On the last day of the century Panama takes control of one of the most important waterways in the world, its canal. Panama also wants to be a crossroads in insurance and risk management. Stavros Costarangos explains.

Not only will end of year bring festivities that mark the end of a century, but at 12:00 noon on 31 December 1999, Panama will begin full administration and operation of the Panama Canal.

As has been said before: “Among the great peaceful endeavours of mankind that have contributed significantly to progress in the world, the construction of the canal stands as an awe-inspiring achievement. The unparalleled engineering triumph was made possible by an international workforce under the leadership of American visionaries, who made the centuries-old dream of uniting the two great oceans a reality”.

This man-made engineering marvel will continue its commitment towards serving global trade through excellence and dedication. It honours those whose know-how and know-who culminated in the Panama's status today as “The Crossroads of the World” and “The Land Bridge of the Americas”.

Holding its strategic geographical location at half way points between New York and Buenos Aires and crossings of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Panama is no stranger to current developments that are penetrating Latin America in many different areas: social security reforms, infrastructure development, real estate, privatisation of state industries, insurance deregulation, as well as sweeping changes in telecommunications, information technology, education, energy, transportation, commerce and finance concerns.

What better place, therefore, than Panama, to also act as the bridge between the highly developed risk management countries of North America and the growing interest in risk management and all related topics in Latin America.

The captive alternative within the risk management discipline seems to be finding a foothold in Latin America. Panama, as the first Spanish-speaking domicile, hopes to capitalise on this development. In 1996 Panama amended its insurance and reinsurance laws to bring them into line with current developments, and also enacted legislation permitting the formation of captive insurance companies in its territory.

So far, a total of 10 captive managers have already been licensed in Panama, and two captives have chosen Panama as a domicile to incorporate. The first one is from a central American parent and the second one earlier this year from European origin. Two other applications are being reviewed by the office of the insurance superintendency.

Thus, we are delighted that the first Latin American captive insurance forum will be held in Panama. It takes place from 20-23 June 1999, co-sponsored by the Superintendencia de Seguros Y Reaseguros de Panamà, and captive managers, Qstion and SINSER (Panama). For more information, you can take a look on-line at: www.gfce.com/cautivas.

We believe that the first Latin American captive insurance forum will increase the awareness of potential parent companies in the region of the benefits that they can gain from the formation of an insurance subsidiary.

This comes at a time when risk management as a discipline is being actively promoted in Latin America through the Latin American Risk & Insurance Managers Association -ALARYS (www.alarys.org) with the support of the Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS). The 4th ALARYS congress will take place in Panama from 19-22 November 2000, and it will be the first congress of the next millennium.

ALARYS, which is sometimes also called the Latin RIMS, is formed by different risk management associations from within the region:
• ADARA (Argentina).
• ABGR (Brasil) (www.abgr.com.br).
• AGERS (Spain).
• APARYS (Panama) (www.aparys.org).
• IMARAC (Mexico).
• ASVARS (Venezuela).
Meanwhile, Panama will host other important insurance and risk management related meetings. The annual meeting held by the Latin American Insurance Superintendents of Latin America (ASSAL), will take place during August.

On 23 October 1999, FASECOLDA, which is the insurers' association from Colombia, will hold its ninth annual congress and the first outside its home country. The one day event will take place just prior to the celebration of the FIDES congress from 24 October until October 27.

Shortly after the FIDES celebration will come the important celebration that will mark the beginning of a new era in the Republic of Panama as administration and control of the Panama Canal is handed over by the US to its host country.

Since it is a symbol of our position as the bridge between the Americas, why should we not play this role in insurance and risk management, as in the rest of commerce?

Why Panama? Why not?

Stavros Costarangos is managing director of SINSER (Panama) Agency Inc. E-mail: sinserpanama@pananet.com; http://www.sinser.com