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I am an Agricultural Financial Sector Specialist working in International Development & Cooperation as an Integrated Expert for the "Centre for International Migration and Development" (CIM) and the "World Agroforestry Centre" (ICRAF).
Here below you can see my professional path since 1996.
I hope you like the description I make of my career and hope to see you soon, somewhere in the World.
1996: EARLY STARTS
I studied Agricultural Engineering (Master's) at the UTAD (Vila Real, Portugal). The UTAD is the major agriculture-related studies University in Portugal, deep in the heart of the Port wine region.
To finalize my agriculture studies I did my thesis on a typical but very difficult to control (for best results) Port Wine grape variety, the Touriga Nacional. The excellency of this grape variety in terms of color and overall balance and richness of compounds makes it ever more used for high-quality table wines, both in the Douro and the Dão regions. It gives wines a deep, typical blueish red color and helps them to preserve their characteristics for consumption, long after harvest and vinification.
My professional activity started even before I finished college. In 1996 I started an almost year-length (714h) Agricultural Characterization (Enquadramento Regional) professional training course that complemented my Master's as it gave me a very hands-on experience and useful skills to get into the job market right after leaving college. The syllabus comprised studies about the Associative and Cooperative farmers' movements, the EU Common Agricultural Policy, Marketing, IT skills and a Trainer of Trainers module to become a Certified Trainer.
To finalize the course we had a 308 hours internship in an institution related to the agricultural arena in Portugal. I was accepted to do my internship at the Agriculture Chamber (CAN-Câmara de Agricultura do Norte), a recently founded and totally new type of associative organization that was trying to emulate the French model of Chambres d' Agriculture. It was a 5th level organization because it had, as associates, a number of Cooperatives, Associations, and their Unions, Federations, and Confederations representing Portuguese agriculture (Wine, Dairy, agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seeds and lobbying associations) that would defend and promote Portuguese farmer's interests (from the North region of the Portuguese continental territory usually characterized by smallholder farms) before the government and other authorities, national and international. Ultimately, as a symbol of a very much desired decentralization of services and competencies in the agricultural sphere, this organization aimed at being a precursor of other similar organizations in the other regions of Portugal (Center, South of the continental territory and the Atlantic islands of Azores and Madeira).
My internship consisted of organizing an Agricultural Fair at the International Fair of Porto (EXPONOR) called RURAL SHOW. After my internship, the Agricultural Chamber hired me for a two-tier role on its two Departments: Marketing and Support to the Associate and the Professional Training Department. For the latter purpose, I had to complement my certification on "Coordination of Training Courses" certifying me to be able to organize and coordinate professional training courses and to be homologated as a trainer on the following subjects sanctioned by the Portuguese Ministry of Work: ASSOCIATIVISM, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CHARACTERIZATION, TRADING OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS, COMMON AGRICULTURAL POLICY (EU CAP).
In my role at the Marketing Department, amongst other activities, I ended up organizing two more RURAL SHOW fairs (in 1998 and 1999). We need to consider that these were "not for professionals" fairs (fairs are usually divided in general public/not for professionals and professional industry fairs) which relied a lot on the presence of not for profit institutions, usually associations and cooperative like institutions. It is way more difficult to convince participants to pay an exhibition area fee (a price for m2) in such a fair than on a professional fair. The success of a fair (for its organizer) relies on its number of visitors and exhibition area which, as a consequence generate revenue. From 1997 to 1999 we managed to increase the number of visitors from 4.000 to 10.000 (2,5 times) and increase the paid surface area by 233%, from 1,500m2 to 3,500m2.
Still, within my activity in the Marketing Department, I participated in the organization of two editions (1999 and 2000) of a highly mediatic and successful International Wine context (Oporto's International Wine Contest), with the high sponsorship of the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV).
On the second-tier of my activity, Professional Training, the Agriculture Chamber was the only private institution authorized by the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to handle the Professional Training European Union funds to train farmers and technicians under the PAMAF (Program to Support the Modernization of Portuguese Agriculture and Forests), which ran from 1996 to 2006. We would evaluate the candidatures, approve them (releasing the funds) or not and then audit the associations and cooperatives that had been favored by these funds to see if they did things by the book. We also organized professional training courses and other events.
