mix my private and professional universes.


What is your role?

Since I joined, my scope has expanded as I am now CEO for Continental Europe as well as Global Head for Distribution, Marketing, Communication. As CEO my responsibility is to develop our franchise even further, notably through the development of our Private clients segment. The expansion of our product range and of our distribution networks have been key in that respect. As Head of DMC, I ensure that our growth strategy is appropriately supported by an adequate distribution mix as well as marketing & communication strategies.


What advice would you give to someone looking to insure their collection?

The first step is to know exactly what he/she owns and the value of the collection. Notably in contemporary art, values can change quite quickly and it is important to have recent expertise. Secondly, you need to liaise with the right insurer who understands your expectations and will advise you with the product that best suits your needs. Price is not everything; you have to think beyond: quality of service, flexibility, and above all, quality of claims management: this is the ultimate test, where you will confront the insurer with his value proposition: does the insurer have a local presence, the right level of expertise, the right network of restorers & experts, and the overall experience.


Can you talk us through the different types of insurance you provide and what the differences are between that for the individual collector and the gallery? 

We address three types of clients:

  • Institutional: museums, private institutions, … we insure the works of art in temporary exhibitions or permanent collections
  • Commercial: galleries, art dealers, auction houses … where we insure the professional stock.
  • Private clients: we insure them as collectors for their art collection, or we can also insure more globally (Ultra) High Net Worth Individuals (collectors or not) through a high-end Home insurance, covering the building and its content.


For private clients, it is possible to ensure art in “declared value” (you ensure an amount and in case of claim you are expected to prove the ownership and the value of the work) or in “agreed value” where you decide upfront of the detailed list of art works and their values, preventing any discussion if a claim occurs. For all our 3 types of clients, we only provide “all risks” insurance (as opposed to “named perils”) to ensure an adequate coverage.


We recently published an article on the art market predicting it will be “completely transformed” within the next few years, relying on new technologies and turning to digitalisation. It would be interesting to hear your views on this. Do you think the art market can benefit from digital transformation? 

I believe we are probably at the verge of the same transformation as that of the internet. However, as we know, the internet took decades to develop and the “start up” bubble of the early 2000’s proved that transforming the whole sector is painful and does not necessarily benefit all players, no matter their enthusiasm or the money they have. I think the sector will transform but “within the next few years” seems a bit ambitious for me: I think it will take more time, the question for me is really not if digitalisation and new technologies will transform it but when it will happen, and which will be the winning business models of tomorrow. I don’t think the new Google exists yet.

I think the sector can definitely benefit from this transformation, in the sense that it should first push towards more transparency; a revolution for a sector known for its opaqueness and its interpersonal networks, where some happy fews have been navigating for decades if not centuries. More transparency will reshuffle the balance of power and will allow for on the one hand to have more trust, hence more transactions and probably a growth of the total pie; on the other hand, you will have some actors notably intermediaries who will suffer from this higher transparency. The usual B2B2C model will be endangered by an increasing search for direct models.

Secondly, I believe clients could have access to deeper customer experience, through the series of apps and online market places that are developing. Access to information and transparency will drive a better customer experience that will most likely also benefit artists.


You spoke at the Christie’s Art + Tech Summit and more recently at the Deloitte Art & Finance Conference where lots of discussion centred around blockchain. What are the benefits of storing an artworks provenance on blockchain? 

It would create more trust and secure a chain of transaction in an unprecedented way, notably for living artists able to immediately certify their artwork; however I believe in the motto “garbage in garbage out” and blockchain is an enabler, a tool, that still requires human touch: blockchain cannot solve the issue of authenticity for old masters, as input will be provided by human experts … so the provenance could be secured, but if the underling artwork is a fake, blockchain will not solve it.


With new technologies and digital art on the rise are there any new challenges you are facing when insuring artworks?

Technology is definitely changing the face of the insurance market: our whole value chain will be impacted by digitalisation and new technologies, allowing insurers to be more efficient in their underwriting, policy admin, and claims management, to the benefit of the customers. It will also allow insurers to rethink their position within the wider “art” ecosystem: we are very often approached to enter digital partnerships, to sponsor new business models etc… as an important player in this ecosystem.

Concerning digital art, it is an interesting challenge for traditional insurers, as we are no longer confronted with an art work considered as unique and non reproductible, where restoration by experts would take place in case of water damage! It forces us to rethink our underwriting and claims management approaches.