Cutting losses, pushing growth: Greater domestic activity and foreign interest drive the industry forward

Bolstered by the economic rebound since 2012, double-digit growth in Côte d’Ivoire’s insurance sector is attracting new entrants and product innovation. While it is the largest market of the 15-country Inter-African Conference of Insurance Markets (Conférence Interafricaine des Marchés d' Assurances, CIMA), the sector is fragmented for its size. With large-scale public projects expected to generate 9.8% GDP growth in 2014, the priority will be to expand the domestic market’s retention capacity, enhance the domestication of larger risks and improve business conduct to shore up underwriters’ liquidity. Meanwhile, as alternative distribution channels continue to gain traction, the life insurance segment is expected to overtake non-life.

Double Digits

Growth in gross premiums has rebounded since 2011. Following year-on-year (y-o-y) growth in aggregate premiums of 28% in 2009 and 12.08% in 2010 the market dropped to 5.39% in 2011, before rebounding to 13.29% in 2012 and 12.85% in 2013, according to figures from the Association of Insurance Companies of Côte d'Ivoire (Association des Sociétés d'Assurances de Côte d'Ivoire, ASA-CI). With aggregate gross premiums of CFA236.72bn (€355.1m) in 2013, however, or roughly 1.68% of GDP, the market remains far shy of its potential. Indeed, the association’s president, Roger Eugéne Johnson Boa, sees the potential for the market to grow to 7% of GDP over the next decade. Yet by regional standards, with an average insurance penetration of 1% in the CIMA zone, Côte d’Ivoire is already a heavyweight with premiums roughly equivalent to the next two largest markets combined: Cameroon with CFA154bn (€231m) and Gabon with CFA99.6bn (€149.4m). With combined assets in 2012 of CFA526bn (€789m), or roughly 10% of financial sector assets, insurers are key participants in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital markets, particularly in fixed income where they control 60% of bonds according to Hudson & Cie.

The market remains dominated by the non-life segment, whose CFA132.84bn (€199.26m) in gross premiums accounted for 56% of the total and 0.94% of GDP in 2013, while life penetration remained a lower 0.74% of GDP. Although expansion in the life segment has recently outpaced the broader market, with gross premiums rising 15.45% in 2010 and 16.82% in 2012 compared to growth of 9.7% and 10.56%, respectively, in non-life, the situation reversed in 2013 with expansions of 14.2% in non-life compared to 11.1% in life. “The life segment has sustained double-digit growth every year as Ivorians have realised the need to hedge risk and save since the war’s end,” Balamine Dicoh, the ASA-CI’s secretary-general, told OBG. “We expect life to overtake non-life for the first time in the next few years, mimicking the example of more developed markets.”

Fragmented Market

With 29 underwriters – 18 in non-life and 11 in life – the market is highly fragmented. However, Jean-Claude Jeanson, CEO of Ascoma Côte d’Ivoire, told OBG, “While the insurance brokerage industry can seem fragmented, only a handful of them hold most of the assets. It is the same trend as in the banking sector.” Business is dominated by six insurers in both life and non-life, which held more than 50% of total premiums in 2013. The degree of concentration is slightly higher in life, with top-three underwriters commanding 55.82% in life compared to 49.22% in non-life, while seven groups operate subsidiaries in both segments. With no restrictions on foreign investment, foreign-affiliated underwriters like AXA and Allianz are significant players as in the rest of CIMA, although regional players remain the dominant force.

The largest group in the life sector is Sunu Group, a Paris-based insurer founded by Senegalese investor Pathé Dione with operations in nine CIMA countries. Sunu Group operates three subsidiaries in life (UA-Vie, LMAI-Vie and AAA-Vie) and one in non-life (LMAI-IARD). It also holds a combined 32.58% share of life premiums and 7.66% in non-life in 2012.

