Interview: One Year Into Role, Leonardo Garzon Is Leading McLarens With A Technology Forward Approach In Latin America
After a year on the job, Finance Colombia Executive Editor sat down for a talk with Leo Garzón, McLarens’ managing director for Latin America, including the Caribbean, to discuss the international insurance firm’s operations and footprint in the region.
Garzón’s own background spans 25 years of experience in forensic engineering, construction vulnerabilities, and pre-loss and post-loss consulting. His experience in the provision of risk and loss adjusting services includes advising on high value disputes within the energy, oil, transportation, commercial and residential property sectors, and advising on high value disputes within the energy, oil, transportation, commercial and residential property sectors.
The two also discuss some innovative things that Garzon’s team is doing with drone technology applied to insurance and risk management applications.
Finance Colombia: Tell me about McLarens’ presence in the region, in Latin America and the Caribbean?
Garzón: In the Caribbean we own operations in Jamaica and Puerto Rico; in Latin America we are in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, and we have some exclusive partners in Peru, Ecuador, and Guatemala, so yes, we have a very good footprint, a, pretty good presence throughout Latam and the Caribbean.
Finance Colombia: So you’re from Colombia, right?
Garzón: Yes, correct. I was born in Colombia, and I moved to New York in 1997, and I’ve been in the US since then actually, but traveling to Latin America very often due to work and family, but yes, I’m originally from Colombia.
Finance Colombia: How did you end up connecting with McLarens?
Garzón: Well, I am a structural engineer by education, a structural civil engineer. So for many years I worked as a structural engineer on the forensic end, doing investigation in collapses and looking at the nature of failures. So, navigating the forensic world, I found McLarens as my client.
I used to work with all the adjusting firms that operate in the US and in the region and McLarens was one of them, and I have to say not because I work for them now, but McLarens gave me a lot of support on some really interesting losses in Chile after the earthquake, in Colombia and in Brazil, so I was always very close to McLarens. When the opportunity came to replace the previous regional manager, I got a chance and I’m very happy to be connected that way with them.
Finance Colombia: You mentioned working on things like failure analysis and adjusting claims, Colombia is a fascinating country, we’ve seen big projects like there was the bridge collapse between Bogota and Villavicencio, the Chirajara bridge I think. Obviously we have the big Hidroituango situation right now, so I think that there are some unique things…Colombia being in some ways an advanced nation, it is part of OECD now, there are some tremendous projects going on down here like the 4G highway project, some of the tunnels are impressive, the tunnel that goes between the airport and outside of Medellin is a new project that’s open, I think they’re about to open up the second shaft that they built because the traffic is already so big.
What are some of the risk areas where Colombia stands out? It’s especially challenging when it comes to insuring some of these mega projects that we’re seeing down here due to the economic growth, but then the mega project can also create mega risk, right?
Garzón: A very good question; so Colombia is located right in the middle of Latin America. You have towards the left Central America, and you have towards the right and down below, the rest of South America, so in Colombia, you have this formation of the Andes, the Andes that starts down in Argentina, Chile and in Colombia and the three branches of the Andes mountains are pretty significant, pretty high and they actually offer pretty significant challenges to the development of the country.
Most of the country, most of the Colombian territory has to cross these three branches of the Andes together here to the Pacific or to the Caribbean coasts, so most of the cities are located on either side of these chains of mountains and the geological challenges and topographical challenges have been for more than 100 years very significant I guess, a roadblock to communicate every area of the country in terms of commerce and transportation and population and all that.
So, building roads between to connect all the major networks of production within Colombia, you have to cross these tremendous mountain chains. For that, there is only one way: You have to build bridges and tunnels and roads. Not only is there the topographic nature of the challenges, but also geological. We have rain, we have earthquakes we have volcanic activity in the region, so if you combine all these challenges…you mentioned a few of the tunnels and bridges that are very challenging to build in the country. I think over the recent years for Colombia, to try to move our country forward we have to move products across the region and you have to build these tremendous projects, and you know, engineering is very advanced in Colombia I would say, but even for international companies coming to Colombia to build this actual work of art, it’s a tremendous challenge that has to be at some point reinsured by reinsurance companies, otherwise it cannot be built.
