AGAINST THE GRAIN

Ecuador 2019 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

Insurance companies face an uphill battle in educating customers, remaining true to their calling, and reconciling themselves to slower growth.

Julio Moreno Espinosa Esteban Cadena Naranjo

Where would you position Oriente Seguros in the insurance landscape of the country, and how have your operations advanced in recent years?

JULIO MORENO ESPINOSA Oriente Seguros was the first company to actively have a corporate agenda, not just in individual insurance but also for packaging programs. The starting point was four years ago, and our portfolios have developed even more in the last few years.

ESTEBAN CADENA NARANJO Our company has changed drastically since 2015, a year of consolidation in terms of reformulating the company's management. We sold an automotive portfolio and moved away from individual business lines to doing corporate business. To strengthen this change, we went through an overhaul of our image, offices, and even our staff and corporate governance. We wanted to present ourselves as a renewed company. 2015 was also a critical year for the economy in general, and 2016 was no different; however, we wanted to convey the message that the company was not retreating due to the crisis but reinventing itself to offer an interesting alternative in the insurance market. At that point, we started sales focused on SMEs, considering ourselves capable of satisfying an integral demand of customers under a corporate scheme. This change of direction meant a complete change of the model the company had been using for 15 years. The company was corporatized, as well as the way we make decisions. At first, we slowed down the business dynamics to strengthen ourselves internally and start growing again. Since then, the company has been growing and moved away from the public contracting business line to a private scheme with a more direct search of business and customers.

What regulations would help the insurance industry to develop?

JME Insurance companies can be a central actor in the economy, which is has not been yet in terms of GDP. We were useful for public contractors because we were partners. Over the last few years, we have not had the best environment in which to grow. If we can manage our repositioning well to make some decisions together, the industry will be useful for the economy, and we take a more central role in the economy. We want to go to other markets, especially because the insurance business has a low penetration rate. We have a great opportunity in all types of business, from life insurance to accident insurance.

Do you have a better understanding of how insurance should be useful for both countries and individuals?

ECN Ecuador and many of its industries lived in a bubble before 2015. The insurance market presented double-digit increases, which was unprecedented. There was no need to educate people or look for business. Companies cared little about innovating or serving segments that were not considered. This resulted in regulations being strengthened; however, that system became extremely demanding. The tax pressure on insurers was strong. There were taxes on premiums, remitting money, rent, and contributions to an insurance fund. However, as there were growth and business development without much effort, this pressure did not matter. In 2015, when the crisis hit, the impracticality of that regulation was not considered. Now, we have clients who are worried about the price because they are facing a crisis and have to reduce their budgets for insurance. At this point, insurance companies start thinking about educating and looking for new segments and business. The market grew, but it does not satisfy everyone, and we are unlikely to see the growth of yesteryear.

JME We need to show people how we can be with them. We try to focus on basic products that in a short time can become commodities.

How do you approach innovation, such as with your digital strategy?

ECN We want to be closer to our customers and facilitate interaction. We are developing some projects and tools to alleviate clients' relationship with the insurer, but at this time, the market does not respond well to innovations because clients still want to see the company directly, not merely through technology.