FUTURE IS NOW

Costa Rica 2017 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alexandra Márquez-Massino, General Manager of CoopeAnde, on changes in strategy, expansion plans, and digitization.

Over the past 50 years, CoopeAnde has worked in different areas but always focused on the educational sector. In the last few years, however, you have diversified your portfolio, and shifted to the public sector. What was the strategy behind this?

After 50 years of business activity during which we focused on the education sector, which is very different to other countries, we decided to diversify our portfolio. We focused on making a difference to the people of Costa Rica, to educate them about the benefits of being part of a cooperative. We wanted to have a greater impact on the socio-economic development of the country. We offer the same benefits to the main relatives of the associated person. We offer social and economic packages that complement each other. We have to be efficient economically to then have an impact on the social arena. We have invested heavily in the digitization of the company. For example, our efforts to innovate in this area have allowed us to create an app for our financial analysts. This also enables us to reach remote areas of the country where we do not have a physical presence. This sets us apart from competition and offers great possibilities to our associates. In the social arena we offer different types of subsidies, for education and health. Our efforts in the last few months have focused on providing support to indebted associations. Additionally, our people are highly qualified professionals that offer some of the best services in their area of specialization, such as finance, psychology, and social work, to name a few. Each of them has helped us deepen relationships with our associates, providing them with developmental tools, and addressing potential issues. Our commitment goes far beyond this and we aim to guarantee the economic solvency of our associates in order for them to meet their needs. This is a relatively new program and has helped us learn a lot. We needed to establish certain access parameters because the interest among associates was huge.

CoopeAnde currently has 23 branches in the country and more than 63,000 associates. What are your expansion plans?

We have more than 63,000 associates at the moment, a figure that will rapidly grow within the next year. In terms of offices, we have different types. For example, we have the “A" offices, which are located in the largest cities of the country's provinces and are the most important markets. Then, we have “B" and “C" offices. These are in smaller cantons and deal with smaller markets. We also have two mobile units that enable us to reach areas where we do not have a physical presence. Our financial consultants are also part of our network. Our partnerships with education centers enable us to have a presence at certain schools during certain periods of the year. When it comes to expansion plans, we are currently focusing on financial consultancy and mobile units. Basically, we put a lot of effort into the mobile type of office in order to expand our geographical coverage in the country. New technologies play a key role in this expansion and that is why we have put that much attention into digitization. For example, one of our mobile units has the ability to offer digital signatures, making it unique in the country. We expect to purchase one more mobile unit in 2017.

What are the main challenges facing the sector at the moment?

The main challenges are related to dynamics that came after the implementation of new regulations in the financial and regulatory industry. In our case, we felt the impact of this new regulation; we expect to close the year with a 17% growth when in the last few years our growth was above 22%.

In terms of total activities, CoopeAnde is third in Costa Rica with a total of COP477.34 million, expecting to close 2016 up by 12% in its credit portfolio. What do you see for 2017?

2017 will be a more complex year for us than 2016. We will see the consolidation of new regulations and that will lead to a certain accommodation among financial institutions. We are committed to our goal of achieving further consolidation in our leading role in the industry.

What are CoopeAnde's main objectives and projects in 2017?

We will continue our digitization process, though our focus will mainly be on the credit scheme, which we want to fully digitize to reduce waiting times. We also put a lot of effort into time and response efficiency within the organization. We want to continue investing in our model to serve people by eliminating physical barriers and making them feel more comfortable in our offices. We are working toward a closer, more transparent, and more tailored approach to our associates. Additionally, we are revising our products and services at the moment in order to continue adapting these to the needs of the market. All in all, we aim to strengthen the social and economic development of families and communities by providing them with the necessary tools for that development. As we said, our work focused on education through scholarships and subsidies, but over the last few years we have tried to diversify our portfolio in order to have a broader impact and continue gaining the trust of our associates.