A special report on Nigeria

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1 A special report on Nigeria Published in The Wall Street Journal on November 14th-15th 2009 Transcription of the interview with Mr. Yinka Bolarinwa GMD/CEO Alliance & General Insurance Limited

2 PANORAMA REPORTS (PR): When the global financial meltdown was triggered in Wall Street, some government officials said that Nigeria was not going to be affected by it as its economy was decoupled by the international markets. However, suddenly the price of oil dropped and Nigeria, being a mono-product economy, has seen the effects of the crisis. How would you assess the impact of the global financial meltdown and international economic crisis in your country? Mr. Yinka Bolarinwa (YB): I have always disagreed with those officials who said that Nigeria was not going to be affected by the global financial meltdown. Nigeria depends heavily on crude oil. Because we depend solely on a commodity whose price is determined internationally, we are bound to encounter challenges. For instance, the manufacturing industry was affected tremendously; most companies in the sector are winding up, resulting in many employees losing the jobs. People have lost their jobs and unemployment levels are rapidly increasing. On the other hand, compared to developed Western nations, we are not as dependent on credit. We are cash driven economy. At Alliance & General Insurance (A&G) we took advantage of the opportunities that emerged from the crisis. For instance, we believe that there is an increasing need for insurance products during turbulent economic times. For that reason, we have taken advantage of the available opportunities. We have learnt from the recent developments in other countries and recapitalized appropriately to weather the storm. Because of our liquidity, we stand on a strong position to take advantage of the current situation. PR: We have to discuss the recent events in the banking sector. As you know, five banks have been bailed-out by the CBN. Those banks had an insurance arm. Do you think that these events present an opportunity for independent insurance companies? YB: Today is probably too early to say that the current situation in the banking sector represents an opportunity for independent insurance companies. I can t give a definite 2

3 answer at this point in time. However, what I can tell you with respect to the insurance sector is that there is a need for the regulator (NAICOM) to ensure stability in the market. PR: The Nigerian Stock Exchange went from being one of the best performing markets to the worst performer in the world. Your company, however, is not listed in the market. To what extent did this market correction benefited your company that until now is not listed? YB: A&G Insurance resulted from the merger of BAICO (British and American Insurance Company) and A&G Insurance. BAICO used to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) whereas A&G was not. However, it is one of our intentions to take A&G Insurance to the Nigerian Stock Exchange floor. The fact that we are looking into an IPO and being listed is not necessarily because of just raising capital but in order to increase awareness of the company. It is considered a marketing strategy rather than a financial. Companies that are listed have perceived awareness different from those who are not. Nevertheless, whether you are listed on the stock exchange or not, the government demands good corporate governance. We are mindful of this because as managing directors it is our fiduciary responsibility. PR: There are already two foreign insurance companies operating in the market. The potential of the insurance business in Nigeria is immense. Do you think that there will be more international groups entering the market? YB: Nigeria has an immense market for financial services. We have a population of almost 150 million people; that makes us the hope of Africa. Furthermore, Nigerian insurance companies are spreading its operations across the continent. International companies that are looking into ways of penetrating the Nigerian market might bring 3

4 ideas into the system. The market is quite large and opportunities are found all over the country. The penetration level in the Nigerian market is low compared to other countries. This is a clear sign of the opportunities available. Today, our system is not structured to encourage the common man to buy insurance. Many Nigerians still buy insurance because it is compulsory and do not see the real benefits of insurance products. However we are working towards creating awareness and building confidence in the general public. The Nigerian Insurance Association (NIA) among other organisations, are spearheading the process of creating awareness and educating the general public on the benefits of insurance. There is still a lot of work to be done on this issue. For instance, the Federal Government has come up with policies that will ensure that every public building is insured. We must come up with products that will stimulate the market. Furthermore and with respect of the penetration of insurance, people have a wrong perception of the industry. Some people still believe that insurance companies don t pay up their claims but today that is a thing of the past. PR: A&G join forces with BAICO - British American Insurance Company. What were the main benefits from this merger? YB: Previously insurance companies could only concentrate on one line of business; either Life Insurance or non-life or General Insurance. BAICO was a large insurance company that specialised in Life Insurance. On the other hand, A & G draws its strengths from General Insurance. The merger increased our scope of business, converting us in a composite insurance company. We are able to provide products that fit both General and Life insurance needs. Because of the merger, the company has grown stronger and has more opportunities available than it had before. 4

