The Business Year

Lena A. Bonilla R.

PANAMA - Finance

Business to Do

General Director, AXA Assistance

Bio

Lena Bonilla studied Marketing and completed graduate study in High Management, and obtained an MBA in Marketing and International Commerce. She been working in the insurance industry since 1994, and spent 15 years with Aseguradora Mundial. Over the course of her career in the company she has held positions which included manager of health providers network, sales executive for the health and life strands, and Assistant Vice-President of operations for these departments. In 2009 she joined AXA Assistance Panama and has served as Director of Operations, General Director of the Panama Canal Area Benefit Plan, and Country CEO.

"Panama has seen impressive economic performance, which can only be attractive to prospective entrants."

What are AXA Assistance’s activities and objectives in Panama?

AXA Assistance Panama opened its office in 2006, with a US Federal Plan, namely the Panama Canal Benefit Plan for all retirees of the Canal Zone. We dedicated around five years to this operation, after which we became involved in an important project with the Ministry of Tourism in 2010, when the government launched an insurance plan to cover all tourists visiting the country. We participated in the tender for all operational services, and today tourists coming to Panama are covered for medical assistance and accidental death. In the wake of that project, we introduced our products to the local market. Today, we pursue four lines of business. On the one hand, we have government contracts in tourism and with the Ministry for Health, and on the other we do business with private companies, especially insurance firms. In the latter case, one of the most developed lines of business here is roadside assistance. Another line of business we pursue with select clients is health, which is not only the federal plan but also attends to the individual needs of other clients in this line of business.

What has been your recent financial performance?

In the three years from 2011 to 2013, we increased our revenues by 60%, and we have forecast 30% growth for 2014. We are experiencing rapid growth across all business lines.

“Panama has seen impressive economic performance, which can only be attractive to prospective entrants.”

What client profile do you target?

In Panama at this point, we are focused mainly on corporates, namely B2B. However, within a couple of years we are planning to offer an array of services, not only B2B but also on an individual level such as those offered by AXA Assistance worldwide.

What factors underpin your notable growth of the past three years?

One of our goals when introducing our services to the local market was and is the quality of service we provide. The Panamanian assistance market has mainly matured in terms of the roadside component. Yet the Panamanian people have yet to perceive the great benefits of related services, such as travel assistance, or concierge services, which we will be exploiting much more local market.

How do you evaluate competition in the specific niche in which you work?

In the assistance market in Panama, there are important companies such as AXA, who are the visible providers of related services. For many years, some of these companies have been promoting these services, too, but there is much more to be done. AXA, for one, always looks at how its offers could be further improved.

What challenges will insurance companies face over the coming years?

I think the key will be to nurture the market for a new range of services that make customers’ lives easier and better covered. We need, therefore, to identify niches and look beyond competing with existing products in tried and tested segments. There is still much to be achieved in the assistance business line that people in Europe, for example, already take for granted. In our region, we are focused on mainly one type of service because the market remains limited and immature. This cannot remain the case, and we need to pursue a broader business model.

What economic advantages would you highlight for a prospective entrant to the market?

Panama has seen impressive economic performance, which can only be attractive to prospective entrants. Our decision, at first, was based on a client suggestion, but after coming here we observed considerable potential for business.

What lies ahead for AXA Assistance?

AXA Assistance Panama is working to strengthen it position in the local market. We are definitely interested in expanding our horizon to include areas such as Central America and the Caribbean.

© The Business Year – August 2014

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