Sura México's accelerator program a model for innovation

Friday, March 23, 2018

As deputy director for innovation at Sura Asset Management México (Sura AM México), Nadia Ornelas oversaw the launch of the firm's first tech acceleration program (Programa de Aceleración SURA) in collaboration with BlueBox Ventures, a four-month program from which six firms emerged in February to launch pilot collaboration projects: Finerio (México), 2Biz (Chile), Briq (México), Finklu (Chile), Sirena (Argentina) and Zaveapp (México). Sura AM also selected Sirena for its top 300,0000-peso (US$16,000) prize that includes a partnership to bring their technology to the benefit of the insurer's 7mn clients.

The program reflects the insurance industry's drive to build partnerships and integrate cutting edge technology through the budding insurtech industry.

BNamericas: How did Sura roll out its accelerator program?

Ornelas: Sura formally embarked on this innovation program in 2016, and we have since developed an innovation strategy built on two lines. One of these is our open innovation track [where we] begin collaboration with new players such as fintechs and startups.

We launched our experimental culture program in 2016 and the first half of 2017. It included just starting to talk to our collaborators about what was out there, to start bringing in speakers from the world of innovation, entrepreneurship. Our collaborators began to know what is out there, what fintechs, how they are managed, how they are being generated, how they work, what they are made of, what topics they are including, and so on. So, once our collaborators had an understanding of this topic, we launched our acceleration program in June 2017.

BNamericas: What was Sura's goal with these programs?

Ornelas: Our goal was to formally collaborate with the startup ecosystem in a way that was very responsible and very valuable to startups given that we know there are a number of accelerator programs out there.

We wanted to select startups that already had some sort of tangible value, because our accelerator program consisted of giving them a formal framework where we could prove their project's value with our real users. It also allowed Sura to measure the interest that our users had in new solutions that were much more innovative, focused on their needs, and could enrich the value of our products.

What I wanted was to measure our capacity to integrate, to start making alliances with new players. Obviously, we encountered challenges that not even the startups could have predicted until the product is put to the test with real clients. They told us that it was a very valuable learning experience, because it allowed them to learn in an experimental way, to hear from our clients about what value they think their products have. The startups were happy how we were learning together.

BNamericas: What did you offer startups in the competition?

Ornelas: We gave six awards of 100,000 pesos (US$5,300), plus 300,000 peso to the winning project [Sirena, whose technology is designed to improve sales through tech enhanced vendor-buyer contact.] Also, each of the 16 finalists was assigned what we call a "Sura Partner," a key person in the company, who accompanied [and mentored] them through the process.

And even though there was only one winner, most of the startups are already looking with their Sura Partner at the real possibility of collaborating. For me, that is a major success. And obviously the startups are more than happy to continue collaborating with us regardless of whether the acceleration program has ended for them.

BNamericas: What areas do you see potentially benefitting through innovation?

Ornelas: We have a program in Sura for voluntary savings. Voluntary savings is a really huge challenge we have as a company, where we are looking for new solutions that allow our users to make savings in a fun way, for new tools to make savings pain free, because we know that most people want to spend, especially segments like the millennials that think of a future as the next one to three years and do not think about retirement, do not think about saving.

This effort to get people to save voluntarily is not just happening in Mexico but across Latin America. This not only has an impact on the company but also on future clients. Today [in Mexico] voluntary savings are not factoring in replacement rates, and with only the obligatory contributions, the rate is only around 30% of worker's pre-retirement salary. With this, you won't be able to cover much of anything.

We are exploring alternative methods, technologies to massively distribute the value of our products. Our traditional model is almost always 1-on-1 advising of our clients, but we want to start reaching the bulk of the population. Another area is searching new channels and technologies that allow us to attract new users more efficiently or to serve the current users more efficiently. Such is the case of our winner Sirena, which is promising us a more efficient relationship with our users, taking leads generated in the company to a digital platform almost immediately.

BNamericas: What other approaches is Sura AM looking to explore to expand the market?

Ornelas: The latest business vertical launched within the competition was with financial education projects, not only focusing on insurance awareness, but also looking at how you are spending your money, how to help you manage your finances better.

With developing personal finance tools, which have become so critical, we have one pilot Finerio, which looks to challenge users to become familiar with tools to manage finances and be able to visualize how they are spending, categorized intelligently by food, transportation, entertainment. It's all about identifying what issues you can take action on with your spending.

About Nadia Ornelas

Currently deputy director of innovation at SURA México, Nadia Ornelas has a business relations degree from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), a Masters in Finance from National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and a certificate in innovation methodology to creative problem-solving from the International Center for Studies in Creativity of Buffalo State. She has also participated in initiatives such as iLab that support social entrepreneurship.

About the company

SURA Asset Management is a Latin American company with operations in pensions, savings and investment in Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and El Salvador. It is a subsidiary of Grupo SURA. Minor stake shareholders include: Grupo Bolívar, Bancolombia and Grupo Wiese. As of September 2017, SURA Asset Management held a total of US$132bn in managed assets and had 19.1mn customers.

SURA AM México operates Afore SURA, Pensiones SURA and SURA Investment Management. At the end of 3Q17, it managed a total of around US$30bn in assets, with just over 2,900 employees and 7.4mn customers.