The beginning of my professional career and my 3 years at the Agriculture Chamber were determinant on my future as they taught me and gave me hands-on experience skills that were to become pervasive in my professional activity, until now: Program and Project Management, Change Management, Client Relationship Management, Partnerships, Client-Centric Sales and Client insights Gathering, Organization and Facilitation of Professional Training Courses, Media & Communication. They also honed my innate ability to adapt, to work on multiple tasks and roles at the same time, to liaise and communicate with different types of people in a diplomatic way and to, ultimately, solve problems by finding solutions that deliver impact.
2001: THE NETHERLANDS
In 2001 I took the plunge. Left the Agriculture Chamber on my own free will and went to live in The Netherlands.
It was my first emigration experience and that's when I started and learned a new career: that of an International Reinsurance Broker at "PWS International" (now THB), a London based Reinsurance Broker with its European branch in Amsterdam. It was something totally new for me but it was particularly exciting to work at an international level speaking professional English (the official language of reinsurance operations) and dealing with Portuguese and Greek clients (Insurance Companies) and international underwriters (Reinsurers). I mostly placed Property Risks in the International Reinsurance Market (London, Germany, Switzerland) and, in particular, my previously honed skills in Project Management and Client Relationship Management as well as in Sales & Marketing were very useful. Each reinsurance placement is an individual project with a certain scope that needs to completed in a specific time frame and at a certain cost (usually as low as possible to the client but with a minimum necessary profitability for the broker; we call it at "best terms & conditions" for the client as the price is not the only thing that matters as the type of reinsurance or certain clauses, for instance, can make the cover to be more or less comprehensive, protecting better or worst the Insurance Company).
The reinsurance project needs to be presented in a transparent way to the market, not hiding the risks that represent the very nature of the insured object but maximizing the possibility of securing a firm order from our client, henceforth winning the placement for the broker. Therefore, it is extremely important to make the Reinsurance Offer in a way that is visually appealing (marketing) to the underwriter, with all the necessary information for him to be able to price the risk and give, hopefully, positive response on behalf of our client, the Insurance Company. The discussions and negotiations with the insurance companies and the underwriters to secure the businesses we offer at the "Best Terms & Conditions" rely on consistent Partnership Development and skills in Client Relationship Management.
A few years later I took the plunge, once again, and moved to Barcelona, Spain.
In 2006 I was asked by a local broker specialized in agricultural risk management (BLAT), embedded in the large Ferrer & Ojeda Group, the biggest Catalan insurance broker and amongst the top 10 brokers in Spain to Team Lead and Manage the creation of a fully functioning Reinsurance Department. It was quite a new challenge for me as I had started working in reinsurance only in 2001 and solely placing risks but it picked up on my previous experience as a Program and Project Manager.
This new Change Management Program implied actions across a number of different subjects, as individual projects as we were competing in a niche market and against way bigger, global operating companies, both Brokers and Reinsurers. It also implied a profound change in the way the group of companies (Ferrer & Ojeda Group) operated.
My actions were beyond of a Program Manager, executing a number of set up tasks within a budgeted plan. Considering this was a typìcal Catalan family-based company (Ferrer & Ojeda) with a history of more than 100 years, where family members were the main equity holders and sole beneficiaries of certain prerogatives, these actions constituted profound changes at the operational level that eliminated years of deeply ingrained non-inclusive operational policy.
