Colombia 2013 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jorge Enrique Uribe M., President of Seguros Bolívar, on the evolution of the insurance sector in Colombia, growth lines, and operations in the region.

Jorge Enrique Uribe
Jorge Enrique Uribe is a Civil Engineer from the National Faculty of Mines and has a Master’s degree in Actuarial Sciences from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He began his professional career at Colseguros and joined Seguros Bolívar as Vice-President of Personal Insurance. He has been President since 1994.

As the Colombian economy grows, there will be increased demand for additional insurance coverage. How would you evaluate the culture and evolution of the local insurance sector?

I think that the demand for insurance is very important in Colombia. There are two kinds of insurance that you can differentiate between: individual insurance and corporate insurance. Corporate insurance depends on the growth of the country; annual growth in the insurance sector can be up to two times the GDP growth rate. However, individual insurance can grow faster depending on the base of the insurance companies. For example, you need to have channels to appropriately reach the population. You cannot grow if you do not have a way to distribute your product. Insurance companies here are developing sales forces and new ways to reach people to offer individual insurance. I think the development of corporate insurance could go well with the growth of the economy.

What are Seguros Bolívar's plans for 2013?

In our case, we know that savings are very important to increase our individual businesses. We are broadening our channels to reach clients in terms of sales force, internet usage, and call centers. We will also focus on being a financial group that has different types of products, such as bancassurance. We sell many insurance policies in Davivienda's offices, and there are about 700 offices all over the country. In those locations we sell life insurance and many other kinds of products, including automobile insurance. I see a very good future for the insurance industry with the environment that we have right now. It is getting better and better for the future because we are sure that Colombia is going to grow as the political model will not change. Change depends on how to spend the budget to help the poor and to eliminate poverty, but for us it is better. As poverty decreases, our customer base will increase in the future.

Seguros Bolívar is an example of success. What has been your growth strategy?

We are conscious that we have to grow; however, we want to grow in a conscious manner. If you go too fast, you can hit a wall. You have to know where your potential is, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then manage them to find the best approach. The first strategy that is very important for us is to have synergy with our companies. There are three companies that are associated with our insurance company: Davivienda, Leasing Bolivar, and our construction company. These sources are very important for our growth. The second thing that is very important for us is technology. Without technology we cannot grow because the transactions have to be very rapid. Client contact and our promise of value have to be accomplished. At the same time, knowledge of our business is very important. We have 3,000 agents and we are always recruiting more. These agents are our ways of communicating our policies, reaching our clients, and presenting our products. We think that differentiation is more important than price. The sales force is one of the main strategies for Seguros Bolívar. We also make great efforts in educating our personnel. In Colombia, we do not have actuarial career education; therefore, we send people to the US to study. Our company has more actuaries than any other in Colombia. We think that the most important thing is not profits; the most important thing for us is humans.

How are your operations in the region evolving and are you looking at new markets?

In Venezuela, the savings rate is very low. Seguros Bolívar is a life insurance company and it is very difficult to find a specialized sales force. Labor conditions in Venezuela are very difficult right now. Ecuador is showing some very good economic results and the standard of living is increasing. In the 12 or 13 years that we have been there, we have been growing well. There is a good environment and they are very good workers. In Ecuador, as in Colombia, people like to work and they like to make a lot of effort. I think there is a market for life insurance there. We are also in Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Salvador, forming a network for serving and penetrating the increasingly important market of Central America.