The Business Year

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PANAMA - Economy

Luis Eduardo Ocando B.

Country Managing Partner, Tax | Law Leader - Panama & Market Segment Leader Mexico – Central America, EY

Bio

Luis Eduardo Ocando B. is Country Managing Partner, Tax | Law Leader – Panama & Market Segment Leader Mexico – Central America at EY. He is a member of the expanded executive committee of the Panama, Central America & Dominican Republic firm of EY (EYCA) and member of the EYCA Tax Executive Committee. He is a tax lawyer with more than 35 years of experience in Venezuelan and international taxation and has been recognized by International Tax Review as one of the most renowned tax advisors in Venezuela for seven consecutive years.

"Our purpose at EY of building a better working world has never been clearer—EY is committed to being carbon negative by 2023."

Luis Eduardo Ocando B. talks to TBY about the challenges EY faced during the pandemic, areas of opportunity in the country, and competitive advantages.

What opportunities and challenges did EY face during the pandemic?

Luis Eduardo Ocando B.: I remember that a week before the pandemic was formally announced, our global firm was in the process of the migration from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams. People that never used a computer before to make calls surprisingly were the most engaged. The technological platform we had at that moment worked well and then with Teams we improved many things. In this sense, a great opportunity that the pandemic has left us was to learn that we don’t have to travel necessarily or meet in person. At the  same time, the major challenge we had was that we didn’t go to the office for a long time, but we never stopped operations because, somehow, we were prepared for work away from the office. We grew during the pandemic in terms of revenue and margin mostly for the quality and commitment of people we have. The firm took the decision to reduce people’s salaries in some countries to keep the firm profitable. However, in Panama, Central America, and the Dominican Republic we did not decrease salaries for our people, showing how robust we are financially. Even our head count even increased during the pandemic! Of course, to achieve this, we had to organize ourselves; we put together some committees for finance, talent, business continuity, health, and others. All partners worked together to keep our people in good health with their families. We had been working remotely before the pandemic; employees were allowed to work from home one or two days a week. Therefore, the pandemic has been an opportunity to promote this type of work. Now, we are in the process of returning physically to the office and to have a flexible work environment that is comfortable for our people. With a flexible work environment, we can have our people happy and the important thing is to continue with the delivery of our services with the results we are expecting.

What main areas of opportunity have you identified in Panama?

Luis Eduardo Ocando B.: Besides the difficulties I mentioned above, during the pandemic, Panama demonstrated again that it is the main logistics center in the region because of the Panama Canal, as well as Tocumen Airport. Many of the vaccines warehouses were in Panama and its distribution to other countries was carried out from here. An increased number of cargo planes began coming here once the pandemic started and the Panama Canal operated 24 hours daily while the operation at Tocumen Airport never stopped either; services stopped only for passengers because they weren’t allowed to travel. Almost every day, cargo planes came to Panama from many countries transporting medicine, vaccines, and different kind of products. All this showed that the talent and work of Panamanians is also of great value. On the other hand, the war in Ukraine is really complicated, along with the crisis that’s happening in China, with the banks and also inflation in the US and many other countries. It is speculated that we’re at the beginning of an economic crisis, therefore we need to be prepared to face what’s coming. But the truth is that Panama is a great country that offers a lot of opportunities, especially in logistics and services and this should be enhanced every day.

What is EY’s competitive advantage and why do people choose your services?

Luis Eduardo Ocando B.: We’re one of the global biggest accounting, tax, and consulting firms.. The difference between us and our competitors is that we operate as one single firm in Panama, Central America, and the Dominican Republic. However, we don’t necessarily have all the resources here or in other of the countries I mentioned. The overall difference we have in the market is that if there’s a talent we don’t have here, then we find a talent that can do the work within our region, thus giving added value to our customers. The market says we’re one single premium around the world, but that’s not necessarily true when you share the same profit and loss. We have 300 people sitting in Panama, but we have 1,600 sitting across our Central America region. Regarding sustainability, for example, the problem that the Panama Canal has is saying it’s a water company and not a transportation company. A big part of the Panama Canal is an artificial lake, and the water comes from rain. We don’t have a pipeline going to another place to find the water. The Panama Canal is working hard on sustainability to keep the water source system close and new ones they must find in order for the Panama Canal to continue operating. It offers us many opportunities regarding sustainability. EY exists to build a better world of business, helping to create long-term value for clients, people, and society, and building trust in the capital markets. Through data and technology, EY’s diverse teams, located in more than 150 countries, deliver confidence through auditing and consulting, helping clients grow, transform, and operate. Our teams are what differentiate us in the market, and these are differentiated by their talent and values, as we promote respect for diversity and inclusion globally. Locally, in Panama, we carry out different activities to promote inclusion and diversity, which allows us to stand out in values, what is essential for us.

Can you elaborate on your Better Working World Data Challenge Project and the business model behind it?

Luis Eduardo Ocando B.: Our purpose at EY of building a better working world has never been clearer—EY is committed to being carbon negative by 2023. We’re working on that now. Water, air conditioning, lights, and everything else is set up to meet the sustainability KPI that Panama has. Everything we do relates to sustainability. For example, nobody has an office as unique space; we all sit together in open spaces, and we don’t have or keep working papers—we have migrated almost all of our archiving methodology to digital. We’ve been certified as a Great Place to Work for the last eight years because people are happy to work with us. We’re a very flexible and focused on sustainability firm. We work in different areas to retain our talent and we’re motivated to keep our people happy and that also keeps our clients happy. We are a happy talent firm attending clients that are happy with our services and on-time delivery.

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