In summary, the Change Management program at BLAT (that set the momentum for other changes in the Ferrer & Ojeda Group, affecting more than 200 staff) focused on the following operational levels:
LEGAL & COMPLIANCE - acquiring licenses to work as a RI broker in Spain and follow compliance procedures to work with Lloyd's of London
MARKETING - set up and redefinition of the company's marketing mix (new logo, stationery, website)
OPERATIONS - development of bespoke CRM and Reinsurance placement software; definition of technical procedures; modernization of IT department and usage policy
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT - definition of a KM policy and software
DOCUMENT POLICY & IT SECURITY - established protocols for documentation & IT security
CLIENT-CENTRIC SALES: generation of new business flows (retention and recruitment of clients); placement in the International Reinsurance market of agriculture (crops, forestry, aquaculture, livestock) related risks
DISTRIBUTION & PARTNERSHIPS - developed partnerships with strategic partners in Spain, Portugal and South America (out of initial Spanish mainframe). Created first RI Treaty for table grape in the São Francisco valley, Petrolina, Brazil.
STAFF MANAGEMENT & DEVELOPMENT - training and personal development needs
The development of our bespoke software and the establishment and development of partnerships beyond the company's natural Spanish geographic scope to Portugal, Brazil and the whole of South America were of extreme importance to be able to compete with larger brokers, with wider resources.
The software wasn't only a CRM (Client Relationship Management) tool. It was a tool to control the placement of our risks in the market but also a Knowledge Management tool. We could very easily secure clients' (stakeholders) insights and retrieve important information, very useful in our interactions with both clients and providers but also save time when building up new reinsurance offers and reach the market sooner and with better quality presentations then our competitors. Our sales efforts (or project completion, if you use Economic Development terminology) became very client-centric and secured a higher probability of a "yes" answer" from our Reinsurer providers as we were constantly feeding them with high-quality Reinsurance Offers (crops, forestry, aquaculture, livestock/bloodstock), from different parts of the World.
For the software and other changes to be maximized on their effectiveness, the Group's IT department also had to be modernized including buying new properly licensed hardware and setting up a Microsoft Exchange Server center point through which all mail communications would run through safely and smoothly, eliminating exposure to spam-mail and viruses and reducing IT operational costs. A contract was made with an IT company to allow for the periodical renewal of staff's individual hardware work stations every 2 or 3 years. Affecting more than 200 staff these operational changes greatly increased the company's ability to function as a modern insurance broker, increasing work satisfaction for staff as well.
Traveling sales staff was also given company mobile phones for the very first time as well as company credit cards for business travel expenses, counteracting the previous atavic policy of carrying live money on business trips and having the staff to use their own mobile phones for communications. Expenses were now easier to track and the potential fraudulent usage of funds during business travel was reduced, increasing trust in the staff and the cohesion of the team.
The staff that had been in the company for years and were relating to the London market and other international clients and providers on a regular basis was also given the opportunity for the very first time to receive external training in commercial English, insurance, and accountancy and to travel to London to meet the people with whom they only knew from emails. This was a true shake-up and completely changed the previous deeply exclusive and hierarchical policy of only granting certain perks to company owners, which hindered effectiveness and work satisfaction.
Another one of our client-centric approaches was to make and facilitate digitalized, fillable Proposal Forms for each and every type of agricultural risks (crops, aquaculture onshore and offshore, shrimp farms, small and large ruminant livestock, equines, hogs, poultry, forestry) we were working in. These were facilitated through our website and allowed any incoming client to send the proposal form by email, duly filled-in, at the touch of a button, at the end of the same. It was an innovative approach because most market operators used paper-based proposal forms that very often were filled with unintelligible handwriting and would miss important information and the Proposal Form secures important information that serves as a basis for the underwriter to calculate his price and other Terms & Conditions. This type of document, that needs to be signed by the Insurance Taker, secures that in case of a loss event the insurance coverage won't be voided due to wrong or omitted material facts important for the underwriter to give a fair price. Having the Proposal Form made digitally also prevented a very common practice which was for certain insurance clients or unethical competitors to use our paper-based bespoke Proposal Form, delete our logo and send it to the international insurance/reinsurance markets. As some classes of agricultural insurance rely on very little available markets, being the first to secure a line of coverage can dictate failure or success in securing a firm order from the client.
