Rolf-Dieter Krahmer: Colombia is a land of many contrasts, which has recently experienced a period of radical and positive change. After decades of civil war, President Juan Manuel Santos, in office since 2010, approached the FARC guerilla movement and initiated a peace process. That has had a positive impact on the economy, so much that today Colombia is one of Latin America’s leading growth regions, alongside Chile and Peru. Improving the infrastructure is a particular area of focus, expenditure for which is scheduled to triple in the next five years. New roads and airports are being built, and we are seeing increasing unity within the country.
Bogotá is the fourth international Munich Re office you have worked at. What do you like most about working here?
There is no mistaking the fact that the country is shedding its negative image, and this process is opening up entirely new opportunities. Supporting this kind of change is one of the most exciting responsibilities I’ve ever had. The people are looking ahead and want to actively shape the future. The country’s many, well-trained, skilled young employees are one of its major strengths, and an advantage both for us and many other international companies. Incidentally, Colombia is much more innovative than you might think. Many large companies here invest in innovation managers, and Medellín was voted the world’s most innovative city in 2013.
To what extent are these improved conditions evident for business on the insurance market?
Colombia has a comparatively young population; insurance penetration is still low. The growing economy has been accompanied by diminishing unemployment; the middle class is firmly established. These developments have resulted in a range of opportunities for the insurance industry, which has grown faster than the overall domestic economy. This is especially true in life, health and personal accident and in motor insurance. What’s more, the country has seen a rising concentration of values, which is reflected in higher demand for catastrophe covers. Expansion of the transport infrastructure has also created an interesting market for insurance companies. The numerous tunnel and bridge projects, made necessary by the country’s topography, require reinsurers to have not only financial strength but also high-level expertise. Lastly, the life insurance segment offers good opportunities because the problem of low interest rates is not as pronounced as it is, for example, in Europe.
What is the business environment like for the insurance industry in Colombia today?
Because of the country’s positive economic development, many global players in the primary insurance and reinsurance segments are sitting up and taking notice of the Colombian market, and competition has intensified considerably as a result. They have invested in local companies and expanded their activities. A number of new businesses have been established, causing a shift in the market. Munich Re benefits from being the first reinsurer to have opened an office in Colombia 35 years ago, and having been active locally ever since. This continuous presence has fostered a great level of trust.
We had 18 employees when I started and now have 26 people from seven different countries. We have transformed ourselves from a local to a regional office, serving as a hub that is also responsible for other parts of Latin America. Over the past few years, we have also expanded our services, for instance in the areas of engineering, loss control and marine insurance. We have increasingly evolved into a successful solution provider, collaborating with clients to develop customised solutions. Over the last yearand-a-half, we have also implemented a number of innovative projects. Together with our clients, we track down new trends and develop strategies for successfully exploiting them.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
In the financial sector, for instance, we have collaborated with local companies to draw up measures for capital relief through reinsurance. We also set up a new sales channel with a local primary insurer. It is an internet platform that now enables potential clients to simply and easily conclude motor or life, health and personal accident insurance policies. In terms of infrastructure, we created a new engineering policy to provide even better cover for complex projects. We also act in the market as an expert and first mover in the cyber risks segment, in which we are already generating business.
The office in Bogotá also serves as a hub for Latin America. What are the advantages of this solution?
Munich Re has one life and five non-life offices in Latin America. Two years ago, a decision was made to position Bogotá as a hub. Being responsible for a larger region has given us greater independence, and we are now able to focus even more on our clients and their needs. Communicating in the same language and in the same time zone accelerates business processes. We now have more far-reaching underwriting authority, meaning that capacity enquiries relating to facultative business that go above and beyond the sphere of responsibility of the local organisations no longer have to go through Munich. In addition, we have significantly expanded our non-life business, and not only in reference to claims processing. We act more as a service provider, which collaborates with clients in identifying solutions for reducing loss ratios, improving underwriting policies and learning from loss experiences.
Is the hub unique to Latin America?
No, there are other examples in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong). Munich Re’s policy is: Think global, act local. As we operate such a large number of international offices, we cannot base all services in every single country, only in the strongest markets. This is where we concentrate underwriting competence and services, and then disseminate these services to the regions. It is also a question of critical mass in the individual offices. The local teams pool their expertise and offer extensive services, ensuring in the process that clients get added value. Even though we do not have a physical presence in all locations, we can communicate at any time via new media. While we used to be restricted almost exclusively to traditional business, our focus has increasingly shifted to project work, where we develop innovative projects and tailored solutions together with clients.
Where do you see the international office in Bogotá a few years down the road?
We are heading in the right direction. We are currently working on having more expertise available at our hub so that we can better support our clients and get them in good shape for the future. What is most important to me is that we, as an international office, act as “one team”, and are capable of channelling all of Munich Re’s competence. My goal is to support our clients as a competent and proactive solution provider, for our shared success.