JUAN DAVID ESCOBAR

Colombia 2021 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Juan David Escobar, CEO of Seguros SURA, about the Colombian insurance sector, subsidiaries, and the post-pandemic world.

What is your assessment of the state of the insurance sector in Colombia?

This is a well-developed sector with many relevant international companies. Some of the main companies here are among the largest insurance groups in the world with access to reinsurance services at a global level. The best practices in the insurance industry are applied in Colombia. We recently implemented a European regulation on accounting and solvency. This is a fully developed sector with knowledge of developments around the world. In our case, we have developed a trajectory of 75 years that has enabled us to become market leaders because of the conceptual development that we experienced. This company is characterized by its ability to anticipate changes in the industry, which is due to a constant monitoring of the trends and of a detailed review of risks. We have developed strategies on how to remain competitive. During the pandemic, we accelerated our digital transformation process and adopted digital working methods. We also had to develop several protocols to protect the health of our employees and adapt our operative models to the new reality. Because of that growing digital environment, new digital solutions grew rapidly. We recorded growth rates of 40-50% in digital sales and up to 100% in some cases, such as digital leasing.

Your portfolio of products is moving toward digitalization and personalization. How have these innovations performed so far, and how do you expect them to progress?

These innovations have been a milestone for the company. We arrived at these solutions not because of the pandemic, but because of the risk and trend management work that we had done previously. The pandemic enabled us to accelerate the entire process, including the development of solutions and making them available to consumers. We have identified two trends through our 'Plan Elige' which is one of our products. First, the Colombian regulators had realized that it must develop a legal framework that allows insurance companies to innovate. Its focus is on start-ups and large firms. The second is that we have managed to bring about change; insurance for physical things was normally covered under property and casualty (P&C) insurance, while life insurance was only managed by life insurance companies. We were able to develop an insurance product, Plan Elige, that combines both things. We also move toward digitalization by changing big part of our operation to virtual channels (Seguros SURA APP, Whatsapp), especially in terms of telemedicine. Our development of new solutions will continue in the future because we are constantly assessing the market trends and customer needs.

Seguros SURA Colombia has many subsidiaries across Latin America. What advantages does this present to implement the best practices in Colombia?

We have identified several things in the region. We have developed a brand image of a Latin American company for Latin Americans, which is extremely important for us. We are in nine countries, and in each of the countries we promote that Latin American image to help companies understand that we know their needs. This is extremely beneficial to those SMEs interested in the regional market, and for this companies we´ve created a platform called 'Empresas SURA', through which we offer services thought to increase the competitiveness of their business. There is an increase in the number of businesses that have a regional focus, and they want to have presence in Mexico and Colombia, for example. We have started to develop a regional portfolio that responds the company's needs in a Latin American ecosystem. We are developing an image that generates a common language to support businesses in Latin America.

How are you engaging with plans of post-pandemic recovery?

In Colombia, we are extremely relevant in the health market for both voluntary and mandatory insurance. In mandatory, we are the second-most relevant market player, while in voluntary health insurance policies, we are the market leader. Today, we have conversations with the companies that are working to supply the COVID-19 vaccines in Colombia. Our company actually play an important role in the health sector. COVID-19 will eventually pass, so we should use it to improve and capitalize everything that we learned from this pandemic. In that regard, 2021 is an opportunity for us. I would also highlight the importance of the role of the insurance industry for economic development. The insurance industry seeks to provide more certainty through models that mitigate risks. SURA in Colombia provided services to more than 30,000 companies, and our goal is to improve their competitiveness to support their strategic development. In 2020, we made some relevant investments, such as COP990 billion for COVID-19 response and approximately USD22 million on strategic development. This demonstrates how we are supporting the country in its economic development. In 2020, we generated 2,300 new jobs and opened new offices in health and business services, for instance.

How are you planning to increase insurance penetration?

One thing that we have worked heavily on is the understanding of consumer trends. We have studies how consumer trends will continue to change in the entire region. We study the impact of technology, social, and environmental factors on consumers. These trends help us understand our customers better, allowing us to provide better solutions through our product portfolio. We have been working on that area for the last four years. The pandemic has taught us some important things, such as the importance of digital transformation. It was a trend that was taking shape, but the pandemic accelerated it significantly. For example, thanks to this digital transformation, we increased the processing of health authorizations to more than 1,300 per minute.