Companies Scramble to Enter Insurance Market
Advertisements for insurance companies are popping up allover Costa Rica.
Company billboards along San José streets promise security and inexpensive coverage plans, television commercials on local stations promote discounts on policies and trip giveaways, and newspapers are peppered with advertisements encouraging readers to consider the nation’s new insurance options.
Over the last five months the Superintendence of Insurance (SUGESE) has cleared five new international companies to enter the Costa Rican insurance market, bringing the total number of competitors to nine. As soon as they have been approved to compete in the market, most of the companies have immediately launched aggressive promotional efforts.
“Since the beginning of January we have been collecting applications from companies interested in entering the insurance market and, of late, the activity in the market has been very encouraging,” said Javier Cascante, head of SUGESE. “As you can see, companies are actively trying to pursue new customers and get their message out regarding the types of products and services they provide.”
On the home page of the websites of Costa Rica’s daily La Nación and of the business weekly El Financiero, a small rectangular advertisement for the ASSA Insurance Company reads “start a new era.” When you scroll over the ad, small puzzle pieces of a blue lion’s head, the company’s emblem, are assembled and accompanied by the slogan “the new insurer of Costa Rica.” ASSA, a Panamanian company, entered the Costa Rican market in April.
Tuesday, the Spanish insurance company Mapfre took out a full-page advertisement on Page 3 of the business daily La República. The large red advertisement that depicts a twig and rock path transforming into a large bridge reads, “In Costa Rica, now a new option to insure all that you want.”Mapfre, the third leading vendor of insurance policies in Europe, also advertises in La Nación and El Financiero.
In addition to these advertisements by international companies, the National Insurance Institute (INS) has been increasingly more visible in the national media. On national television stations, commercials for INS appear throughout the day, reminding viewers of the national history of the company “since 1924” and that you are “always protected” with an INS insurance plan. In one commercial, INS also promotes a free 8-day trip to Madrid, Spain for two people. The trip will be awarded to a lucky policy-holder who renews between Aug.1, 2010 and Feb. 1, 2011. INS also offers a 5 percent discount to insured customers who renew their policies online, and has recently modified the company logo from a large, bushy tree, to a wider tree with yellow stripes cutting across it.
INS Faces the Competition
The recent surge in insurance advertisements stems from the opening of the national insurance market under the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the U.S. (CAFTA), which went into effect Jan. 1,2009. With the passing of CAFTA, INS, Costa Rica’s primary national insurance provider since 1924, suddenly had to face competition.
“For us, this is like when you go to a soccer championship.You have to prepare yourself before going to the championship,” Guillermo Constenla, president of INS told The Tico Times this week. “We started to prepare ourselves for this in 2006, when the bill passed to open the market. We then started to steer INS in a direction that would allow us to prepare for the arrival of competition. That involved converting many facets of INS, an entity of the State accustomed to being a monopoly, to prepare to be able to compete in a market with other companies.”
In the 20 months since the passing of CAFTA, seven new companies have joined INS and Seguros del Magisterio, a small Costa Rican insurance provider that has been offering policies primarily to educators since 1920, in the national insurance market. Of those seven new companies, six are headquartered outside of Costa Rica, while only one, Aseguradora del Istmo (ADISA), has partial Tico ownership. Early this week, SUGESE cleared the Mexico-based auto insurance provider Quálitas Insurance Company to enter the national market.
“We and INS are the only companies in the market that are100 percent Costa Rican,” said Luis Vega, marketing and sales spokesperson for Seguros del Magisterio, which provides life and family insurance policies. “The others that have entered are not. They are 100 percent capitalist. We are the only ones that are nonprofit, and we think that allows us to be much more flexible and to be able to provide a more personalized service and quality thatthe others can’t match.”
Before the opening of the market, Constenla estimates that INS insured around 80 percent of the national policy owning population, while Vega says Seguros del Magisterio accounted for an additional 186,000 policies for teachers and their families. The small remaining market has been shared by unregistered providers, Constenla said.
While the new international companies, including U.S.companies Pan American Life and American Life Insurance Company (Alico), as well as the Colombian provider Seguros Bolivar, will provide a serious challenge to INS, the company believes that its 86 years providing insurance in Costa Rica will keep customers loyal to the name they’ve grown to trust.
“Although it is very early to make an estimate, (we believe)that INS will continue to be the dominant operator,” Constenla said. “But we know that in order to maintain that position, we will have to continue to alter our policies and the products we offer to clients.”
Although the lion’s share of the insurance market iscontrolled by INS, it certainly won’t keep new competition from doing all theycan to steal a larger piece of the national insurance pie.
In an e-mail to The Tico Times this week, Sergio Ruiz,general manager of ASSA Costa Rica, said the company’s goal is to “position ourselves as the leading insurer in the country’s insurance market.” The other companies have expressed similar aspirations, all hoping that at some future time, it will be their name, and not that of INS, that is synonymous with being Costa Rica’s top insurer.
“We are happy that serious companies have come here to compete,” Constenla said. “These are international companies that are here to bring the market to a new level of excellence for Costa Ricans. The competition will only make the offerings better for the people of this country.”
It will be interesting to see if that positive rhetoric from INS continues during the upcoming years, as new members of the market vie to dethrone the reigning insurance king.
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