The insurance sector in Côte d’Ivoire has been posting solid growth figures for years. The pickup in the country’s economy after 2012 has made the sector increasingly attractive, prompting the arrival of new competitors aiming to establish a foothold in West Africa’s biggest insurance market.
The influx of foreign competitors, coupled with regional regulatory changes, are poised to transform what was previously a highly concentrated sector, with a handful of players commanding over 80% of the annual volume of premiums, but a large number of players, including many small-scale and undercapitalised insurers, still competing fiercely for market share.
The introduction of new rules is expected to gradually change this, as stricter minimum capital requirements from the Inter-African Conference of Insurance Markets (Conférence Inter-africaine des Marchés d’ Assurances, CIMA), which oversees insurance regulation in 15 regional markets, take effect. In part because it has the largest insurance market in the regional grouping, Côte d’Ivoire has been able to attract large-scale international insurance operators, a trend likely continue in light of possible new acquisitions and a large number of ongoing public works projects.
The sector has seen exponential growth, both in volume of total premiums and in the number of competitors operating in both the insurance and reinsurance segments. High headline economic growth together with expansion in traditional sectors, such as industry and agriculture, and the development of emerging economic activities, such as mining, has helped stoke demand for new coverage.
Insurance companies represent 20% of total financial sector assets in Côte d’Ivoire, according to a May 2016 report by the IMF, which found the country’s insurance sector to have the largest asset size in the West African Economic and Monetary Union.
As a result, the market has steadily expanded over the past decade, displaying average annual growth rates of between 8% and 10% in recent years. In 2015 the sector reached gross premiums of CFA279bn (€418.5m), according to figures by the Association of Insurance Companies of Côte d’Ivoire (Association des Sociétés d’Assurances de Côte d’Ivoire, ASA-CI). This is a 12% increase on 2014 gross premiums, which peaked at CFA250bn (€375m). The sector recorded compound growth of 38% in 2012-15. Other recent growth estimates, however, are more modest. The Federation of Insurance Companies under African National Law, for example, reported that the insurance sector expanded by an average of 6.4% annually between 2010 and 2014.
The high growth is not solely a function of a strong market. According to the ASA-CI it is also reflective – as is so often the case in West Africa – of a low penetration rate of insurance services in the country, which stood at 3% in 2014. “Besides the relatively low level of penetration, the expanding economy is bringing new insurance needs. It is an almost open insurance market in many ways. But before we are able to develop it, we need to clean up the sector,” Kamal Harati, CEO of KH Assureurs Conseils, told OBG.
The country remains the biggest insurance market in the CIMA region. According to figures from the latest annual report from CIMA, in 2014 Côte d’Ivoire accounted for 20.9% of gross premiums in the non-life segment, or CFA140bn (€210m), ahead of the region’s second-largest market, Cameroon, with CFA117.2bn (€175.8m). The region’s third-largest insurance market, Gabon, closed 2014 with total gross premiums of around CFA103bn (€154.5m). The difference is even starker in the life insurance segment, where Côte d’Ivoire accounted for 41% of all gross premiums in the CIMA region in 2014.
Côte d’Ivoire is still a small player on the African continent, accounting for only 3% of total insurance premiums in Africa in 2014, according to the African Insurance Organisation (AIO), although this compares markets, including Ghana and Cameroon, at 2% each, and Senegal at 1%. The country accounted for 4% of total African life insurance premiums, followed by Ghana, at 3%, and Cameroon, Gabon, and Senegal, at 1% each. In the non-life segment, Côte d’Ivoire represented 2% of total premiums in Africa in 2014, according to data published by the AIO, the same level as that achieved by Ghana and Cameroon.
According to Ibrahima Cherif, CEO of insurance firm Génération Nouvelle d’Assurance Côte d’Ivoire, increased banking penetration in recent years is having a positive impact on insurance penetration as the two are closely linked. “Insurance penetration is undeniably linked to banking penetration. The government could, however, also help increase insurance penetration by instituting more compulsory insurance products, such as auto insurance is today,” he told OBG.
As of December 2015 there were 27 insurance companies operating in the country – 10 in the life segment, and 17 in non-life. In addition to these, there are over 140 active insurance brokers, including such international players as French group Gras Savoye or Cameroon-based Ascoma, which is especially active in the corporate insurance segment.
Life Vs Non-Life
As is the case across the continent, the Côte d’Ivoire insurance market is still predominantly composed of non-life insurance schemes. In 2015 non-life gross premiums accounted for a total of CFA160.6bn (€240.9m), or some 60% of total gross premiums. The life insurance segment accounted for CFA119.7bn (€178.5m) of the total market, but has been expanding rapidly. “Much of this growth is coming from bancassurance, through credit allocation that requires people to have life insurance to cover the loan in case of death,” Yann de la Monneraye, senior manager of PwC Côte d’Ivoire, the local branch of the global professional services company, told OBG.
