Driven by increasing corporate activity on the back of steady headline growth, Gabon has developed a comparatively large insurance sector, despite the country’s small population. Much of the sector’s growth has been linked to industrial development and expansion of infrastructure in recent years, mostly encouraged by the government’s Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan (Plan Stratégique Gabon É mergent, PSGE), which aims to revitalise and diversify the economy beyond the hydrocarbons sector.
Due to Gabon’s limited size, local insurers have traditionally lacked the ability to underwrite risk related to large players from the industry and transport sectors. As a way around this, insurers have relied on fronting agreements as a means to shift high-risk premiums abroad using foreign reinsurers. This has allowed for adequate risk management, while at the same time providing hefty margins for local insurers. This may not be the case for much longer, however, following the creation of Société Commerciale Gabonaise de Réassurance (SCG-RE) in 2012, the country’s domestic reinsurer, which has allowed for a larger amount of premiums to be kept in the local market.
After Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon, Gabon is the third-largest insurance market among the Inter-African Conference on Insurance Markets (Conférence Interafricaine des Marchés d’ Assurances, CIMA), with a total premium output of about CFA90bn (€135m), Andrew Gwodock, the general-manager of SCG-RE, told OBG.
According to figures from the Federation of Insurance Companies of Gabon (Federation Gabonaise des Sociétés d’Assurance, FEGASA) the sector grew by 3.3% in 2014, posting CFA118.4bn (€177.6m) in direct premiums, compared to CFA114.5bn (€171.7m) at the end of 2013. The sub-Saharan insurance market is led by Côte d’ Ivoire, which accounted for CFA238.bn (€358.2m) in premiums in 2013, the largest total in the region.
Non-life insurance remains the largest segment in Gabon, with CFA100bn (€150m) in premiums in 2014, compared with CFA18bn (€27m) in life insurance premiums. The non-life segment is driven by a handful of insurance lines such as automotive and transport, which are mandatory, and fire and health.
However, in spite of their large size, non-life lines have fluctuated in recent years, in part due to the volatility of the country’s extractive sector. In 2010 the segment made up 85% of the market, decreasing to around 83% by 2013, and rising again to 84.9% by 2014, according to figures from FEGASA. A combination of price spikes, delayed bidding rounds and decreasing oil production – accounting for 45% of Gabon’s GDP – have impacted non-life lines, particularly for transport coverage.
In the long term, an uptick in upstream production may lead to yet another rise in non-life coverage. Nonetheless, the contribution of extractive activities to insurance premiums is set to grow in the short term. “The authorities have already published a new law stating that all oil and mining activities in Gabon must be supported by insurance contracts with local insurance companies. That will improve the retention of insurance premiums in country,” Renaud Allogho Akoue, secretary-general at Ogar, told OBG.
Other non-life products are also expected to help diversify and add value to the sector, although premium amounts for insurance contracts are lower than those brought in by the oil sector. Elsewhere, automotive, health and multiple-risk insurance premiums showed steady growth during 2014.
Although life insurance premiums have expanded in recent years, such as in 2013, with 22% growth year–on-year (y-o-y), they have since remained stable, with only marginal growth recorded in 2014. Life insurance is mainly driven by collective insurance schemes, but growth potential also exists in individual and group insurance lines. With bancassurance steadily establishing itself through increased banking penetration (see Banking overview), a new avenue for growth is sure to gain traction in the Gabonese market, in the process enabling providers to gain access to a new pool of potential customers.
Séverin Anguilé, managing director at Nouvelle Société Interafricaine d’Assurances du Gabon (NSIA Assurances), told OBG, “The development of bancassurance has been mainly driven by those banks that already own an insurance as a subsidiary.”
In terms of the overall size, Gabon has fared well in comparison to other insurance markets in the region. The penetration rate as a percentage of GDP reached 1.1% in 2012, compared to 1% of GDP among markets of the CIMA region, which groups together 14 insurance sectors in Central and West African Francophone countries. Likewise, Gabon surpassed the 0.79% GDP average in the Central African region.
Gabon’s insurance market is loosely managed under the CIMA Insurance Code, which was introduced in 1995 to guide insurance expansion confirmed, the move would potentially solidify the sector financially and promote market consolidation.