The largest non-life insurer is Saham with 24.89% of gross premiums and 18.53% in life in 2013. Previously known as Colina, acquired by the Moroccan group Saham in 2010 and rebranded in 2014, the company has operations in 10 countries. Second in non-life and third in life, with 11.73% and 14.01% market share, respectively, German insurer Allianz is 50% larger than French insurer AXA’s 7.45% share in the non-life segment, where it ranks fifth. Inheriting the former French UAP’s operations in francophone Africa, AXA had sold its life businesses to Sunu by 2004 and focused on non-life and industrial risks. The last group with over 10% market share (12.6% in non-life and 17.61% in life) is Nouvelle Société Interafricaine d'Assurances (NSIA), an Ivorian banking and insurance group that acquired French insurer AGF’s African businesses in 1996 and bought an 80% stake in the third-largest lender, Banque Internationale pour l'Afrique Occidentale (BIAO-CI), in 2006. In 2014 private-equity firm Emerging Capital Partners offered for sale its 25% stake in the insurer.

Other Players

The rest of the market is spread between mid-sized non-life underwriters like Loyale with 5.13% market share, SIDAM with 3.81%, Atlantique at 3.28% and SONAR-CI (rebranded TSA in 2013) with 3.27%. The lowest tier of the eight smallest insurers has under 3% market share. According to ASA-CI figures underwriters ceded an average of 27.39% of their premiums to reinsurers in 2012, far higher than the 2.43% in life. Insurers linked to affiliated reinsurers tended to cede the most, including LMAI (48.58%), Saham (41.42%), Allianz (37.32%) and AXA (27.99%). “The vast majority of underwriters act as reinsurance brokers as they are not significantly increasing their risk retention,” Kamal Harati, CEO of KH assureurs conseils and president of the brokers’ association, told OBG.

Despite the high number of existing insurers, several investors are eyeing opportunities in the Ivorian market. Market entry through acquisition has not always been easy, however. Morocco’s Wafa Assurances had almost completed the acquisition of non-life insurer SAFA in 2013, before cancelling in August following a fire at SAFA’s headquarters. Instead, the Moroccan insurer applied for a greenfield licence to roll out non-life products through a bancassurance deal with Attijariwafa in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo. While SAFA was still seeking new investors in early 2014, a second Moroccan insurer, RMA Watanya (RMAW), entered the market in April 2014. Part of the Finance Com group that also owns a majority of Bank of Africa through BMCE Bank, RMAW acquired a 40% stake in Cameroonian insurer Belife, also present in Togo and Côte d’Ivoire in life.

Reinsurance

The reinsurance market is also more competitive, with eight domiciled players. The two largest players are intergovernmental reinsurers with mandatory legal cessions. CICA-RE, the CIMA zone’s reinsurer that was established in 1981 with 12 member states as shareholders and 50 underwriters; the West African Development Bank; and the African Solidarity Fund command a 15% legal cession of all premiums ceded through treaties. CICA-RE had CFA20bn (€30m) in paid-up capital and CFA24bn (€36m) turnover in 2013. Meanwhile, the African Reinsurance Corporation (Africa Re) has €600m in capital and is rated A- by Standard & Poor’s and AM Best. Founded by the Organisation for African Unity in 1976, it is owned by member states and other reinsurers, holding a 5% legal cession of all reinsurance treaties on the continent.

Other reinsurers operating out of Abidjan include AVENI-Re, established in 2004 in Côte d’Ivoire with CFA10bn (€15m) capital, Kenya-Re, Tunis-Re, Sen-Re, NCA-RE, Nigeria-based Continental-Re, which opened an office in 2013, and Société Centrale de Réassurance, a subsidiary of Morocco’s Caisse de Dépôts et de Gestion. Another new entrant is Globus-Re, a reinsurance pool backed by insurers in the CIMA region based in Burkina-Faso, while Bahrain’s Trust-Re is planning to open an office in 2014. Meanwhile, the larger Ivorian underwriters have launched their own reinsurance windows, such as NSIA Participations. Despite some weakening in price discipline, the local market has been increasing its risk retention. “The rapid growth in facultative business for local reinsurers reflects this growing retention, even if we don’t have aggregate figures for this,” Moustapha Diongue, West Africa underwriter at CICA-RE, told OBG. Traditionally dominant foreign reinsurers like France’s SCOR, and to a lesser extent MunichRe and SwissRe, have faced growing domestication of facultative placements, although they have maintained several treaties each.

