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Zanoni Selig



CEO & Chairman, WorldWide Group


Zanoni Selig is the founder and CEO of insurance holding WorldWide Group. He was born in New York City in 1961 and graduated with a degree in Economics. He began his professional career while still a student at the Royal Bank of Canada in the Dominican Republic, and after graduation founded Selig & Asociados, an insurance brokerage.

"FTAs do have an impact; however, in our case it is a positive one."

WorldWide Group is a leader in international health insurance with a 70% market share. What factors led the company to attain such a remarkable position in just 15 years?

WorldWide Group specializes in major medical plans, which differ considerably from local insurance. Normally, in the Dominican Republic, the problem is that most market players are major US or European companies that normally sell offshore, with which the local companies lack the critical mass to compete. We have reached this position in 15 years, because we don’t really have local competition, but focus on major medical plans, covering up to $2 million per person. We cater to hundreds of clients in sustaining a business of this kind. I think that our work challenges a paradigm. People have the tendency to think that this kind of insurance is something that has to be bought from major names; however, they have started to realize that WorldWide has the same products and the same kind of service and coverage, which is the underlying reason why we have reached this position. This is something we have achieved in Panama, in the Dominican Republic, and something that we can do in any market.

What impact do the free trade agreements (FTAs) with the US and the EU have on the overall international health insurance sector in the Dominican Republic, and how does WorldWide compete with the international insurers?

FTAs do have an impact; however, in our case it is a positive one. I personally think that the barriers that countries put up in the economy are not good. I am convinced that businesses need to be free and compete with each other. In our case, we may not compete with local companies, but our competitors are large international companies. We sell the same products but at better prices, and people focus on prices. We can compete with mid-sized international companies. I don’t see any problem with that, as I view competition positively.

“FTAs do have an impact; however, in our case it is a positive one.”

How have WorldWide’s regional operations evolved over the past few years, and what have been the company’s milestones of 2014?

We have evolved our business model. WorldWide employs two different methods when entering a market. One is direct, such as in the case of the Dominican Republic and Panama. We have an insurance license, and sell directly through brokers, which is something we are extremely successful at doing. Our other entry method is through reinsurance. In some markets, it is better for us to enter indirectly. An example of this would be Guatemala, which we will enter via this model in January of 2015, working with a Guatemalan company that will sell our products and be reinsured by WorldWide. These are the two different entry methods that we use in order to cover the region.

What is your expansion strategy, and what other countries besides Guatemala is WorldWide planning to enter?

We plan to expand into Costa Rica, which is different from the other countries because it used to have an insurance monopoly for many years and people know little about competitive insurance. In this case, it is a promising market and we will enter it indirectly via reinsuring a Costa Rican company.

What trends do you see in demand for the international health insurance in the Dominican Republic?

The exciting trend is in the health sector, where people are looking for treatment outside the country. Many rich and upper-middle class Dominicans who normally go to the US looking for better treatment; however, there are many lower middle-class people or people that due to their work can’t have private insurance in the US. They are looking for health treatment outside the US in places such as India, Colombia, and Chile. There are many people in the US traveling to India in order to have surgeries. Another interesting change has been the development taking place in the countries we cover. In developing countries, most people think about insurance because they have something to protect and they realize it is important.

What is the importance of the partnership with the German Investment and Development Company (DEG) for company development?

It is truly important for us. WorldWide was founded in 1999, and at that time our partner was a local bank, BHD—a prestigious institution in the Dominican Republic. However, we needed a partner that could go with us throughout the region. DEG was created 50 years ago with the aim of investing in the private sector and in companies that promote the development of emerging markets. We are a company that has to invest part of our reserves in our countries, and we, of course, have competitors that sell offshore. DEG realized that this was an excellent investment in order to help develop the economy of the Dominican Republic and Panama

What is the significance of the agreements signed with companies such as Allianz, Swiss RE, and RDA Insurance in terms of increasing customer confidence?

In order to build up consumer confidence, it is important for us to have the support of major reinsurance companies. That is why we have partnerships with Allianz, the third largest insurance group in the world, and RGA, an US reinsurance company specializing in life and health that is among top-10 insurance companies in the world in terms of life insurance. Such partnerships bring a name and financial strength. These companies, on the other hand, need a partner who knows the region and the product, which is what we know and provide. They have all the financial strength to support this kind of risk, and they rely on us for all of the operations and experience that we have accumulated over the past 15 years. We also have the same type of agreement with Swiss RE in life insurance. We have offered life insurance since 2007; however, I think 2014 has been the year that we really began in the life insurance business. In the past, we didn’t have products that could compete with US companies. In the Dominican Republic, there is a tax on insurance of 16% on each policy. Other companies say that this is the reason why people in the Dominican Republic buy individual life insurance in the companies that sell offshore. For me, that is not true. In El Salvador, the tax is zero, and the same thing happens there. Almost 100% of the individual life policies are bought from offshore companies. The only things we need are products that can compete with them. The mortality of our clients is different, and right now we use a different mortality rate table. We have the same products at cheaper prices than some US companies. We started with this business now, and I have high hopes for it. I think that in the case of life insurance, we can do the same as we did in health insurance. In the case of international health insurance, we can perform much better. Foreign insurance companies look at the region and consider our model. One of the factors differentiating us from other sector players is that we don’t focus on what the others do, but rather, lead the field. In the Dominican Republic, more than 70% of the claims occur in the US. Of these claims, 60% are in Miami, and for that reason we work with a company located in that city, which deals with our claims in the US. In so doing, we provide our clients with the best treatment at the best price.

Looking forward to 2015, what are WorldWide’s main objectives?

I believe that 2015 will be an important year for WorldWide. We are at a turning point because of our new relationship with Allianz and RGA, as well as the new risk premium. It will be the year for expansion. We will do business in Guatemala and Costa Rica. The other target is Ecuador; however, we are still reviewing the business plan for that country, which is an important market. The next targets are Colombia and Peru. Perhaps in 1Q2015 we will begin doing business in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and potentially in 2Q2015 we will launch operation in another countries, directly or indirectly.

© The Business Year – November 2014



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