Competition has seen an array of companies vying for a piece of a growing, if modestly sized, market. The sector is made up of eight insurance companies, one reinsurance provider and 19 insurance brokers acting as intermediaries. The non-life insurance segment remains the most competitive, with five players, namely, Ogar, NSIA Assurances, Axa Gabon, Saham Assurance and Assurances Industrielles et Comerciales (Assinco). Elsewhere, NSIA Vie Assurances, Ogar Vie and UAG Vie have focused their activities on the life segment. Foreign operators, meanwhile, make up a significant portion of the market, including NSIA Assurances, which is owned by Ivoirian operator Groupe NSIA, Morocco-based Saham Assurance, as well as Axa Gabon, a subsidiary of French giant Axa. In 2014 Morocco’s leading insurance player Wafa Assurance said it would be establishing a subsidiary in Gabon, through its parent bank Attijariwafa. The only homegrown insurers are Assinco and Ogar, respectively.
Within the Gabonese market, the top insurers, in terms of premium volumes, have seen their traditional market dominance impacted by the large number of competitors, many of which specialise in certain lines. According to 2014 figures from FEGASA, Ogar remains the largest insurer by premiums, with a 32.6% market share and total premiums of CFA38.6bn (€57.9m). Non-life accounted for a large proportion of the group’s operations, at around CFA30bn (€45m), with transport representing more than CFA14bn (€21m) in premiums in 2014.
In second place is NSIA Assurances, which brought its market share up from 16.8% in 2013 to 18.9% in 2014, with total premium volumes of CFA22.4bn (€33.6m). The non-life segment, at CFA20.4bn (€30.6m), makes up most of the insurer’s business. Indeed, NSIA Assurances has gained a foothold in the automotive segment, where it held the largest portion of premiums at CFA8.3bn (€12.45m) in 2014.
Following the acquisition of its parent company Colina by Morocco’s Groupe Saham in 2014, Colina – now known as Saham Assurance – is the third-biggest operator in the market. With a 15.39% market share, the insurer has expanded by servicing the property and casualty market, reaching a total premium volume of CFA18.2bn (€27.3m) in 2014, according to figures from FEGASA. The operator is followed by Assinco, which made up 13.8% of the market in 2014, with CFA16.4bn (€24.6m) of premiums.
Due to the limited purchasing power and lack of awareness about insurance products, two dynamics which tend to define most Central African insurance markets, life insurance schemes have had a slow start in the Gabonese market. Although stable in terms of y-o-y change in 2014, life insurance premiums grew from CFA12.72bn (€19.1m) to CFA17.8bn (€26.7m) between 2009 and 2014, according to FEGASA numbers. There has been a slowdown in the segment since mid-2014 however, with direct premium amounts remaining static between 2013 and 2014. With life insurance premiums stabilising, a handful of specific life insurance segments continue to grow rapidly. Mixed health insurance premiums, for example, rose 54.7% to reach CFA1.9bn (€2.85m) in 2014.
Despite this, life insurance remains under-penetrated and is being helped by new delivery methods. The expansion of bancassurance, for example, is an increasingly preferred channel, and has attracted a rising number of corporate and individual clients. Bancassurance is helping to move the segment away from being driven by collective contracts to a greater offering of individual life insurance. Partnerships have proven to be a useful way to enhance bancassurance distribution. In July 2014, for example, Groupe NSIA signed an agreement with Poste Gabon, which is responsible for the country’s postal service, as part of an initiative to distribute insurance through Gabon’s 75 post offices. Meanwhile, other insurers have been expanding their distribution capacity through partnerships with banks, although this strategy is still developing.
Automobile & Transport
As the only two compulsory products in the market, automotive and transport are essential components in providing Gabon with premiums. According to figures from FEGASA, automotive premiums were the largest single segment in the non-life market, representing 25.8% of the entire insurance market in 2014, at CFA30.6bn (€45.9m) in premiums. Although car insurance is mandatory in Gabon, the market has much room for growth, as it is estimated that up to 40% of drivers remain uninsured. To help reduce the risks from uninsured drivers, the authorities announced plans in 2009 to create a national fund to cover damages, which would be financed through a percentage of auto-insurance premiums. At the time of writing, however, this system had yet to be established.
Transport insurance, which accounts for both imported and exported goods, made up 17.6% of the market. Construction materials, consumer goods, food products and vehicles make up a significant proportion of Gabonese imports, which has contributed to the transport segment’s strong showing, at CFA20.9bn (€31.4m) in total premiums in 2014.