West Africa’s reinsurers have also expanded their international business, covering risks in Middle Eastern and Asian markets, according to CICA-RE’s Diongue. The largest reinsurer by share of treaties in 2014 is CICARE, with nine. As in other peer markets, the smaller life segment relies far less on reinsurance. In total, the market’s capacity is of roughly CFA70bn (€105m) for facultative and CFA50bn (€75m) of treaty capacity, according to estimates from CICA-RE.

Distribution

Brokers are traditionally the dominant distribution channel, accounting for roughly three-fourths of premiums in non-life, according to estimates from ASA-CI. While audited statistics are unavailable for distribution, the market has roughly 120 brokers licensed although most are largely dormant. “There are only really five serious brokers on the market,” Harati told OBG. “The rest handle only around CFA500m (€750,000) in business and are not significant.” Two French brokers, Gras Savoye and Ascoma, are the two largest, while locally owned KH ranks third. The world’s third-largest broker, WillisRe, is expected to enter the market once it exercises its option to acquire Gras Savoye in 2016. There are also several captive brokers such as SIFCOM Assurance, 66% held by Allianz with leading cocoa producer SIFCOM, and SNCAR-CI, acquired by Colina in the early 2000s. A key driver of retail sales, particularly in non-life policies, remains agents in a market where personal relationships are key to overcome suspicion, with roughly 1200 agents authorised by the national regulator – of a total of 1741 sector employees in 2013. The association established a training centre although it does not certify agents.

New Rules, New Drive

Since CIMA rules permitting insurers to partner with microfinance institutions, banks and savings funds were enacted in 2006, bancassurance has become a significant driver of growth in life, accounting for over 50% of premiums compared to less than 10% for brokers, according to Mohamed Bah, deputy director-general at Sunu Assurances.

“Bancassurance has been the key driver of growing life premiums, as all major underwriters have close partnerships with banks,” ASA-CI’s Dicoh told OBG. Key drivers behind bancassurance have been insurers affiliated with banking groups, such as NSIA, the only underwriter with an exclusive relationship with its banking subsidiary BIAO, and Stamvie (Banque Atlantique-CI), although independent groups like Allianz, Somavie and LMAI have followed suit. The largest retail banks tend to have multiple relations, with SGBCI (part of France’s Société Générale) working with Allianz, Ecobank partnering with NSIA and UA-Vie, Attijariwafa’s SIB with LMAI-Vie, Allianz and NSIA. The arrival of Moroccan banking groups is changing the landscape, however, as they seek to replicate the type of exclusive bancassurance deals in their home market.

“The market is changing as SIB and Bank of Africa move towards closer relations with their affiliated insurers (Wafa and RMAW, respectively),” Bah told OBG. “The process will be gradual however, as most banks will want to continue relations with several underwriters.”

Regulatory Reform

Regulation of former French colonies’ insurance sectors has long been steered from Paris, first through the International Conference on Insurance Control (CICA) and since 1992 through CIMA. The Cameroon-based CIMA issues regulations and oversees enforcement, while the Economy and Finance Ministry’s Insurance Department in Côte d’Ivoire is the front-line enforcer and helps make policy. Through the regulatory code in 2009, CIMA doubled capital requirements for underwriters to CFA1bn (€1.5m), effective from 2011. Insurers are regulated according to solvency ratios, although the absence of liquid trading, in bonds in particular, has hampered the ability to mark securities to market and move towards a risk-based framework. The regulator has however become increasingly stringent in its controls in recent years, rescinding licenses for three Ivorian insurers – AIA in 2008, SOMAT in 2009 and SIAC in 2010 – when they faced insolvency. A further three non-life companies have been placed under technical administration by the Insurance Department in 2013, including GNA-CI, Fedas-CI and AAA. The department itself was cleaned up in August 2013 when the head of the regulator was replaced following embezzlement charges.

Cleaning Up

The regional regulator has also sought to sanitise the sector by implementing “no premium no cover” under the reform of Article 13 published in July 2011. Over the years, insurers’ balance sheets were bloated with policies for which premiums were not received, either because policyholders would withhold payment until claims occurred or because brokers delayed payments. Indeed, the African Insurance Federation estimated that some 55% of non-life premiums were in arrears prior to the reform.

“Life insurers never built up significant arrears because life premiums are usually paid on a monthly basis, and policies are withdrawn if more than one payment is skipped,” Sebastien Ngaméni, deputy director-general of Belife Insurance, told OBG. In 2011 CIMA set a deadline of December 2014 for insurers to either recover unpaid premiums or take policies off their books. The rule also bans brokers from cashing any premium above CFA1m (€1500), while any sum below must be remitted to underwriters within 30 days.

“The ‘no premium no cover’ rule since 2011 has been widely respected, despite exemptions for government contracts,” Diongue told OBG. “With recovery rates of up to 99%, it has been very good for underwriters’ liquidity.” While recoveries on new policies written since 2011 has been near 100%, as insurers have increasingly switched from annual payments to monthly instalments, the ASA-CI expects that new figures following the 2014 deadline will reflect substantial write-downs, particularly by older insurers. In parallel, CIMA is developing regulations dedicated for reinsurers and is expected to start auditing reinsurers from 2015.

At a broader level underwriters are lobbying the national regulator to improve compliance with existing rules requiring a minimum of 25% of any risk to be insured locally. “The association has asked the ministry to improve compliance with section 308 of the law, which requires 25% of all risks to be insured locally,” ASACI’s Dicoh told OBG. “There is still a lot of fronting for larger projects.” Indeed, while investment in infrastructure has generated higher construction all risk premiums, larger projects like the third Abidjan bridge insure entirely offshore, receiving discretionary exemptions from the domestication rule. “There are three key areas where we would like to see stronger enforcement by the regulator,” Bah said. “Aside from insuring a share of larger projects domestically, we would like authorities to better enforce mandatory policies like motor, third-party liability and renters’ property insurance.”

Non-Life Drivers

Insuring such large projects domestically would prove a significant boost to the property segment and construction covers. As in most peer markets, the automotive segment dominates non-life by revenues, if not by profitability. In 2013 the motor segment accounted for 34.3% of premiums, ahead of personal accident (PA) and health with 28.6%, fire and property with 18.6%, transport (including marine and aviation) with 10.4%, and civil liability with 3.4%.

The health segment in particular has grown swiftly since 2006, when new tax incentives were enacted aimed particularly at group policies, with the tax rate on health policies falling to 8% for individuals and 3% for groups, down from 4.5% previously. Insurers are also watching the piloting of universal health insurance from October 2014, preparing health riders that would complement the new scheme.

Although aggregate loss ratios in non-life remained manageable at 32.1% in 2013, having fallen 18.4% yo-y, the three largest segments of insurance recorded the highest loss ratios. In 2012, the last year for which detailed losses are available, PA and health recorded a 72.79% loss ratio, while motor and fire and property achieved a lower 33.4% and 39.19%, respectively, according to ASA-CI figures. In contrast, civil liability and transport policies achieved 29.59% and 10.7% loss ratios.

Motor

Insurers launched a motor insurance pool and a CFA460m (€690,000) Motor Guarantee Fund to improve underwriting and pricing discipline in the segment, although not all insurers were participating in 2013. However, controls of vehicles revealed a net improvement in compulsory third-party liability coverage, with compliance rising from 88% in 2012 to 95% in 2013, according to the association. While smaller underwriters have continued to focus on motor, PA and health, larger insurers have tapped stronger growth in civil liability and transport, where premiums rose 24.6% and 18.8% y-o-y, respectively, in 2013. In particular premiums rose 65.3% in aviation to CFA2.41bn (€3.62m) and 67.6% in marine to CFA7.62bn (€11.43m) in 2013. In contrast the top three segments grew roughly in line with the market, with motor growing 14.2%, PA and health some 15.8%, and fire and property 18.6%.

Life Drivers

Whereas corporate business continues to dominate general insurance, growing retail sales through bancassurance have bolstered the life segment. Individual policies, which accounted for 55% of life premiums in 2013 according to ASA-CI, saw their premiums rise 54.68% over 2012 levels, while group policy premiums actually fell 12.68%. “Life insurers are moving away from the traditional life market where group insurance sold through agents dominated: it is close to saturation and tax incentives are not that attractive,” Bah said. “They are increasingly targeting the retail market through bancassurance, micro- and mobile insurance.” With only around 3% of Ivorians holding life insurance according to ASA-CI, there is scope for expanding retail penetration.

