I spent three unforgettable years in Latin America in the early part of my career, in the late Seventies. At that time, Latin America was considered something of a lost child among the emerging markets. Torn by political strife, galloping inflation, crime, corruption and increasing rifts between rich and poor, it had turned into an investor’s nightmare. Despite its rich resources, and many other advantages, corporate and financial players turned their attention to other parts of the world, and Latin America suffered.
What I always admired, however, was the people’s ability to bounce back. The prevailing sentiment could be summed up as: “Tomorrow will surely be better than today, and today is certainly better than yesterday.” This faith, along with many conscious initiatives by politicians and other stakeholders to address the challenges head on, is to my great delight again transforming Latin America into a place of opportunity.
Swiss Re has been active in Latin America for more than 100 years. That is two thirds of the time that our company has existed. You might ask what difference a reinsurer can make to the resilience of a continent. We strongly believe in assessing the risk landscape and putting measures in place before disaster strikes. This helps to protect lives and property, and to strengthen the ability to bounce back financially. This is just as true whether the beneficiary is the government, a large company or a micro-entrepreneur.
In fact, insurance and sound risk management can serve as a powerful catalyst for change, offering a first step out of poverty to those who don’t yet have access to mainstream financial instruments. The transition from poverty to building the new middle classes in Latin America is already under way. We believe that concerted risk management can speed up that process.
Swiss Re is working with a broad spectrum of stakeholders across Latin America, from our traditional partners within the insurance industry and large corporations, to small community representatives (farmers and women running small businesses), NGOs and government leaders. During the World Economic Forum meeting in Lima, we hope to learn more, and share insights and experiences from some of our more pioneering projects in the region. As has been noted many times before, it’s in the meeting of minds, and pooling of resources, that we begin to make a difference.
Author: Michel M. Liès is Group Chief Executive Officer of Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd and Co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2013
Image: A welder works on a construction site in Ciudad Juarez REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez