Low uptake is biggest challenge to Africa’s insurance industry

Low market growth has resulted in fratricidal price competition that threatens all players in the insurance sector, says the new Group MD of Continental Re.

Conversation with

Image : Continental Re

Lawrence Mutsunge Nazare has taken over from Dr Femi Oyetunji, who retired on 31 March 2021 as Group MD of Lagos-based Continental Reinsurance Plc. Nazare, a Zimbabwean citizen and a seasoned insurer, has been the company’s Group Executive Director/Chief Operating Officer for over 10 years. With more than three decades in the industry, he brings a deep understanding and experience of the reinsurance business in Africa and across the globe.

You have taken over the reins of Continental Re at a very critical time, what are the challenges that lie ahead?

The greatest challenge is to maintain and improve upon the legacy of growth and success built by my predecessors. The African insurance industry faces a myriad of challenges – the most perennial being the low uptake of insurance by the vast majority of our people who need it the most; and our failure as a continent to translate economic growth into commensurate growth in insurance premiums. 

Low market growth has resulted in fratricidal price competition that threatens all players in the sector.

How best do you describe your past 10 years at Continental Re?

It has been an incredible ride and an amazingly edifying experience! From the initial anxiety of adapting professionally, and as a family, to the bustling environment of Lagos; to witnessing Africa’s palpable economic revolution, in real-time in my endless travels across the continent; being part of the corporate transformation at Continental Re, and the trailblazing expansion drive we undertook – the triumphs, disappointments and many unpleasant surprises that are part of our business. It has all been hectic, but fun.  

What is the impact of Continental Re on the African insurance market, and where is it headed?

We are a bold and adventurous brand. We believe in pushing boundaries and we have a permanent commitment to this continent and its insurance sector.

We are pan-African not only in geographic presence but from the philosophical standpoint that our growth story as a continent must be written by great African enterprises. 

We have demonstrated this by making key investments in all regions in Africa, building great teams and working with our clients to develop insurance markets. 

What have been the highlights of Continental Re over the last three years?

We have recently exited rented premises and moved into a permanent new home in Lagos, underlying a commitment to Africa’s largest economy. 

I am personally excited about how over the last three years, we have diversified our revenues to a point where our non-Nigerian businesses now anchor our profitability; our businesses in the Francophone regions, in North Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa are now our growth engines, both at the top and bottom line.   

How does Continental Re fare in advancing women and youth opportunities?

We are an equal opportunity employer that not only promotes nominal diversity but inclusion as well. We have strong women, across all levels, who are an integral part of our growth story and, over the last couple of years, we have had a strong infusion of dynamic young talent into our system. 

Being one who had the privilege to sit at the ‘men’s table’ at a young age, I am a strong believer in empowering and recognising young people.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your current and future plans?

Covid-19 has not badly affected or scuppered any of our current or future plans. Africa imparts corporate resilience on you – beating the odds must be in your DNA if you are to survive on this continent. 

Not that we are reckless, but being risk managers, we have factored the potential downside and included mitigatory measures in our plans. We keep moving on.

What should Africa do to mitigate the effects of Covid-19?

I am not an epidemiologist! However, I am sure that measures that have been implemented elsewhere, of tight lockdowns, are not appropriate for this continent. We just have too many fragile economies, friable corporates, and vulnerable citizens in the informal sector. And, we lack the social safety nets that advanced economies have.

Ultimately, like what we have seen for Ebola, we must pray for the successful roll-out of a vaccination programme.

What is the current environment across the markets you operate  in Africa?

Making an explicit generalisation about Africa or its condition would be a grand folly! However, most African countries continue to make significant progress across all spheres of human development. The environment in our markets – political, economic, social circumstances, regulatory frameworks, corporate governance, and technological advancement – is vastly different from what it was 10 years ago. We have made significant headway as a continent.

How is Continental Re positioned to take advantage of opportunities offered under AfCFTA?

AfCFTA is meant to foster multilateralism that will drive development across the continent. The reinsurance business is about spreading risk and thrives in an environment devoid of regulatory, trade and other economic barriers. 

The reinsurance business model resonates with the key objectives of AfCFTA that centre around the creation of an integrated, single market for goods, services, capital, investments and people, particularly labour, and as Continental Re we can only execute better on our pan-African vision in the scenario envisaged by AfCFTA.

SMEs play a pivotal role in African economies and are collectively the biggest employers across the continent. How does Continental Re plan to tap into this market? 

My personal view is that unless we resolve risk transfer challenges in Africa’s informal sector, particularly the all-important small-scale agriculture sector, our relevance as an insurance industry remains diminished. 

It is all about innovating; coming up with products that address the pain points of this sector, products that respond to the unique characteristics of this sector, and ultimately, products that are a viable commercial proposition for providers of insurance capital. 

At Continental Re we have made a significant investment in setting up an Agriculture Insurance unit manned by qualified agronomists to support insurance for the small-scale agriculture segment. 

What is your message to the insurance industry across Africa?

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with the hard work. There is so much to do that demands purposeful strategies to grow the cake rather than ‘zero-sum’ competitive activities that harm all players in the sector. Opportunities abound, and we will all be winners if we collaborate to craft solutions that tap into Africa’s huge uninsured market. 

What is your stance on AU’s Vision 2063?

Brilliant! Africa’s teeming millions of the deprived, who have hitherto lived in vain, yearn for prosperity. They deserve a future that debunks the historical expectancy of changeless futility that inter-generational failure has foisted upon us. 

But for this great vision, the ‘devil is in the details’, is it not? The ultimate outcomes will be determined by the dedication, sincerity and focus of our leadership, the mobilisation of all and the application of their collective efforts. 

We must enlist the energies of our youths, to get things going and maintain a steep, upward trajectory to 2063. There must be commitment and smart, rigorous, execution; relentless execution. 

Are you optimistic about Africa’s growth going forward? 

Absolutely. Developments in the last few years, including how we have fared as a continent through the ongoing Covid-19 challenges, suggest that our acknowledged resilience and grit have positioned Africa on the cusp of greatness.

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