All in all, in an industry that generates thousands of documents, each one important to keep in the books for legal and reputational purposes (e.g. an email discussion over the Terms & Conditions of a reinsurance cover can have multiple emails that confirm what has been agreed on behalf of the client; any misplaced or inexistent document on a physical folder can lead to a cover being granted under wrong presumptions, henceforth generating a strong legal and reputational risk that needs to be reduced or eliminated) having a software to handle all documentation digitally was an innovation in itself at the time. It also gave a strong sign of a company pursuing environmentally friendly policies, something I proudly would advertise whenever I had the opportunity in meetings or public presentations.
Developing partnerships was also extremely important. We were able to geographically spread our risk placements, decreasing the risk of default by losing one or two important risks, impairing our expected revenue whilst also giving reinsurers a good risk spreading, securing their support on the renewal of existing risks, securing support on future risks or when major losses occurred (as they could limit reinsurers' appetite to renew their support).
Some of the more innovative or iconic risks we developed or placed in the International Reinsurance Market were a veterinary cover for a network of clinics with features existing in Anglo-Saxon markets but non-existing in Spain, a top-up cover for the dairy industry in Portugal against government slaughter diseases, an innovative forestry cover for a Portuguese forestry holders association, the biggest turbot fish farm in the World (in Mira, Portugal) and the first cover for the lucrative table grape production in the Sao Francisco Valley in Petrolina (state of Pernambuco, Brazil). Most projects implied a value chain analysis to give underwriters a clear understanding of the hazards they were subject to.
HEAD OF EMEA AGRICULTURE SPECIALTY
In 2012 I was hired by "Guy Carpenter" (Marsh & McLennan Group of Companies), biggest Reinsurer Broker in the World (in premium volume handled and brokerage generated) as Head of the EMEA (Europe Middle East & Africa) Agriculture Specialty, reporting to the Head of EMEA Innovation and Board Member in London, the UK out of my base in Barcelona.
Guy Carpenter was already the biggest agricultural-related Reinsurance Broker in the World, mostly due to its huge North American business, in particular, the U.S.A.
As Head of the EMEA Agricultural specialty, my role was to develop strategies, processes, tools and partnerships to give the agriculture specialty a stronger recognition across the EMEA region both by internal and external stakeholders. This implied coordination with cost centers Iberia, France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland, Benelux, UK & Ireland, Turkey, Greece, Middle East & North Africa, Russia and CIS countries, Central and Eastern Europe, South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
It also implied advisory services to clients and development of new contractual relationships in tandem with EMEA offices including governmental PPP agriculture insurance schemes (Portugal, Israel, Morocco, Algeria, Italy, South Africa, Central & Eastern Europe, Spanish Agroseguro Top-up schemes).
"Guy Carpenter" being the winner of an IFC/World Bank grant to support the development of a cotton index insurance scheme in Mozambique led me as well to engage in relationships with bilateral and multilateral organizations (IFC/World Bank, ILO, Governmental offices).
Last but not least, I also coordinated efforts to bring know-how from the University of Manitoba (Canada) on new Agricultural Insurance products, in particular, specific Gross Margin index insurance products for crops and livestock.
SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: SENEGAL
Taking yet another plunge, I applied for a consultancy/volunteering project in Africa under the ILO Impact Insurance Facility (Geneva, Switzerland) for experienced insurance professionals, in this case, with a specialty in agriculture. The project was sponsored by the AFD (Agence Française de Dévèloppement) and FSD Africa (Financial Sector Deepening Africa).
I wanted to be immersed, first-hand, in the reality of living and working in a developing country, developing smallholder farmers resilience capabilities by increasing the performance of the local Agricultural Insurance company. This allowed me to talk about the realities of agriculture in developing countries with more propriety than ever before. It brought me yet, another level of experience, a more hands-on one to my accumulated experience in Agricultural Risk Management.
I was chosen to implement a Capacity Building project on Partnerships & Distribution and apply a Change Management at the local agricultural insurance company, the Government participated CNAAS (Compagnie National d'Assurance Agricole du Sénégal) in Dakar. I totally changed my life, sold most of my stuff, consigned some other to a deposit and went to live and work in West Africa, in one of the most affable and interesting countries in the World.