5 PR: We can see that you are working on a three-year strategic plan. Can you please give our international audience an insight about your growth strategy plans? YB: We are currently in the final stages of presenting our three-year strategic plan. We have analyzed internally our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and came up with a comprehensive plan. Our main objective is to be among the top five insurance companies in the market within the next three-years. We are also planning to extend our operations beyond Nigerian borders. We are establishing international structures that will complement that vision; all our strategies are within that platform. PR: What do you think are the most important things that need to be addressed for anyone who wants to be a global insurance company? YB: In order for an insurance company to become global, products that can sell beyond your country s borders are required. You must be proactive to ensure that you can cope with the demands of the business; the company must be able to withstand pressures within and outside the country. It is very important also to have a wide understanding of the market to be entered before starting operations there. PR: What are your plans regarding geographic expansion outside Nigerian borders? YB: Before moving into other countries in the continent we must increase our local market share. We can only move outside the country when we are well spread out within the Nigerian border. At A&G Insurance we have already established branches across the national territory. Our General and Life products require a mass marketing concept, it is important for us to market our products wisely targeting specific niches. PR: When it comes to growth, what is your approach? 5

6 YB: I believe in innovation as opposed to organic growth. Currently, we are focused on increasing our market share and attaining sustainable profits. We need to identify the yardsticks that we will use to measure our progress. PR: You are the leader of this company, you have mentioned before human capacity and workers skills. What are the main values of the company that you encourage your employees to embrace? YB: We are now looking into job training. Currently it is relatively easy for new employees to join the organization and learn their duties very quickly. However we need more structured training. We have one of the largest per capita production in the industry; hence, we are looking at ways to restructure our training programs to ensure that we mentored in their work as well as have them exposed to every market within this country. We have already been conducting a lot of local training; now, we want to embark on offshore training. We would like to use training as a motivator and it is our hope to develop business schools so that we can maintain the quality of our staff. PR: A&G Insurance offers products in both Life and General insurance. What is the segment that contributes the most to the income of the company? YB: We have a company structure that ensures that all products are given equal priority; we have a CEO for General Insurance and a CEO for Life Insurance. However there is a lot of emphasis on Life insurance. Recently, the government came up with a law that compels any organization that has more than five employees to take Life covers for them. PR: Nigeria s economy is driven by the O&G industry. The Local Content Policy aims at retaining as much as possible the earning of the industry in the Nigerian 6

7 economy. The government sustains that by 2010, 70% of oil risks should be insured by indigenous companies. Do you think that this objective is achievable? YB: Nigeria has, for a long time, been dependent on crude oil. Now the Local Content Policy aims at having 70 percent of the risks underwritten by indigenous companies. However, we must learn to respect ourselves and say good things about our country. Rome was not build in one day; we are still optimistic we will achieve that objective. At A&G we are not leaving any stone unturned in our quest to improve ourselves. We are training our personnel with the objective of improving the organisation. The Oil & Gas industry represents a great opportunity for our organization. PR: A&G Insurance received an AAA+ rating by Dunn & Bradstreet. Have you maintained that rating? What are the main reasons behind it? YB: Besides the rating given by Global Credit Rating Agency, A&G has undergone a restructuring process. For instance, as you can see we are currently refurbishing the building, the work should be done before the year-ends and will reflect the new corporate identity. We are also currently working on a new logo to revitalize our corporate image. When it comes to the company s financial strength we are very solid, for example, our fixed assets grew by about 295 percent. PR: You have mentioned that one of your objectives is to be listed; do you know when A&G Insurance will be trading in the NSE? YB: That is one of our objectives we are currently working toward and hopefully next year we will be listed. PR: Once you are listed, what are your main plans with the money that you will raise? 7

8 YB: Our main objective is not to be listed in order to raise money. One of our objectives is to allow more people to become part of the organisation and for them to contribute to the growth of the organisation. Listing is a marketing strategy as well; once you are listed your visibility naturally increases. PR: You mentioned the fact that you are investing in IT and human capital. Do you have any special products that we should know about that are offered by A&G Insurance? YB: We have already sent a list of new innovative products to Naicom for them to be approved. Because we are still waiting for the approval we cannot market them yet. I am confident that when November comes we will have a forum with our customers where the products will be launched. PR: You have been appointed MD of the company in March of this year. You have already started reshaping the image and culture of the company. Where do you want to take the company in the next five to seven years? YB: To be the best insurance company in Nigeria, my vision is to ensure that this company becomes a financial supermarket of global standards. PR: Nigeria has the potential to become one of the world s top 20 economies by the year Do you believe that Nigeria is on track to achieving this objective? YB: I think that the objective is achievable. It is possible for the country to reach the targeted growth. Nigeria is endowed with plenty of natural and human resources, we have many opportunities and resources to achieve that objective. However, we need 8

9 proper leadership to get there. As said before, we the have human resource capacity and a large population, which is also an asset. We can achieve a lot with good leadership. PR: What message would you like to convey to our readers about Alliance & General Insurance and Nigeria? YB: There is a lot of potential in Nigeria and investors are welcome to participate in economic growth and development in Nigeria. Nigeria with the largest population in Africa offers investors the opportunity to make money in a variety of activities in the economy. Besides oil, there are opportunities in the financial sector, energy, infrastructure and housing. Nigeria has grown tremendously in the past and is now addressing certain issues that don t help the image of the country. The business environment in Nigeria is investor-friendly and the opportunities to make money are everywhere. PR: Thank you for your comments Mr. Bolarinwa END OF INTERVIEW 9

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