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Panama 2014 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mauricio de la Guardia L., CEO of Compañía Internacional de Seguros, on growth in the health insurance market, diverse products, and corporate accomplishments.

Mauricio de la Guardia L.
BIOGRAPHY
Mauricio de la Guardia L. graduated from Business Administration at the University of Tulsa in the US, and in 2005 started working as Executive Vice-President and General Manager at Compañía Internacional de Seguros, S.A. He has held several important positions over the course of his 29-year career in the insurance sector, in groups such as Internacional de Seguros and various local firms. In addition, he has been a member and served as president of the Board of Directors of the Panamanian Association of Insurers (APADEA) at intervals since 2006, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture (C.C.I.A.P.).

The company provides a wide range of services in both its personal and business lines. What are your most in-demand products and how has your portfolio evolved over the last decade?

We cover property, casualty, bonding, auto, life, and health. We are active in every line of business, and that's why we rank among the top four in every line of business in Panama among 33 companies. We view each line as a profit center, and believe that each plays its own role in the economy. We therefore make sure that every line of business has what it takes to be aggressive in the market, while at the same time being profitable. The largest line of business in Panama has traditionally been auto, which is the case for us, too. However, our health portfolio has, over the past eight years, gone from being our fourth line of business to the second biggest as of last year, just behind auto. We also decided to join forces with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is an umbrella association of independent insurance companies, and created what is called the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Panama. All our health products are now marketed under the name of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Panama. This has given us great public acceptance, not only because Internacional de Seguros is behind it, but also because Internacional de Seguros Blue Cross and Blue Shield cardholders can enter any of the million health service providers in the US and be treated as a local patient, be it in a hospital, clinic, or at a doctor's surgery. So wherever you are in the US, the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield take care of everything, after which we reimburse the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Panama is a country with a very close relationship with the US, and many Panamanians travel there regularly.

How important are reinsurance services for your business activities?

This is a vital part of our business. We're continuously taking risk from all our insurers. So in order for us to survive in the long term, especially where natural disasters are concerned, we cannot retain all the risk. In the event of a massive earthquake or flood, for example, the cost would be prohibitive. Therefore, property insurance companies opt for reinsurance when it comes to catastrophic losses. Our company is big enough to retain our normal day-to-day coverage without the need for reinsurance. We have a $140 million capital base that provides us with enough financial strength to cover our losses. Yet large losses as a result of natural disasters require reinsurance. That's what gives us the stability to be able to survive as a business and take on massive claims, as we had to in Colón in 2013.

How would you describe your financial performance in 2013, and what are your expectations for next year?

Our performance in 2013 was extraordinary, as we broke records not only in sales, but also in profits. We were the first and only company in Central America to write over $200 million worth of direct premiums, and we've been the number one in the Panamanian insurance sector for the past five years, excepting 2013.

You have been at the helm of the company since 2005. What have been your most memorable achievements over the past decade?

We went from being the third largest insurance company in the market to becoming the market leaders. That is the main accomplishment and speaks for itself. That being said, we owe much of that to our excellent team of brokers. Over 95% of sales in Panama are done through brokers. We provide them with all the tools they need, investing much time, effort, and technology, and providing them with the greatest accessibility of any company, with 24/7 web, and increasingly, smartphone access.