Low penetration rates, strong macroeconomic fundamentals and the country’s relative insulation from volatile oil markets have made Cote d’Ivoire’s insurance market attractive to foreign players, and a handful of newly arrived underwriters have begun to make their presence felt in recent years. In mid-2015 Société Africaine d’Assurance et de Ré assurance entered the market, backed by Ivorian and Cameroonian capital, followed by another high profile entrant from Morocco, Wafa Assurance, which received two operating licences in 2016 in the non-life and life segments. The move is part of the group’s expansion in Africa, where it already has insurance operations in Tunisia, Cameroon and Senegal. Wafa Assurance is part of Moroccan banking group Attijariwafa, which in Côte d’Ivoire operates through its subsidiary Ivorian Society Bank. Then in April 2016 AXA Insurance, already present in the non-life segment, obtained a licence to operate life insurance in Côte d’Ivoire through its new subsidiary AXA Côte d’Ivoire Vie. Tunisia-based Comar also entered the non-life segment at this time. Finally, in June 2016 Morocco-based Atlanta Insurance arrived, through the creation of two companies for the life and non-life segments to be based in Abidjan – Atlanta Côte d’Ivoire Vie and Atlanta Côte d’Ivoire non-vie.
In December 2016 Atlanta officials announced that the company had received regulatory approval to establish its non-life operations, reporting that it plans to invest CFA5bn (€7.5m) in the new firm, with the aim of eventually becoming a major player in the non-life market. This builds on an existing expansion strategy launched by Atlanta’s majority shareholder, the Holmarcom Group, which has also established a presence in Senegal and Benin.
The high demand has led to attractive returns for early-stage and private equity investors who are looking to exit, such as pan-African private equity firm Emerging Capital Partners (ECP.) ECP exited its $47.7m investment in Abidjan-based Nouvelle Societé Interafricaine d’ Assurance Participations, a leading insurance group for Francophone west and central African countries, in May 2015. The investment returned a multiple of 2.4x over a seven-year holding period.
The high interest of foreign operators is set to spike the market in the years to come. For now, however, the sector remains greatly influenced by the large disparity in size and financial capacity between many of its players. In 2015 the top five insurers accounted for as much as 80% of gross annual premiums. But the disproportion in market weight is visible even at the top echelon of the market. Saham, the largest player in non-life insurance, accounted for CFA45bn (€67.5m) in a market total of CFA160.6bn (€240.9m) in 2015, while the segment’s second- and third-largest non-life players, Allianz and NSIA, generated around CFA19.4bn (€29.1) each. AXA Insurance, with CFA13.8bn (€20.7m), came in fourth, while the fifth-largest player, Sunu Group, represented just CFA11bn (€16.5m) of the market’s gross premiums.
Towards the lower end of the scale, the 22 remaining insurance firms compete aggressively for market share. Their size, coupled with the reality set to be enforced by stricter minimum capital regulations, puts smaller underwriters at a competitive crossroads. “A lot of these are small companies that lack the necessary financial muscle to set up the business structures, develop the IT systems and hire the necessary skills to properly manage their portfolios,” Monneraye told OBG. Because of this, a number of these competitors are likely to be absorbed by larger-scale underwriters as new regulations come into effect over the coming years.
The large number of competing underwriters outside the top five has at times led to price wars for certain types of insurance. According to market operators OBG has spoken with, this type of pricing rivalry is happening even in the coverage of complex risks.
Although policymaking related to the sector is the responsibility of the Insurance Department at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Côte d’Ivoire is also part of CIMA, the regional insurance body that issues regulation and steers enforcement efforts for the 15 countries belonging to it.
Since the signing of its founding treaty in 1992 and the establishment of its first insurance code in 1995, CIMA has overseen the regulatory implementation and enforcement of insurance rules for Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Cameroon, Benin, the Central African Republic, Congo, Comoros, Mali, Niger, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Togo, Senegal and Burkina Faso.
Substantial reforms made by CIMA in recent years have targeted the improvement of insurers’ solvency in an attempt to strengthen regional insurance capabilities. In 2009 the regulator issued an insurance regulatory code that increased minimum capital requirements for underwriters in the region from CFA500m (€750,000) to CFA1bn (€1.5m), making the new requirements mandatory from 2011.
Another significant challenge faced by CIMA over the years has been the substantial volume of unpaid policies on the insurance companies’ balance sheets. This has resulted in accumulated arrears, mostly caused either by insurance brokers delaying payment to underwriters or because insurance customers would refrain from paying their premiums until it was necessary to activate their insurance claims.