While purely provident policies remain marginal at 11.3% of total individual life premiums, they have grown the fastest, by 129% in 2013. The dominant savings policies, which accounted for 54.63% of individual policy sales, achieved 50% growth, while mixed policies grew a more modest 17.3%. In group life, the only growth in 2013 occurred in group provident classes, which rose 8.8% y-o-y, as well as accounting for 25.97% of group premiums. Group savings policies, however, which accounted for 69.23% of premiums, dropped 11.7% over 2012, while the small 4.8% of premiums collected through mixed policies fell a drastic 60.9% y-o-y. Although premiums on group terminal benefits contracts have been tax exempt since 2005, the association is asking the government to further expand the exemption to supplementary private retirement schemes held over a decade to support further growth.

“We are lobbying the government to extend tax exemption for life insurance policies of over 10 years,” ASA-CI’s Dicoh told OBG. “While this may lead to lower tax revenue in the short run, we are arguing that this would generate more life insurance assets that can be channelled towards longer-term investments domestically.” The 2012 reform of the public pension system, aimed at expanding the two pension schemes’ reach beyond the 5% of the population and 7% of financial sector assets covered in 2013, could also stimulate further demand for private retirement riders.

Losses

By containing loss ratios at very low levels, insurers, particularly larger ones, have sustained strong profitability, although this also reflects challenges in claims settlement. Indeed, loss ratios in both segments have improved markedly in 2013, with the ratio in nonlife falling 18.4% y-o-y to 32.1% in 2013 and that in life falling some 50% to 29.7% according to ASA-CI figures. “The large drop in loss ratios in life in 2013 was due to clients’ high withdrawals of savings in 2012 to rebuild after the end of the crisis,” Belife’s Ngaméni told OBG.

Part of the explanation for historically low non-life losses is the low insurance penetration – most contracts excluded political unrest and were thus unaffected by the Ivorian crisis. Another challenge is poor claims management, particularly by smaller non-life players – while loss ratios on motor policies rose from 25.99% in 2011 to 33.4% in 2012, this remains far lower than other emerging markets that typically have ratios in excess of 50%. “Loss ratios in Côte d’Ivoire remain quite low, which is especially surprising in motor. This plays a role in people’s mistrust of insurance companies, so we are encouraging our members to improve their claims management,” Dicoh told OBG.

Profits

Although the fire/property segment witnessed relatively high losses in 2012, with a fire at the ROTOCI publishing house in Abidjan, non-life insurers still saw their aggregate profitability rise 32.62% y-o-y to CFA24.52bn (€36.78m) in 2012. Life insurers saw markedly higher rises in profit albeit from a low base, with a rise of 112.21% y-o-y to CFA7.78bn (€11.67m). Meanwhile, settlement of large claims incurred in 2013 were still pending in early 2014, causing the sector’s loss ratio to decline 37% over 2012 levels.

Indeed, the region’s largest loss in Abidjan in July 2013 was a fire at the Gandour perfume plant, but while associated losses may add up to more than CFA10bn (€15m), exposure was localised on two foreign-linked insurers with their captive reinsurers offshore, AXA and Allianz. As such reinsurance rates have remained stable. “Rates were quite flat across all non-life classes at the time of treaty renewals for 2014,” Diongue said.

As in peer markets the life segment has proven more profitable than general insurance, with underwriters achieving an average of 10.68% rate of operational profit in 2012 compared to 5.4% in non-life. The most profitable players in non-life tend to be smaller firms, with Atlantique Assurance achieving the highest operational profit rate of 33.22% in 2012 despite a market share of 2.48%, followed by AAA with 18.53% profit for a 1.65% share. The larger underwriters achieve high single-digit returns, ranging from 3.73% for Saham to 9.29% for Allianz and 9.77% for LMAI. Size is a more significant factor in life, where larger insurers like UA-Vie, Saham and Allianz-Vie sustained double-digit profits of 13.55%, 16.87% and 26.68%. Three life insurers saw net operational losses in 2012 due to spikes in claims, however: NSIA-Vie saw losses of 2.08% of turnover, while two smaller players SOMAVIE and STAMVIE lost a higher 6.07% and 12.47% respectively. Life insurers relied on stronger investment returns from predominantly fixed income and property placements however, with 5.41% y-o-y growth in investment profits to CFA357.79bn (€536.69m) in 2012, compared to 4.07% growth to CFA150.03bn (€225.05m) for non-life.

