Off the back of BPL Global’s continued expansion in the US, we spoke to our New York-based Senior Vice-President, Political & Credit Risks, Juan Carlos Mealla, to find out more about what brought him to BPL Global, and what the future of Credit and Political Risk Insurance (CPRI) looks like in the Americas
Juan Carlos, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and what led you to become an insurance broker?
I was born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia, but I moved to the US to attend to Florida Atlantic University. After graduating, I returned to Bolivia and set up a sports retail store, which, after 10 years, grew into a chain of seven stores across the country.
In 2004, I decided I wanted to sell the business and move to New York to do an MBA at NYU Stern School of Business. When my course ended in 2006, I was recruited by AIG’s Management Associate Programme in the reinsurance department for just over a year. Then, as the global financial crisis hit in 2008, I was offered a position in the Capital Management department to aid in AIG’s restructuring efforts.
I stayed in that role for five years, and in 2011 was recruited by John Lavelle to join Willis’ CPRI team. That is where I met my future colleagues Chris Blair and James Reynolds as well as my then competitors Donnie DiCarlo and Evan Freely – all of whom I now work with in the New York office at BPL Global, which I joined in February 2018.
What led you into CPRI following your MBA?
I was open minded, but I knew it should be something in the financial industry. When I worked in reinsurance and then capital management, I got to see all parts of the business, including CPRI which interested me quite a bit. It was John Lavelle who brought me over to the broking side when he was heading Willis’ CPRI team in the US. I followed him there, and all the way to BPL Global.
What client sector do you predominantly work for at BPL Global and along which business lines?
My focus is banks – mainly Japanese and European banks with branches in New York, that run operations across the Americas. A large bulk of the work we do with banks involves securing insurance to obtain regulatory capital relief as well as managing counterparty, sector and country limits.
In the early days, we focused mainly on Latin American-placed business, but there’s since been a shift given that US-based project finance has become a growing part of the CPRI market, and now we work on many of the large deals in the US, too.
Can you tell us a bit more about the New York team?
I am fortunate to be friends with, and work alongside, a great group of individuals who also happen to be some of the best brokers in the market. We have also just welcomed two new colleagues – Gabriel Mansky and Andrea Friedman – who joined us in September 2020 and are focused on Israeli-based corporations and banks, as well as their US affiliates.
Are there any upcoming developments that you and your team are particularly excited about?
In general, we are all looking forward to getting back out there, continuing to grow the book, and maintaining our strong client relationships.
Also, I’m excited about how much the breadth of the CPRI product is expanding. In the past, there was a limited area in a bank we could speak to – be it syndications or credit management. Today, there are bankers in all kinds of divisions reaching out to us, including leveraged finance and CVA (Credit Valuation Adjustment) teams, to name a few. This is exciting because there is clearly a lot of growth potential – not just in terms of the client base, but within the banks we already work with.
Can you tell us about a highlight from your time at BPL Global?
The highlight has been helping to grow something from the ground up. I was employee number three at BPL Global’s New York office. Today, there’s eight of us. Strong and sustainable growth is, and always will be, a big part of BPL Global’s ethos. That entrepreneurial spirit resonates with me and was a big factor as to why I joined.
What does the future of CPRI look like in the US?
Banks’ interest in the CPRI product has grown this year in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. From here, it's a matter of connecting the client with the most suitable insurer, while considering market conditions. During the pandemic, there’s been quite a gap between the demand and the offer from insurers. However, that gap is likely to close in the near-term future, which will spur growth in the market.
So, while we haven't seen much yet in terms of claims, we expect there to be increased activity further down the line, which will itself validate the product further.
What keeps you interested in CPRI?
We are just scratching the surface of CPRI’s potential. Currently, only a handful of US banks can get capital relief and are regular users of the product. But, once the regulatory floodgates open, the results will be significant. There is never a dull moment in this line of work.