For me, this was one of the best experiences in my life and assured to me that my future was in the Economic Development arena, using the skills I had developed along the years (Program and Project Management, Change Management, Partnerships Building and Sustenance, Client-Centric sales, Communication, and Training) and being a determined enabler that gets things done by motivating and coordinating people.
My experience and skills in the Private Sector were also transferable to the Development Sector. What in the Private Sector we call "clients", in the Development Sector we call "stakeholders". When in the Private Sector, we make a "Sale", in the Development Sector we "Complete a Project". What in the Private Sector we call "generating revenue", in the Development Sector we call securing "funding/grants". And many developing activities focus on supporting the private sector, as a way to reinforce the ability of a country to generate employment, reducing poverty and increasing shared prosperity, such as is the role of the World Bank's IFC (International Finance Corporation).
Helping countries, its governments, and private institutions (ultimately, the people that depend on their success) to depart from a point A, less favorable, to a point B, hopefully, a more inclusive and balanced economic and communal future it's about the Theory of Change; of having the desired future devised and inscribed in a Vision statement despite all the obstacles that may hinder that objective and, try to reach it. It's about fewer transactions and more Impact, helping other people to thrive and a better, less excluded existence. I always need to see the Impact of my actions and this is extremely important for me as a person and as a professional.
I am naturally appreciative of diversity, genuinity, and have a natural ability to form cross-cultural relationships in a collaborative way, enabling me to adapt to different cultural environments. This was a perfect opportunity as I am tuned to leadership roles that combine creativity, compassion, and opportunities to take on challenges.
To implement the project we first needed to evaluate the company's baseline situation. Where did it stand? This was important so that we could then measure the impact of our actions on the basis of certain KPI's (Key Performance Indicators).
We also started with our Change Management process. After having the future CNAAS envisaged as a Vision statement, a follow-up Change Management facilitated-session with its staff (involving different hierarchical levels) created a roadmap of change focused on a set of alterations that were later tasked, implemented, monitored and evaluated. This included:
HUMAN RESOURCES (Governance) management & development
HIERARCHICAL STRUCTURE organization
IT & DOCUMENTATION policy definition
MARKETING & COMMUNICATION
PARTNERSHIPS & PRODUCT DISTRIBUTION Evaluation and renegotiation
With the roadmap of change at hand, we then prioritized tasks according to a Feasibility vs Urgency matrix and had CNAAS management to buy-in the changes by conspicuously signing and stamping the change document and having it distributed through staff, so that everyone could be truly immersed in achieving the Vision that had been set up as our desired future.
For instance, increasing internet capacity at headquarters not only increased work efficiency but also allowed for the installation of a Skype platform that would favor company meetings with their 7 agencies across Senegal instead of the costly habit of summoning everyone to Dakar in a perilous journey across hundreds of Km of dangerous roads. The agencies were also planned to have their own IT capabilities improved to allow for this communication effort.
An empowered Middle Management and a new organigramme with well-defined responsibilities and lines of reporting also allowed for staff to be more aware of their own responsibilities and reduce workplace conflict. Conflict and exclusiveness were also aimed to be reduced by defining a staff remuneration policy, including the setting up of a shared policy of staff development and pay-grades.
Senegal is a relatively big country with poor communication infrastructure. Working in such conditions can make it difficult for an insurer to track exposure to risk and measure KPI's. We had to define a clear baseline of the company's current figures and standardize the communication and graphic representation of KPI's amongst the different agencies that, until then, were totally uneven and did not report the real situation in the terrain.
Having in mind a better control of the underwriting exposure and to prevent the accumulation of risk (per typology of risk or in certain geographical areas) we also reactivated an agreement with a company that offered IT solutions and that allowed for GPS positioning and graphic representation of the risk exposure per type or business and insured objects (crops, livestock, fish farms, etc.). The new organigram also foresaw the creation of a position for a person with actuarial studies to control the underwriting which is obviously of paramount importance in an insurance company.
