RESCUED FROM THE TOP DOWN

Panama 2018 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Juan Carlos Martinelli, General Manager of Sagicor, on the advantages of the local market, attracting new entrants into the profession, and tapping the vast uninsured population.

Juan Carlos Martinelli
BIOGRAPHY
Juan Carlos Martinelli studied engineering and business administration at Tulane University and has years of experience in the insurance sector, having previously worked in Aseguradora Mundial, Internacional de Seguros, Mutua Católica, and Worldwide Medical Assurance. Since November 2014 he has been the General Manager of Sagicor Panama. From 2015-2016, he was the president of the Kiwanis Club of Panama.

How did the company evolve in Panama, and what is the importance of its market to the group?

Sagicor Panama was established in 1999 and offers life, health, and accidental death business lines. We also manage pension plans for retirement and disability income. Sagicor is an international company that started in 1840 in Barbados, and in October 2018 we will celebrate our 20th anniversary in Panama. Here, the company is focused on the middle market; our biggest selling products are individual and group health. We sell term life and group life products and are looking to have a new universal life product by mid-2018. This is a permanent product, giving savings and protection all the way up to age 120 of the person insured. As long as you pay your premiums, you have coverage and savings. Panama is an important market for the company because the country has political stability, uses the US dollar, and has an advantageous geographical position. Sagicor is present throughout the US and is the leader in the Caribbean. In Panama, we are still a small company compared to local ones, but we are investing a lot to develop a strong technological platform to give excellent service to our clients.

How important is the multinational and business segment to Sagicor?

The corporate segment is important, but we are not only focused on that niche because in Panama there are only about 270,000 individual life policies out of four million people. Considering that many people have more than one individual life policy, this means that not even 270,000 people have bought insurance policies. This makes Panama a great market to sell individual life insurance policies.

How is Sagicor working to increase insurance awareness in Panama?

We are changing our web page and making some structural changes and giving it a face-lift, as it has been the same for the last six years. There is great potential to sell more personal life insurance products given there are more than 3.8 million Panamanians without coverage. People never think about buying life insurance because they feel they are alive and healthy and do not think they need it. But they do understand the need for health insurance once they are married. For example, a complicated birth could cost tens of thousands of dollars. In the Panamanian insurance market, automobile coverage is number one, since it is mandatory, followed by health and life.

What are the main challenges for the insurance market in Panama?

Opening new distribution channels and penetrating the mass market are the two main challenges. Every year less people are interested in selling insurance. Some 10 or 20 years ago you could have people without a diploma selling insurance for you, but now the law requires that they hold a diploma or professional insurance qualification to act as an insurance adviser. Nowadays, not many people are interested in doing this; the youth hardly values a job that has this kind of uncertainty but that may exceed the gratification of a fixed salary. It is often older people who have no other option of finding a good job who end up doing this work. Most young people prefer a regular salary to the uncertainty of working on commission.

What are Sagicor's main goals for 2018?

Our first goal is to improve our products and services, using better software and information systems before launching our full universal life product in Panama. Once we have that in place, we are going to use all the backup services and software from Sagicor in the US to provide a better service to our insurance advisers and clients. It is a competitive product compared to what is currently available in the Panamanian market, and these products are already making a lot of sales for Sagicor in the US.