Costa Rica 2017 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Elian Villegas, Executive President of Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS), on becoming a more competitive and stronger company and the need to increase awareness of insurance.

Elian Villegas
Elian Villegas has been CEO of the INS, a public insurance company that has been in business successfully for 92 years, since 2015. For over 18 years, Villegas has worked in the financial industry in numerous capacities both in the public and private sector. Prior to this position at the INS, he served as a legislative counsel from 1988 to 1994 and was involved in the creation and issuance of laws of the Republic. He graduated from the University of Costa Rica with a degree in law and has extensive studies in the field of political science as well.

How would you assess the decision by INS to forego the price war, and how do you protect your profits?

In the insurance business, it is important to make a great profit; however, our main goal is to offer trust and the best services in the market. In the past year, our strategy has been trifold—to improve services, reduce costs, and manage our assets more efficiently—and those changes ultimately have benefited our customers. Even before 2008, when the monopoly was broken, we faced illegal competition. Therefore, we have become a more competitive and stronger insurance company, because of the challenges we knew were coming. We continue to assess the market needs and work on meeting the needs and wants of our customers. Consequently, this quarter we have doubled our profits compared to last year.

Can you tell us more about your investment in public works and other projects in the pipeline?

In 2015, we announced that we would invest USD25 million on a road from San José to San Ramón; however, work on the road has not started. This road has to be built by a trust subscribed by Conavi and the Bank of Costa Rica; they have signed an agreement and we expect them to be ready to start building the road soon. We recently also announced our plans to invest USD35 million on a road to Cartago that will possibly begin in March 2017. Another project is the Mega Firemen Station, which consists of two large buildings that will cost around USD25 million. It is a small project but we are excited to be part of that. These two buildings for the Metropolitan Area have to be ready by 2017.

What steps are necessary to raise national awareness of insurance?

Developing and implementing a financial education is a key strategy for us. We have a plan that involves different targets with educational resources and channels designed according to different customer segments to meet their specific needs and wants. It is imperative to start educating children from a young age. That is why in 2016 we started a project working with schools to educate children and parents about insurance, risks, and the ways they can prevent and manage them. We seek to develop a culture based on learning to identify, prevent, and handle risks and the intrinsic relationship between risks and insurance. This is important because the newer generations will be better protected and will understand and pass their knowledge to future generations.

What do you identify as the main challenge here in Costa Rica?

The first challenge is education, especially for the elderly because they have not received this type of education and information. In other words, some of them do not understand that when they buy insurance they are buying protection for their future. The other important challenge in Costa Rica is health. This is why we are strengthening our Health Services Conglomerate, especially for those sectors of the population that depend on public services. That is key because in doing so we also help the Department of Social Insurance, which is an important institution for everyone in Costa Rica. As the health system in Costa Rica is relevant in terms of social stability, we believe it is extremely imperative for us because we are a public institution and we could have a big impact in our society.