JULIANA TOBÓN PEÑA

Colombia 2021 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Juliana Tobón Peña, Country President of Howden Group, about the impact of COVID-19, the company's global reach, and increasing market share in Colombia.

How was Howden and its operations impacted by COVID-19?

It has been a difficult year for all industries and the insurance industry has been no exception. However, despite all the difficulties that have occurred, the insurance industry has maintained strong dynamics. Fortunately, we have not had to reduce our staff. On the contrary, we have needed more support and customer service people because times like this are when the advice of an insurance broker is most valued. Our duty is to understand the needs of people, families, and companies in order to offer them the best advice. Needs are constantly changing in times of a pandemic such as the current one. We have to understand that the most important thing during a pandemic is to be close to customers and communicate our products properly, teaching them what works for them and what coverage is important. The truth is that we have learned many things. I would say that advice in times of crisis is vital and is one of the drivers of insurance brokers. The industry is moving—it is dynamic. In addition, if there was no pandemic, we would still have to be constantly moving because we would have to identify the needs that arise from the situation of the moment. For this reason, we will always be active in all kinds of events.

Looking toward the future, which types of insurance products and services will be needed in the Colombian market, and what long-term trends are you noticing?

In the long term, there will be many changes in products and services. New business models and new coverage will appear. For example, cyber insurance is perhaps the fastest-growing product globally in the insurance industry. In the long term there are changes because, as the needs of people and industries change, then the sector must adapt. It also has to adapt to new communication and marketing channels because there are more people who will need to purchase insurance and companies that will be more vulnerable. It is therefore necessary for insurance brokers to be able to offer a new range of products and services. Additionally, we must be prepared for all changes. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we have to think differently because, when an economy faces a situation like this pandemic, the needs of individuals, families, and companies change. Therefore, all the products and services of the insurance sector are also modified. You need to have an open mind. All products have to adapt to the pandemic, but if there is a different pandemic, then they also have to adapt. What's more, they must adapt to climate change, environmental disasters, and new types of families. The most important thing is that the entire portfolio of products and services that must cover a series of needs have to be adapted. The secret is not about making it faster, but about achieving an optimal fit. Companies that adapt will survive in this and all industries. This is one of Howden's pillars; the ability to adapt its format and be able to face change. It has been an extraordinary challenge for the Colombian insurance industry, but it must also be considered that the Colombian industry is strong and has extraordinary companies. The insurance industry has a large number of companies and a tremendously complete portfolio of products. They are, additionally, financially solid companies regardless of whether they are of local or international origin. All the players in the insurance industry have a huge responsibility in this degree, but mainly the insurance brokers because we have to reach out and communicate.

How can Howden leverage its global reach and technological capacity to strengthen its position in Colombia?

Within its corporate principles, Howden seeks technological tools to adapt to all business practices and specialties. We are a specialized insurance broker and we work a series of industry practices in which each one has a series of highly specialized teams and commercial capabilities. We also seek to innovate in technological tools. Howden looks around the world to differentiate itself from the competition and one of the reasons why it wants to distinguish itself is in the way it works in niches and makes use of technological tools. In Colombia, we are doing the same looking for tools to contribute to corporate segments. For example, for SMEs, which we believe are still neglected in the country by the insurance industry, we are developing a platform that allows them to compare the different insurance companies. Products are typically designed for large corporations, but not for SMEs, thus neglecting the needs of small groups of employees and tighter conditions. These companies, in the event of an accidental or catastrophic event, could suffer irreparable losses and end up exiting the market. We are targeting these types of clients through technological tools. But also, at the individual and family level, there is an enormous challenge to reach them with health, life, and home products. Today, in the wake of the pandemic, people value life and health insurance more. That is why we are targeting them with technologically advanced tools.

As the new head of Howden in Colombia, what are your priorities for 2021?

My wish, since I became the CEO of this operation in 2019, is to be able to enhance the philosophy of reaching customers through extraordinary commercial techniques, because it incorporates all the capabilities of Howden worldwide, but at the same time offers a personalized and unique service. Our goal is for clients to feel that their service is not generalized, but based on specific practices. We are trying to be less bureaucratic. We want to be more modern and think differently. Howden has some important characteristics because the employees are the largest shareholders of the company. This is a particular and positive model because it allows us as employees to think like entrepreneurs and businessmen. My mandate here in Colombia, from the moment I was appointed, aims to transfer all those values that Howden has to the operations carried out by the company in the country. In this way, clients will feel that they have the best talent, the best team, the best service, and the best practices. This way we will increase our participation. Today we are still a medium-sized broker in Colombia and we do want to have a participation larger than our current market share of 4%. Our intention is to grow and be in the top five.