This led CIMA officials to improve enforcement of Article 13 in a reform carried out in 2011, which implemented a “no premium, no cover” principle for the region’s insurance markets. The regulator also established a December 2014 deadline for underwriters to secure unpaid premiums or remove the insurance policies from their financial statements. While the government and government entities are granted a 180-day grace period to fulfill their payment obligations, everyone else is required to pay on the spot. As a result, from 2012 to 2014 the volume of arrears in the non-life insurance segments for the CIMA market fell from CFA175.2bn (€262.8m) to CFA69.2bn (€103.8m), according to figures from the regulator. In Côte d’Ivoire, arrears fell from CFA40.6bn (€60.9m) to CFA12.8bn (€19.2m) over the same period. This meant that Ivorian underwriters were able to reduce the percentage of unpaid premiums in the non-life segment from 35% to 9.2% of total premiums in that two-year period.
Although the rule has helped reduce financial risk and strengthen solvency, it has also made it more challenging for certain pockets of the population to access insurance products by establishing the obligation to pay the full amount or the first premium of an insurance policy upfront, according to a study carried out by consultancy firm EY. This downside to the no premium no coverage rules could be mitigated by further growth of micro-insurance options in both the domestic and the regional market in the coming years.
The regulator, together with the operators, has also been looking to improve the process for payouts of claims. This has historically been a problem in many West African insurance markets, in some cases slowing uptake among new customers, and in May 2016 ASA-CI’s president urged its members to pay claims in a timely fashion, in order to uphold the industry’s reputation and maintain consumer confidence.
Claims overall have slowed over the past 12 months, although this is in part a result of the high growth seen in 2014. ASA-CI reports that in 2015 claims paid by insurance companies operating in Côte d’Ivoire totalled CFA141.47bn (€212.2m) – a 1.5% contraction from 2014 levels. Claims payments increased by 12.4% in 2014. Non-life claims payments, meanwhile, fell by 0.5% to CFA70.38bn (€105.6m), while paid life claims fell by 2.5% in 2015 to hit CFA71.92bn (€2.9m).
Further change took place in April 2016 when a CIMA ministerial conference approved new capital minimums for insurance companies operating in the region. Underwriters are now required to have a minimum capital of CFA5bn (€7.5m), instead of the previously established amount of CFA1bn (€1.5m). The new capital rules are applicable to all companies established after June 2016. For existing firms, the regional insurance regulator established an adaptation period. Insurers will have to reach a minimum capital of CFA2bn (€3m) in two years, and fulfil the CFA5bn (€7.5m) threshold over a period of five years.
The move is expected to bring benefits to insurance markets across the whole of the CIMA region. For Côte d’Ivoire specifically, it will help tackle the solvency issues weighing on the sector by strengthening companies and relieving the market of those insurers without the financial capacity to fulfil their insurer obligations in terms of pay-outs. “The main goal of the legislators was to have players that are financially solid and at the same time reduce the number of companies,” Moustapha Diongue, former West Africa underwriter at CICA-RE, the CIMA zone’s reinsurer, told OBG. “One of the problems of these smaller insurers has always been their financial structuring. Some of these companies have more overhead costs than real sales, which sometimes makes it impossible for them to have the sufficient size to pay out to insured clients.”
The financial limitations of certain players in the sector have long been a challenge for regulators, especially due to the negative impact that non-performing insurers can have on insurance penetration efforts in Côte d’Ivoire. In June 2016 Tropical Société d’Assurances was placed under technical administration by the Insurance Department at the Ministry of Economy and Finance by CIMA. The move was based on the company’s solvency problems, reflected by its coverage deficit of CFA3.6bn (€5.4m), according to international media reports. As of mid-2016 up to eight insurance firms were under technical administration or close monitoring by CIMA, according to Harati.
One likely scenario that is likely to play out as a result of the new regulations is market consolidation on a large scale. “Some companies think that the new CIMA regulation is a bit too strict. For the bigger companies this will be the time to secure market share or to look into acquisitions in Côte d’Ivoire and other CIMA markets,” Monneraye told OBG. “In the first phase, these bigger groups will look into targeted acquisitions. Later, in the second phase, you will probably see mergers between companies of similar size that will allow them to face the market in a stronger position.”
Also included in the 2016 regulatory changes implemented by CIMA is an increase to the minimum requirements for risk insurance to be insured locally, which has been raised from 25% to 50% on most types of insurance modalities. “Because of the new rules preventing some risks from being reinsured abroad, you will now see a lot of risks that were mostly taken outside through fronting agreements coming into the local market,” Diongue told OBG.
