Stories by CHRIS EBONG,
Asst. Bus. Editor
Buoyed by improvements in headline indicators, the insurance sector in Nigeria is seeing a steady increase in interest from overseas investors, with strong long-term fundamentals underpinned by low penetration rates in a rapidly expanding population, coupled with moves to broaden product options to include sharia-compliant policies.
With a population of over 168million growing at 2.5 percent a year – along with steady Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 6.3 percent in 2014 – Nigeria offers sizeable potential for insurers, albeit in a crowded market.
According to the latest figures from market regulator, the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM), there are 58 policy writers operating at present, 29 of which are general insurance firms, 15 life insurers and the remaining 14 composite insurers offering a full range of services.
Recent NAICOM data shows that more than 3m Nigerians have some form of insurance, up from less than 1m in 2007. However, coverage rates vary, with higher levels for property and automotive insurance and a low take-up of personal policies such as life or health.
With greater acceptance of insurance products, premiums and assets have soared over the past eight years. Gross premiums rose from less than N100billion ($502m) in 2007 to N302billion ($1.51bn) at the end of 2014, while asset values more than doubled over the same period, from N347.1billion ($1.74bn) to N711.4billion ($3.57bn), NAICOM figures show.
The rise in premiums is attracting new investors, in spite of the large number of existing players. More than 12 foreign insurers, including the UK’s Prudential Life and Liberty Group of South Africa, are already in talks with regulators to enter the market, according to press reports. However, while confirming the increased interest from overseas underwriters, NAICOM’s insurance commissioner, Fola Daniel, said in late June that the regulator’s preference was for potential entrants to buy into existing firms, rather than be issued new licences.
This approach would be in line with the country’s regulatory strategy of previous years. Changes in regulations introduced in 2007 by NAICOM lifting capitalisation rates prompted a round of mergers and acquisitions, with the number of firms in the marketplace falling from 117 to its present level. This consolidation pushed out many smaller and marginally profitable operators, boosting competition and putting the sector on a much firmer footing.
However, according to Leadway Assurance Company’s CEO, Oye Hassan-Odukale, the market is big enough to absorb new players. “I think we will all co-exist together,” he told local media in late June. “At the end of the day, the consumer will get a better product because there will be competition.”
Open door for growth
A push to promote Islamic insurance, or takaful, in the Nigerian marketplace could further strengthen the sector’s foundations and significantly deepen penetration rates.
While Nigeria issued the first set of regulations for the segment in 2013, NAICOM is still in the process of putting in place all of the supporting pillars for the development of Islamic insurance.
The potential for takaful in Nigeria is strong, with roughly half the population being Muslim – representing a client base of more than 80m – and, based on trends in other countries, Islamic insurance products also appeal to non-Muslims.
In March the central bank released guidelines for a new advisory agency to oversee the Islamic banking sector, a further step in developing the sharia-based finance segment. By fostering Islamic banking and financial products, Nigeria will be able to reinforce acceptance of sharia-based services among its population. This could create a new momentum in the insurance segment, with Islamic lenders opening takaful insurance windows through their networks, either by selling their own products or creating partnerships with dedicated sharia-compliant insurers.
However, several hurdles lie ahead, with a possible impact on earnings. Like other sectors in the Nigerian economy, the insurance industry has been hit by falling oil prices and a decline in national revenue. An increasing number of businesses and state agencies have not renewed policies from last year, according to Chike Mokwunye, the group managing director of listed insurer Royal Exchange.
“This is because insurance comes at the bottom of most individuals’ and businesses’ scale of preference,” Mokwunye said in an interview with Daily Champion. “If you look at an average company, when there is situation like this, one of the things they do is to reduce spend on insurance.”