Scaling Down

Longer-term prospects are tied to driving retail penetration and scaling down products to target informal workers. Innovation in micro-insurance since 2012, when the CIMA issued guidelines for policies of under CFA35,000 (€52.50) in annual premiums, has focused on scaled-down personal accident, health and life policies sold through partnerships with mobile banking and microfinance institutions (MFIs). The three major mobile operators with mobile money platforms have all partnered on micro-insurance products. Since November 2011 Orange has worked with LMAI on accidental death/funeral covers bundled with a telephone, “Prévoyance O”, with CFA15,000 (€22.50) initial premiums and CFA6800 (€10.20) annual renewals, with covers up to CFA500,000 (€750). “While our penetration for mobile insurance is still below 5% of Orange’s customer base, we see strong upside in coming years while the claims rate is not significantly higher,” Bah said.

Etisalat’s Moov partnered with STAMVIE in November 2012 for MoovPrevoyance, which bundle free calls with funeral cover of up to CFA150,000 (€225) at an annual cost of CFA12,000 (€18). Allianz launched two micro-policies through MTN in June 2012. The term life policy costs CFA8000 (€12) annually and provides covers of up to CFA500,000 (€750) for natural deaths and permanent disabilities and CFA1m (€1500) for accidental deaths. The savings plan, for which clients must enrol at an MTN office but can then renew through their mobile wallet, carries monthly premiums of CFA3000 (€4.50) and allows for annual withdrawals of up to 30%. The policy pays out up to CFA1m (€1500) in case of death, compounded by 85% of the interest on the net savings. The German insurer has also sold funeral insurance, with premiums ranging from CFA7500 (€11.25) to CFA87,000 (€130.50) for pay-outs of between CFA500,000 (€750) and CFA2m (€3000).

Agricultural Covers

Despite agriculture’s significance as the main employer, accounting for 30% of GDP, crop insurance remains at an early stage in Côte d’Ivoire. The only insurer offering policies to the agricultural sector in 2014 is Serenity, established in 2008 but generating roughly CFA3bn (€4.5m) in premiums, 30% outside Abidjan, in 2013. The underwriter works through aggregators, targeting associations of plantation workers with policies in the CFA15,000-25,000 (€22.50-37.50) annual range. The policies insure plantations and equipment, and also provide health insurance for individuals, covering 80% of treatment costs. Having signed up collectives of cashew nut, palm oil and rubber, Serenity claims it wrote €1m in micro-insurance policies by end-2013, although it also aims to reach cocoa and coffee planters. It has partnered with the Société Internationale de Plantation et de Finances (Sipef-CI) as a key agricultural financer to expand coverage, signing up an additional 5000 rubber planters for the year 2014. At a regional level, the Global Index Insurance Facility of the International Finance Corporation is backing a five-year feasibility study into index-based harvest insurance in the Sahel in partnership with SwissRe, Allianz, Africa Re, CICA-Re and NGOs like Oxfam and Planet Finance. Under the pilot scheme in Senegal, Mali, Burkina-Faso and Benin the target is to cover 60,000 to 80,000 farmers by 2016 by establishing a regional platform for index-based crop insurance that will be broadened to Côte d’Ivoire.

Outlook

While the economic recovery post-2011 has generated double-digit growth for both insurance segments, underwriters will need to step up their outreach efforts through affordable products and alternative distribution channels to drive retail growth. “The prospects for insurance are tied to the retail market, as underwriters find the optimal distribution mix to reach target segments,” Bah told OBG.

Authorities will also need to enforce rules that require a minimum of larger risks to be covered domestically to support the industry’s growth. Major players and foreign investors are likely to drive consolidation to achieve the scale necessary to boost Côte d’Ivoire’s growth.

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2015

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