FERNANDO SALAZAR

Spain 2021 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fernando Salazar, Chairman and CEO of CESCE, about the company's 50-year anniversary, the effects of COVID-19, and expectations for 2021.

2021 marks CESCE's 50th anniversary. How has CESCE evolved in the last two years?

In June 2021, CESCE will turn 50. We would like to celebrate our 50th anniversary in style, but due to COVID-19, we will be forced to celebrate virtually (but in style, as well). The last two years have gone very well. We have earned the trust of more customers, and we currently have around 11,200 on our books. We have also increased our market share in private insurance by two percentage points. This is the 12th year we have succeeded in obtaining benefits. The level of customer satisfaction is high. In addition, we have launched new insurance products. In our activities as the Export Credit Agency (ECA) of Spain, we have continued to structure complex operations in emerging markets, which is our specialty. COVID-19 has completely changed the rules of the game. We had to transform overnight a traditional company, such as those of the insurance industry, into a digital company with 100% teleworking. We did extremely well, because we bilt this transformation on two pillars: 1) We already had 15% of the staff teleworking part-time, so we had some experience in this field; and 2) we already had a Business Contingency Plan (BCP) to overcome any major contingency that may affect our activity, as dictated by our authorities. We ran a simulation on how to operate in a COVID environment and we resolved the major issues that we found. When the first legislation on urgent economic measures was passed, only three days after the declaration of the state of alarm, CESCE contributed with a EUR 2billion COVID line, divided in two tranches, which is the largest operation that we have ever carried out. We have designed and executed this line under very difficult conditions. To acknowledge our response, our staff has received, together with ICO and COFIDES, an award from the Exporters and Investors Club. And this makes me very proud. We have taken care of our staff during this crisis, and they have been incredibly dedicated to the company and our clients. Our achievements are their achievements.

What is the analysis of the CESCE COVID-19 line, and what are its results, and what was the agreement between CESCE and the Official Credit Institute (ICO)?

The CESCE COVID-19 line was complementary to the ICO line. The ICO COVID-19 line is much larger, by far, with EUR100 billion. Both are targeted to providing liquidity to businesses. However, ICO´s line is broader and ours was focused on exporting companies. With the first line, which was closed in September, we provided EUR1.3 billion in working capital financing. In November, we launched the second line, with which, as of today, we have granted around EUR500 million. But our measures go beyond this line. We are also insuring on behalf of the State short-term export finance operations in developed markets, to make up for possible failures in the private market. We implemented a comprehensive flexibility package to be able to restructure operations that were facing problems due to COVID. We also launched an IT platform so that documentary credits and the COVID-19 line could be contracted entirely online. We launched a revolving line of guarantees for small companies and non-listed companies. These are only examples. A whole battery of measures was introduced. The most important is one that nobody talks about. We did not reduce our risk exposure. We are the ECA, and when others step back, it is our duty to step forward.

How is CESCE's plan to expand in different markets developing?

We have postponed our four-phase plan. The first phase, almost completed, was to strengthen our capacity to control and direct our subsidiaries from Madrid; the second was to exit those subsidiaries where we face serious difficulties, as we did in France and Argentina, and we our about to do in Venezuela; the third and current phase consists of consolidating our presence in those countries where we are already present; and finally, the fourth phase is to expand our business into new places, both physically and digitally. This is crucial, as the new 2021-2024 strategic plan we have approved focuses on digitalization. COVID has dramatically accelerated the digital transformation of the business environment and we desire to be in the forefront of our industry.

CESCE has accelerated its digital transformation by making the leap to IBM's hybrid cloud. What is CESCE's intention in terms of digitalization?

We need credit insurance to become more digital. It is on the way, though it will not be fully digital anytime soon. We have already digitalized the process; now we need to digitalize both marketing and products. Credit insurance relies on updated data. With INFORMA, we have a first-class data supplier that will assure us a lead in this field. But we need to go beyond this. Our customers must be offered the entire menu of products, and they have to be able to compare, chose and contract them by simply clicking on their screens.

What are CESCE's main objectives for 2021?

Our main objective is to continue to provide the best service to our clients, something that sets us apart and is what our customers value the most. We want to offer our clients a customized solution for their needs and a fast, high quality service that is increasingly more digital and comprehensive. And we are also a socially responsible company. The company's entire energy is renewable, 0.7% of our profits finance our corporate social responsibility, for which we have received several awards. We are here to make a difference, not only in business, but in the lives of many people.