As the company's business model relied on partnerships with different stakeholders (banks, associations, cooperatives) to distribute their insurance products, sometimes even giving them responsibilities of insurance enrollment and claims adjustment, we also had to create a partnerships' focal point on the new organigram and review the partnership contracts so that both parties wouldn't have their initial strategic alignment compromised and to prevent less than ideal behavior. This implied that the training policy had to change. All training manuals were reviewed and re-organized and a number of changes were made on the training policy such as defining a clear schedule of training written in black and white in the partnership agreement, including enforcement, corrective and exit strategy measures. Training approaches were also defined by the standard "learning by having fun". This approach allows maximum effectiveness in training to be delivered considering the challenges that low-income markets present. Role-playing or the build-up of mock situations and games allow the students to retain information and have a more vivid recollection of how an insurance product, for instance, can be acquired and what are the processes involved in the insurance value chain. It's all about creating a proposition value that ultimately delivers impact and allows low-income communities to sustain themselves when financial shock arrives.
Another aspect of working in a developing country is that sometimes risk management has very poor policy definition and/or enforcement. Measures were taken to physically secure staff's computer hardware against flood, for instance (which was a real danger during the rainy season) and to prevent the loss of the company's data. Easy and non-costly solutions such as using cloud-based software to regularly save data and define a policy of "who does what" at this level were also enforced.
Last but not least, I usually say that staff satisfaction at work needs to be approached in a holistic way like Maslow's pyramid teaches us. It's not only about salary, titles or recognition for one's efforts and abilities. It's about respect for the most basic human needs. Allowing staff to have proper hygiene facilities percolates further on having a client-centric approach. A working force that sees inequities thrive is not compromised with such values. It can compromise the company's operations when dealing with clients and providers. Hence we also inscribed in our roadmap of change an overhaul of the staff's sanitary conditions which at the time were not satisfactory at all.
In the end, despite the difficulties and many obstacles, symptomatic challenges of working in a developing country, we managed to implement a number of the tasks we had set in our roadmap of change, hence generating the Impact we were pursuing.
WORLD BANK: UKRAINE
Moving from the desert to the cold, from a developing to a transition country, I became a World Bank (IFC) staff member working for the "ECA agri-finance project". The "ECA agri-finance project" focused on two components, operating in several countries (Ukraine, Kosovo, Kazakhstan):
Agri-Finance (Agribusiness strategy, Agri-risk assessment methodologies, Specialized agri-loan products, Farm business management training, Digital non-financial services)
Agri-Insurance (creation of an enabling environment to establish an agri-insurance system, building in-house capacity/insurance product development, training of farmers, banks, insurers, brokers, capacity building)
In an atomized and still young agricultural insurance market (too much focused on price as the "deal-breaker" to buy insurance) as the Ukrainian one, my focus was to increase stakeholders (insurers, banks, brokers, farmers) trust in the same. I did this by:
Adapting developing markets' microinsurance strategies to transition economies. Being adamant on the need for companies to be client-centric, to gather insights on the Needs, Wants, Aspirations and existing Obstacles that prevent a top-notch service being delivered, consequently increasing Recruitment and Retainment of farmer-clients.
This approach led to the creation and facilitation of High-Quality roundtables and workshops around marketing & sales strategies to increase client-centricity hence, increasing trust from stakeholders on the promises done by Insurance Companies to pay losses when they occur (in Kosovo and Ukraine).
Also developed a Change Management approach for insurers, banks, and brokers so that they could become champions of a reliable and trustworthy way of operating and be emulated by other operators in the market.
Authored an extensive report on livestock insurance development possibilities in Ukraine by analyzing different value chains (beef, dairy, pork, poultry)
Catalyzed a strategic partnership between a Bank operator, an Insurance company and a countrywide Association of dairy farmers to create a champion model of usage of insurance as collateral for credit on the livestock industry.
Created a hypothetical model of a TripAdvisor style website for farmers to choose the best agricultural insurance policy on offer in Ukraine.