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Colombia 2016 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Héctor Martinez, CEO of Willis Colombia, on recent developments, applying its global expertise in Colombia, and the upcoming merger with Towers Watson.

Héctor Martinez
BIOGRAPHY
Héctor Martinez was born in Bogotá. He studied in both Spain and Colombia, graduating with a degree in psychology from Universidad de la Sabana in Bogotá.

How has the business of Willis Colombia evolved over the last five years?

Willis Colombia has changed dramatically in many ways. Willis acquired 100% of the operation in Colombia three years ago, which forced us to change some of the ways that we were doing business. We had an excellent base in the country, but we wanted to bring the best of Willis around the world to Colombia. We have many resources globally; we have centers of excellence for different areas in our head offices in London and New York, and we wanted to bring all the tools and knowledge to Colombia. A new process was started by our current CEO when he joined in January 2013; he wanted to create a broker that was closer to the client and one that was not just transactional—a broker that was more analytical. We changed and hired many people in Colombia, and the senior team in the country has an average of two years tenure in the company.

Will you continue to bring new products into Colombia that are already operational in other countries?

We will bring knowledge, but particularly knowledge tailored to the needs of the local companies. A product offered to a client in New York or in Boston will not be the same as a product offered to a client to Bogotá or in Medellín. Companies here are evolving rapidly, and we have to keep evolving even faster, as we cannot afford to lose pace to those companies that 10 or 15 years ago were medium-sized companies in Colombia but are now present in 20 countries.

How has the implementation of new services and products worked in Colombia?

Implementation has been challenging. It is a system that has been used in several Willis offices around the world, but we were going to be the first office in Latin America and the first office that would launch the system in Spanish. We were working with our IT team in London, the regional IT teams in São Paulo and Mexico, and the developer in London with a developing hub in Singapore. It required a great deal of work both from our partners and ourselves. We have had no problems or issues with the launch of the new system and can see that our employees and colleagues are now seeing the benefits of the new system.

What opportunities will the merger with Towers Watson bring to the company in Latin America?

The opportunity is, as our chairman explained, for our clients, as they are the ones who will benefit from this possible merger. It is an ideal merger because we are complementary companies that do not do the same business. The services it provides and the services that we provide will create a stronger force in the risk management and brokering business.

What industries have the best customers in Colombia?

Our client base is mainly corporate, and we are strong in the food, manufacturing, and energy sectors. We are also strong in utilities and work with some of the largest utilities firms in the country: We are their broker and partner in risk management. We have three separate lines of products; affinity, human capital and benefits, and property and casualty. We are growing in all of them but have had the strongest growth in human capital and benefits in 2015

What factors explain why Colombia has the one lowest level of insurance penetration in Latin America?

These rates are the product of a lack of knowledge and the fact that our culture of insurance is still in its infancy. As risk managers, we see one of the reasons is that the people have other needs before buying insurance. Certain levels of society and large companies are able to buy insurance with no problem, but the middle class and below are under protected because they have other priorities.