Finance Colombia: Right, that whole concept of when you have large projects, the idea of being able to spread the risk around I think is fundamental. It’s very common to see insurance syndications. I think with the Hidroituango project we have Mapfre and Sura and other different companies involved. Speaking of that let’s talk about McLarens’ presence, specifically in Colombia and then in the region. I mean Colombia is a fascinating country because you have mountains and then you have two oceans, you have jungle, you have cold areas. What is McLarens’ sweet spot? What kind of risk does McLarens focus on? Different insurance companies often have kind of a sweet spot where some companies focus on maritime risk, other companies look at liability, other companies look at property and casualty. What is, to use an insurance term, the risk appetite of McLarens? I mean when should someone reach out to McLarens, where you might be able to really provide them with what they need?
Garzón: For many years, traditionally we have served the property line of business, which is buildings and any asset that is pretty much operational, you can think of a bridge, of a power plant as something that is built and is up working, running. So, as I said, a lot of these risks, you can think of a factory for instance, they are pretty much prone to having fires or floods due to rains or any other type of losses of that nature, so we have operated in the arena for a long time.
We look at a lot of equipment, if you can think of all the construction happening throughout the country, you have heavy machinery, every time more complex, big pieces of equipment moving around, so from time to time either by operational or you know, man-made errors or natural landslides or things like that, we have losses in that area as well. We have marine and cargo; we have an office in Barranquilla right now on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. You mentioned that we have two oceans, we have two big areas and several ports on the Caribbean side and one big one on the pacific side, so we serve the marine industry and also, we have marine losses due to cargo arriving to the port here that is damaged or these things that are being transported between the port and the interior part of Colombia.
Because of the nature of the work that I’ve been doing for almost 25 years in construction and engineering, I’m pushing the lines of construction and having interesting meetings with some clients in the last couple of months about our expertise in construction. We have worked on construction losses and I’m very interested in growing that line of business as well because we have a tremendous expertise, global expertise, a lot of our insurance clients are located here, and in Madrid, London, in the US, and I see that they’re reinsuring major construction projects so we have the expertise, the technology and they know how to really help our clients: the insurance companies and also the insurers to bring them back to business as soon as possible. But also, we are developing new lines of businesses like for instance cyber. You know, we are penetrating the market on cyber risk, you know, it is today’s new risk. I guess, not only in Latin America but all over the world, we hear about hacking and data breaches and things like that, so we have a wide range of traditional lines of businesses like property and marine, but also we are penetrating some more as I said, construction, financial lines and cyber, and not only the local expertise but also we partner with our international team of adjusters located in the US and in London that help us manage these claims that are more complex and very useful to the local market. So we have a good spread, the type of businesses that we can take care of for our clients.
Finance Colombia: Is there anything that I’ve neglected to ask you, that you wanted to mention, to include?
Garzón: I worked for some of the most sophisticated engineering companies in the past, so something that I’m bringing to McLarens is they use a lot of technology to adjust claims. For instance, we are using a lot of 3D modeling of claims, the claims that we see in the region are very complex, very hard to understand. You have to see that not all the parties that interact during the management of a claim are technical people, so it’s very nice when you have a picture that you can reproduce, you can imagine like a 3D model of a complex bridge, or a complex network of tunnels that you can actually represent that and show that to the clients to help them understand what actually happened during the loss.
That helped us a lot when making big investments in technology and the 3D modeling technology is something that I’ve been working for maybe the last 15 years in the design world and now we’re using some of that to help our clients make things easier to understand and speed up the resolution of a claim so the clients can be paid sooner rather than later and that everyone is satisfied at the end of the day because they understood what actually happened, so I think we have a big investment on that.
I think during the pandemic also it was very important to be able to perform and conduct remote inspections to have somebody else going to the site without me, from Miami or somebody from the UK, or somebody from Madrid going to the site. We were able to monitor claims remotely, drive through the site and use tools like Matterport, for instance, that we’re using today, Matterport is a tool that pretty much scans your loss and you’re able to send that to the client, so the client can walk through the loss as if you were there, so things like that are able to be more efficient, to navigate through the losses faster, help the clients and, not only the insured clients, but also the insured seeing what actually happened without having to go there. It’s a big step from having to speak these still pictures or drawings, especially with the claims that we see every day that are more complex in nature.
Finance Colombia: How do you spell that tool? so that I make sure that I…
Garzón: So Matterport…and also we use Revit tools. It’s a drafting tool that is used in the design of the most complex jobs throughout the world, we use Revit for claims. And something that is pretty unique to McLarens: I’ve seen all our competitors and I can say that we know how to use it and we are ahead of everybody else on implementing that technology.