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Sunday, 12 March 2017

‘How insurance sector can add value to the wellbeing of Nigerians amid recession’

Godson Ugochukwu

Legal practitioner, Godson Ugochukwu, is the chairman of the newly reconstituted Board of Guinea Insurance Plc, one of the sector’s top firms in the country. He spoke to journalists on the challenges hampering the insurance sector’s growth and what must be done to make it viable. He also unfolded the board’s plans to boost growth in the company, confidence and value to its policyholders. BANKOLE ORIMISAN was there.

What are your strategies to drive the company forward in the next few years after year of being its Chairman?
As you probably know the new board was inaugurated on March 23, 2016, and by March 23rd, we will be one year. Circumstances forced Guinea Insurance Plc to rejig its organisation and to inject new blood into its core visionary department, which is the board of the company. So, in the course of this one year, what we did when we assumed office was to reposition the company for effectiveness and meeting the yearnings of its shareholders.

The new board is made up of very accomplished individuals, who are professionals. We have qualified a chartered accountant, lawyer and economist and others that have distinguished themselves in diverse areas of life. We have ex-minister, captains of industry on the board and the constituent also spans across ethnic divides of the country, basically reflecting Guinea Insurance’s reach. It is the board that I, for one, am privileged to head as chairman.

What is your assessment of the business atmosphere of the company since you assumed leadership?
Whatever I say to you here, I say on behalf of the board and I say with full confidence that they are persons who will also concur and confirm whatever I say to you. This board was constituted on the 24th March 2016, and our first call on duty was to generally appraise the state of the company, and we were convinced this needed to be done or for us to define the nature of our path towards repositioning the company within the insurance industry in Nigeria.

If you know the history of Guinea Insurance, you know that by December this year, Guinea will be 59 years old. If you talk about its origin, it will be about 69 years. For such a company that has been established in this country and has such a long life-span, doing business in Nigeria, knowing the terrain and establishing itself, spreading its tentacles to reach the fabric of the economy, you will understand that it is no daunting task. So, we took the measure of what needed to be done because the truth of the matter is that a lot needed to be done. Guinea was losing a bit of market share, things were not exactly rosy, but it was not terribly bad for us. If you are a business minded person, you will always know where you want your company to be, but Guinea was not where a good business minded person would have loved it to be.

Guinea insurance in the past years had witnessed a high turnover of key staff. What plans do you have to end this?
We also looked at the management because one of the problems we had then was a high turnover of staff at the topmost level. We realised that it wasn’t something that augur well for your brand and continuity of policy, and we needed to put a stop to that. We weren’t in a hurry to run into the market and grab another person and put there as Managing Director after the resignation of the former one. We looked at this and surprisingly found somebody who is capable. If you ask the board on its performance during this one-year, the board is quite satisfied with the record. I mean, the Acting Managing Director, was actually the Company’s Secretary and Head of Legal Department.

But the surprising thing is that she didn’t just bury herself in the course of working in the company in the law books, she was involved in every department and every aspect of the company’s activities. So when we spoke with her, she knew virtually every problem of the company; she knew the strength of the company and she knew what needed to be done. For us, we knew we are going to take a position that would occupy the intersection between getting somebody and paying at a premium for that person with the higher risk of higher turnover and getting somebody who understands the problem we are trying to solve. We were able to balance it and it has worked for us.

Suffice to say that the facts are clear, there was a high turnover of management staff, which has ended and we are grateful that you are in the media and I want you and the shareholders of this company to hold this board to this commitment. That musical chair has ended.

How is the company coping with the economic recession?
The recession we are going through now in the country is not something unknown worldwide. We all know about the housing crisis in the U.S. in 2008. What you do generally today is to study how people, companies and entities that survived and are doing well did theirs and then you learn from them. You also actually look at those who did not survive and you learn from their mistakes. For Guinea Insurance, what actually helps us is our antiquity. We have been around for long.

We have seen recession many times and we have history to fall back. What we have done is first and foremost, we extrapolated what an individual that wants to survive would do which is do not key in to the panic of the situation. We have the board of directors and the management team that very well understand that the success of anything in life whether a company or a person starts from the mind; your mental attitude to a problem that is on ground. If that problem is universal and is not restricted to you, then it is easier for you to make a choice on what decision you want to take.

Generally speaking, most companies give unnecessary excuses because of recession and the more you talk about it, the more it affects you, not necessary because you talked about it but because it begins to work on your psyche. This is why we were able to increase salaries in a recession, while others are cutting salaries. Because we don’t want it to affect our staff; we want Guinea to have a post-recession view and for us to be able to have this post-recession view to sell and for people to catch the vision and to run with it and to bring it to pass. We want to be sure that our staff, the resources we have are most important quality. Across board companies are sacking staff; those that are not sacking are calling a meeting with their staff and giving them options: if you are on N1million, we can’t afford it, we are giving you N500,000, take it or leave it!

We didn’t want our staff to be focusing on survival on a recession because if they focus on survival, they can barely survive. It’s just like a football team playing defence maybe because you have scored one goal and instead of attacking you fall-back on defence; all the pressure from your opponent will be on you and if there is any mistake, then the consequence may be disastrous.

Nigerians are not willing to have any form of insurance policy. What do you think should be done to change the trend?
Until you experience an insurable risk you will never understand the benefit of insurance and I will tell you one example. By the time you drive back to your office, depending on the area your office is and how busy the road is, you will probably see two individuals quarrelling on the road, their cars steaming in the middle of the road – there’s been a brush. Do you know one funny thing, what will solve the problem alone, not the problem of having the accident but the problem of having come down to make a spectacle of yourself in the middle of the road is insurance. I never knew this until I insured my car.

Before, the only thing that restrained me from the road rage was my calling as a lawyer. It will be below my dignity as a lawyer to start demonstrating in the middle of the road, but it will drive you bungers and that is why in the west looks like they are better behaved, they are nicer than us. No. It’s because a lot of things are insured. Why do you want to take a black eye over something someone else will pay you for? It happened to my sister-in-law, just down there at Ikoyi, the two cars were insured – hers and the other person. The person just came down and said: “I’m sorry, this is my insurance details.” They are happy because insurance company as far as I’m concerned have been taking money.

Making Nigerians think insurance, what strategies are you putting in place?
Now if you have been going back and forth, saying I can survive it, without thinking insurance, it’s a problem and that is our mentality. So, it takes a lot for people to think insurance, people tend to give us money they consider its extra funds for those who even bothered. It is only when they buy a new car they insure,, thereafter they say: “I’ve paid them for many years now and I never made a claim.” If you make it compulsory because the only thing that is compulsory now is the Third Party Insurance.

The moment you make it compulsory, it’s not only the insurance that will benefit; yes, the sector will benefit, but the country generally will benefit more because the problem we have is because we don’t think in terms of man hours lost. That is why we spend so many hours in traffic. Insurance is something that flies under the radar but its impact on the global economy, for this country, will be huge if we could make compulsory and enforce appropriately certain aspects of insurance. So it’s a shot in the right direction but I just pray and hope that they can implement.

Vía The Guardian Nigeria

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