What have been the main highlights in terms of accomplishments and challenges for the group?
We recently launched our VM Drive Auto Loan product and VM Unsecured Loan product. These products are part of our commitment to listen to our customers. In 2018, we disbursed loans totaling JMD9.6 billion and held a series of mortgage expos across Jamaica, aimed at educating our members on financial independence through home ownership. These are significant accomplishments and we are carrying this momentum into 2019. Our superior products and an excellent turnaround time is helping us to increase our market share. We are also excited about the IPO for Victoria Mutual Investments that was launched in December 2017; it was highly successful as it was oversubscribed four times. The performance of the company's overseas offices in the UK and the US are extremely positive. Although we don't have an office in Canada, it is another market in North America that has given us good business. Another significant accomplishment is the opening of our representative office in New York in November 2018. We have focused on three important areas. First, the company had a culture refresh in March 2018. Second, we underwent an organizational redesign to drive greater productivity by simplifying the organizational structure in some areas. And third, the company has devised a new digital strategy to establish a strong presence in the digital arena, an objective that falls under its Victoria Mutual strategic goals.
How important is Victoria Mutual's international expansion?
The international market holds great significance for us because the Victoria Building Society (VMBS) was the first Jamaican financial institution to establish overseas offices, in the UK in 1983. The Jamaican diaspora continues to have a huge interest in investing in Jamaica and even though the majority don't intend to move back, they want to own a piece of real estate for investment or holidaying. Over the years, the number of mortgage applications from the diaspora have increased and that is an encouraging sign. The representative offices help the company to establish and strengthen relationships. This strategy has worked for us through our offices in the UK and Florida, and we will use the same method in our New York office.
How has your support for small- and medium-sized enterprises helped to change the profile of your client base?
Recently, we established a presence in the construction sector by offering commercial mortgages with terms that are better than those offered by commercial banks. Believing in talent is one of our core principles and that is why we help SMEs through our pension fund management. In order to drive stronger growth in the SME sector, several businesses have been taken to the capital market by Victoria Mutual Wealth Management, a subsidiary of Victoria Mutual Investments Limited. Through collective efforts of all our subsidiaries, we are, in fact, helping Jamaican SMEs to grow and achieve new heights.
How is the company's direction toward digitalization helping people understand the services and products on offer?
A digital transformation is vital to increase Victoria Mutual's relevance and remove the barriers between its international offices. Our focus on digitalization has enabled us to provide high-quality service delivery to our clients. Our Board of Directors recently approved a digital transformation strategy that will revolutionize the way we do business. As our strategy unfolds, our members and clients will experience increased ease of doing business, as well as innovative products and services. Our primary goal is to give our customers an exceptional experience.
What are your goals and challenges for 2019?
One of our primary areas of focus is to generate stronger revenue growth through new products and targeting new market segments. Jamaica's economy is not achieving the desired levels of growth and we can help by opening doors to greater financial opportunities. Meanwhile, it is important to improve our efficiency and we are putting emphasis on shifting our transactions to digital channels to boost productivity.