Do you think that Trinidad and Tobago’s framework is open enough for attracting those foreigners or do you see the need for reforms?
I see need for significant reform. We have been an oil and gas economy for a long time, and the national concept of diversification is in picking a couple of replacement sectors and pouring all our resources into those. I don’t think that works, nor do I think it is relevant. We need to see diversification as being facilitative to business. What is it that hinders business getting done in the country? Bureaucracy, lack of infrastructure, corruption, etc. We have all basic infrastructure in place, but these need to be upgraded for diversification to happen in earnest and for it to persuade foreign investors to make substantial investments into Trinidad and Tobago.
How has the business environment or the finance sector changed?
There has been some positive change in the financial sector. For a long time, this sector operated based on old legislation. A process of upgrading has begun in which the legislation is fairly modern and has a modern view of how financial institutions should be governed.
Do you believe that there is room for growth in your sector?
There is tremendous room for growth. Insurance as a percentage of GDP per capita is very low here, even compared with other developing countries. We see significant room for expansion in the insurance sector. In fact, within Guardian Group we expect a significant increase in revenues and profits notwithstanding difficulties in the economy.
What makes Guardian Group different, what makes it stand out?
We have always run the company according to global best practice in terms of solvency and financial strength. We once had the advertising slogan “as solid as a rock,” which has become a part of Guardian Group’s DNA. In the era where CLICO was dominating the market, we always behaved differently and the market always noted the difference in how we operated. We have also been innovative with products. For example, in the 80s we transformed the insurance landscape with the advent of unit linked products into the market. We currently have 60% of the market share in Trinidad and Tobago, and investments in technology, specifically automation technology, will positively shape our future.
What drives you to innovate and just work on that technology?
Globalism is here, the Trinidad and Tobago market is open to global competitors. The largest retailer in Trinidad and Tobago is probably Amazon. We are an open economy, and at some stage the insurance sector will face challenges from international players. Google already sells insurance in some markets in California, and it’s only a matter of time before net-based players start making inroads in insurance throughout the globe. The future of Guardian Group is not one where we see ourselves as a Trinidad and Tobago player or even a Caribbean player. We are equipping ourselves technologically to be able to compete on a global scale. We are doing that both for defensive and expansionary reasons.
What’s your strategy when providing access to different financial services through different channels?
I always use the analogy of the Apple approach versus that of Microsoft. The Apple approach designed itself around the customer, whereas Microsoft believed that they had discovered the best way to interact with technology and let the customer adapt. Our approach is the former. The customer can choose a means of interaction – voice, paper, electronic kiosk or in person, and we adapt ourselves to the way they choose to interact with us.
What do you think the customer appreciates more when evaluating your services?
Flexibility, and the ability to access services when they want and in the shortest possible time. The world is too fast paced and customers do not wish to take a day to do underwriting, they cannot take a day to do it, and they want to be underwritten efficiently. We are now investing in technology which would allow us to do predictive analytics, this process would enable us based on your profile and lifestyle to begin to underwrite even before the interview.