Nonetheless, competition has been extremely tight for transport insurance schemes in recent years, which led to a fall in the volume of premiums over two consecutive years, decreasing by 2.35% in 2013 and 0.65% in 2014. According to government plans, investment in local industries over the medium term should raise imports, and hence, that aspect of transport insurance. The expectation is that this will be balanced out by an uptick in exports as Gabon increases local processing of its natural resources.
Rising awareness of health insurance schemes has made them an essential revenue stream for insurers. Collective health plans by private businesses has solidified the segment, which posted a 2.21% jump in 2014 to reach CFA22.1bn (€33.2m) in premiums, up on CFA13.2bn (€19.8m) in 2011.
Surprisingly, the health insurance segment has been able to maintain momentum, despite the introduction of a new universal public health care scheme in 2013 under the auspices of the National Health Care Insurance and Social Welfare Fund (Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie et de Garantie Sociale, CNAMGS). The new system has an ambitious reach, and represents a first for the Central African region. Its approach, which is based on setting up separate funds for low-income earners, public employees and private sector workers, is reflected in the long preparation time to put the system in place.
The registration of beneficiaries was started in 2009, by focusing on low-income populations. Public and private sector workers were added in 2011 and 2013, respectively. The system is free for those earning less than CFA80,000 (€120) per month, and the low-income bracket of the scheme is mostly financed by specific taxes, such as a 1.5% tax on transfers of money abroad. However, not all low-income earners are currently included, and the government has announced that a new registration programme for this segment of beneficiaries will take place in 2015.
CNMAGS will cover 80% of basic medical treatment costs as well as generic medications (90% in case of chronic disease), but coverage increases to 100% of health costs for low-income earners and pregnant women. Although the programme is still working to cover all of the population, CNAMGS is poised to become a strategic tool as part of the government’s health agenda. Its impact on private health insurance provision, however, is as yet unclear.
In order to improve health care provision, CNAMGS and private health care providers will need to collaborate to integrate the two systems. Despite the finer details, CNAMGS and some of Gabon’s main insurance brokerage firms entered into a convention in May 2014. The goal at this point, according to authorities, is to establish a system that allows for the state-financed scheme to cover an array of basic services, while allowing private insurance providers to market complementary schemes to cover the cost of specialised health provision. The system is mirrored on the mutuelles, or insurance funds, operating in France. “There has been a good deal of cooperative work between the insurance sector and CNAMGS to add the complementary insurance, but further discussion will get into the technical aspects, especially how the insurers can establish tariffs for complementary insurance,” Allogho Akoue told OBG.
The sector will also add more value as a growing portion of reinsurance cessions will remain in the local market. Fronting high-value insurance claims via international partners was the only way to secure large-scale coverage up until the creation of SCG-RE in early 2012. Since the first local reinsurer entered the market, operators have been required to cede 10% of life and 15% of non-life premiums.
Establishing a national reinsurer has added maturity to the Gabonese market, and was part of the PSGE. There are currently two state institutions as majority shareholders in SCG-RE, with the Gabonese Strategic Investment Fund owning 61% and the Deposit and Consignments Fund accounting for 8%. The remaining 31% of the reinsurer segment is held by Gabonese insurance companies. According to SCG-RE figures, the total volume of premiums that stayed in the Gabonese market rose from CFA6.5bn (€9.75m) in 2012 to CFA12bn (€18m) in 2014.
SCG-RE received authorisation from the government in 2013 to expand its activities to enter the aviation segment, as well as onshore and offshore oil exploration. The group has also established partnerships to join insurance pools covering the energy sector. In addition, SCG-RE is aiming to become a regional reinsurer, and has established partnerships with reinsurers in Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria.
Gabon remains one of the most dynamic insurance markets in the region, with growth in total premiums representing an opportunity for both domestic and foreign insurance providers. Improved regulation at a regional level, under CIMA guidelines, as well as at the domestic level has helped to improve confidence in the sector on both sides of the market. Regulatory steps can add further value, as well as positively impact national development. External measures will also help the sector. Improving road safety, legislation for workplace safety standards and fire services would all help to reduce insurers’ exposure to hefty claims in the damages segment. Although Gabon will face challenges from lower oil prices, growth and wide-scale changes in the sector have enhanced resilience to potential shocks.
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