Ana Beatriz Guillén Vindas – Grupo Financiero ACOBO
Like many employees at financial institutions worldwide, the team at Grupo Financiero ACOBO wasn’t sure what to expect during a government shutdown two months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
With financial markets in a state of flux and ACOBO’s customers confined to their homes—not to mention a still-deepening economic crisis—Legal Director Ana Beatriz Guillén Vindas says it was a stressful time for the Costa Rica-based firm.
The silver lining was an ACOBO project that began in 2019 to develop a digital platform to support its remote operations. With the organization handling lines of business including stocks, investment funds, trusts and real estate, the need for standardization and digitization of its business processes was vital in supporting customers, Guillén says.
According to her, initial work on the project, which included implementing the use of digital signatures, proved to be a boon. All that remained was convincing the firm’s traditionally conservative clientele to trust the new processes.
“The pandemic nudged people into using new channels for conducting business since people literally couldn’t leave their homes,” says Guillén. “With no other choice, it was a perfect time for our platform. All we had to do was change the client mindset to make people feel safe while using these new tools.”
Embracing innovation came easily to ACOBO, she says, as it has a long history of developing its financial services. It began as an organization for stockbrokers and later expanded to advising investors. In 2014, the firm merged two real estate reserves to develop a larger investment fund called Fondo de Inversión Inmobiliario Vista.
Given the growing diversity of its business, Guillén says the time was ripe in 2019 for ACOBO to upgrade operations. Developing a digital platform simplified opening investment accounts for small investors—those contributing less than $10,000 per month.
“This platform allows our clients to keep pace with market transactions and have greater access to our services,” says Guillén. “ACOBO also wanted to attract new business by appealing to younger demographic.”
With ACOBO’s traditional clientele accustomed to conducting transactions face-to-face, it was slow going at first. ACOBO had to help clients shift to the digitized model by starting with updating customer data and contracts that can be traced and verified by the legal department. Now clients can go online for financial transactions, buying shares and monitoring accounts.
“We decided to start offering our clients different online options to help them feel more confident exploring our products and services,” says Guillén. “The pandemic certainly helped us jump to consistently conducting business remotely and we will undoubtedly continue to implement digital tools.”
Protecting its investment
While tech upgrades have become part of her purview, Guillén says most of her time—especially during the pandemic—was spent overseeing ACOBO’s real estate fund. When COVID-19 affected people’s ability to pay rent at the firm’s properties, Guillén was part of the team working to renegotiate tenant contracts—to both manage payment arrangements and maintain cashflow.
“We invest our rents from our properties and provide investors of the real estate fund with dividends,” Guillén explains.
Electronic signatures were vital for completing contracts and other transactions. Today, the organization uses digital documents routinely—both internally and externally, and Guillén says putting procedures in place was a team effort.
“I couldn’t do my daily job without Daniela Leiva and Ricardo Campos,” says Guillén. “The strength of our team is a reflection of their efforts.”
A bit of a rebel
A native of San José, Guillén says her love of the city made it easy to invest her time delivering financial services. Still, “I never thought I’d be a lawyer,” she says. Instead, “I thought I’d be a doctor and follow in the footsteps of family, but instead I rebelled and studied law,” falling in love with law history.
Earning a legal degree in 2015 at the Universidad Escuela Libre de Derecho, she became a specialist in commercial law at the University of Costa Rica. Later Guillén started working as a commercial lawyer for Claro, a Latin American telecommunications company in 2016 where she oversaw major national and regional contracts in the corporate commercial department.
Restless and looking for new challenges, Guillén returned to school. She earned a master’s in administration with emphasis on finance from the Tecnológico de Costa Rica in 2018.
“It was a challenging time,” Guillén recalls, who was just 28 at the time. “I didn’t know finance as a lawyer and I was traditionally not good at numbers, but I took the chance to study something new—and it’s been the best decision I ever made.”
Later that same year, she joined ACOBO as its legal director, supporting securities, real estate and financial law. She also acts as a liaison between the company and the government, supporting compliance, risk and legislation.
“It was my destiny,” she says.
Guillén says her passion for life infuses everything she does—especially her work. Ten years from now she sees herself growing in the financial industry, and even did coursework in 2020 at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Simply put, if she’s figuring out ways to improve, she’s happy.
“Unless I put my heart and soul into everything it’s just not going to work … education and family support is crucial in my journey,” she says. “Every day I learn something I become a better person and a better lawyer.”
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