Interview: Séverin Anguilé
How has the insurance sector in Gabon changed over the last five years?
SÉVERIN ANGUILÉ: We have experienced significant changes in the last few years, especially with the advent of Article 13 of the Inter-African Conference on Insurance Markets’ Insurance Code. Customers must now pay insurance policies upfront, which allows companies to have stable cash inflows, as opposed to before when insurers had to put up with a large number of premium-payment arrears. However, they are also finding it harder to come up with the funds, and therefore we are seeing subscriptions being spread-out over a period. Instead of insuring themselves for an entire year, clients are doing it through quarterly instalments. This is a new trend and is particularly visible in segments such as public transport and taxis, given the volume of premiums. We are also experiencing a drop in the value of premiums. Generally speaking, clients are increasingly seeking to renegotiate their policies, pointing to a lack of disposable income. There has also been a cancellation of arrears by insurance companies, especially for premiums owed by the state or state-owned companies. Indeed, the new law stipulated that if you were unable to cover your arrears within a three year period, the arrears had to be cancelled.
In what ways would you suggest boosting insurance penetration rates?
ANGUILÉ: Despite our efforts to increase the flexibility and decrease the prices of our products, we see a large portion of individuals and corporations remain uninsured. For example, there are a large number of buildings being built, none of which are insured. In this regard, we believe that legislative policies should broaden their scope concerning compulsory insurance to also include dwelling risks, professional multi-risk and construction insurance, among others. Insurers should also intensify their partnerships with the private sector, especially regarding pension plans, and increase awareness among the general population. There needs to be a real outreach concerning the benefits of life insurance products, such as those protecting families, orphans or spouses in the case of a loss.
Given that insurance and banking penetration are undeniably linked, another important partnership is with banks. In this regard, the reliability of the debiting process needs to be improved. In several instances clients have opted for automatic debiting, yet banks do not follow through with the service. Indeed, the “bancarisation” of the public sector resulted in life insurance products pouring into the market. However, despite employees being successfully debited from their accounts, the government did not pay the premiums to insurance companies. Legal provisions should be respected in regards to the payment of premiums from the insured, and of claims from the insurer. Only then can the sector truly develop.
The use of mobile technology presents an interesting alternative to banks, especially for merchants, rural communities, artisans and those operating in the informal sector. Through e-wallet and e-payment services, life insurance companies now have access to a market previously excluded from the industry. Seeing multinationals such as AXA buying digital platforms to provide micro-insurance products means that the use of new technologies will start revolutionising the sector soon. Indeed, micro-insurance remains in an embryonic stage, but we are all positive that it will have a significant impact on revenues. I believe that micro-insurance products, including life, health, home or multi-risk, could easily be covered through mobile payments, and safeguard individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises from potential losses.