However, much of the new rule’s impact will depend on the specificities of implementation. Insurance operators have long lobbied the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire for stricter enforcement of the domestication of insurance obligations. Existing domiciliation rules were at times overlooked on large-scale infrastructure projects, where insurance coverage is provided through fronting agreements established overseas together with financing agreements. With a number of large-scale infrastructure development projects already taking place or in planning stages involving international investment, the sector will be eager to see if the volume of new insurance premiums will effectively trickle down to the domestic market.
Although insurers continue to depend heavily on corporate business to expand their market share, the growing role of bancassurance in insurance scheme distribution has been growing, helping to bolster the number of individual customers in the life segment, which grew by 17% in 2015.
As of January 2016 the segment was led by the Paris-based insurance firm Sunu Life, with a market share of 35%, although the entrance of a growing number of pan-African and international underwriters will likely present an increasing degree of competition. In terms of gross annual premiums the top three players in 2015 were Sunu Life, with around CFA39.3bn (€59m) followed by NSIA Vie, with CFA21.5bn (€32.3m) and Allianz Vie, with CFA 17.1bn(€25.7m).
With domestic competition rising, Sunu is targeting expanding its regional footprint. The group has already established operations in 12 regional francophone countries and is now moving into the anglophone sphere, beginning with the acquisition of a 60% stake in Nigeria’s Equity Insurance in January 2016.
Gross written premiums in the life insurance segment have risen steadily, recording a compound annual growth rate of 4.9% between 2010 and 2013, according to the AIO’s Africa Insurance Barometer 2016 Market Survey, to reach $230m. Although the total volume of premiums is still below that of the non-life segment, the life insurance segment is expanding at a faster annual rate and represents an important revenue stream for insurance companies. “Life insurance generates higher premiums per customer than non-life insurance, and with the development of savings products, the total volume of premiums collected in the life segment is likely to outweigh the non-life segment over the coming years,” Monneraye told OBG.
The non-life segment expanded at a more moderate pace, recording a compound annual growth rate of 2.5% over the same period to reach $294m. However, according to Tétiali Fructueux, CEO of Saar Insurance, there is plenty of room for further growth. “The auto-insurance industry is not yet saturated and given that many other segments, such as fire insurance, could eventually become mandatory, the insurance sector has a lot of room for development,” he told OBG.
Similarly to what happens in most insurance markets in the region, auto insurance accounts for the majority of premiums in the non-life segment. According to figures from 2014 published by CIMA, auto insurance accounted for 31.9% of total non-life premiums in the country, which itself processed 19.5% of auto insurance premiums in the CIMA region.
Auto insurance being compulsory, the segment is an industry mainstay, but it is also receiving a boost from an increase in the number of vehicles, both individual and corporate, linked to the economic dynamism of recent years. Following in a distant second place is the personal accident and health segment at 27.7%, fire and property insurance at 17.7%, transport insurance (which includes aviation and marine transport) at 11.5% and civil liability at 3.3% of total premiums.
Large-scale infrastructure projects, which are set to secure a bigger slice of the insurance premiums secured domestically, should lead to an increase in coverage of construction and property. The prospect of construction and home insurance becoming compulsory in the near future will further spur the non-life segment.
Health insurance products have been growing steadily, buoyed by a regulatory change in 2006 that established better fiscal incentives for group policies and reduced tax on health insurance policies for individuals from 4.5% to 3%. Insurance providers are also looking out for the ongoing establishment of a universal health insurance system, which is expected to push sector operators to develop complementary coverage schemes. The new system, first introduced in 2015, provides cover for medical consultations and nursing as well as some medicines and hospital procedures. Initially aimed at private sector workers and public servants but later expected to be made compulsory, subscribers will pay CFA1000 (€1.50) per month into the plan.
The reinsurance sector has seen a spike in competitiveness, with around 14 players operating in the CIMA region in September 2016. “Compared to its European and American counterparts, the Ivorian reinsurance market still offers high margins, reaching anywhere between 15% and 20%,” Olivier N’ Guessan-Amon, regional director of Africa Re, told OBG. “However, volumes remain very small in comparison.”
As a result of new regulation, the regional market is set to receive a further boost from Article 308 of the 2015/16 insurance reform bill, which introduced new limitations on the allocation of reinsurance abroad. From June 1, 2016 companies were required to reinsure 50% of their coverage locally, with only the remaining 50% able to be reinsured overseas through fronting agreements. The changes to the regulations have also made it compulsory for reinsurers wanting to operate in the CIMA market to have an office in one of the regional market’s countries.
Other elements of the new regulations have caused some concern for industry stakeholders, as highlighted at a meeting of CIMA reinsurers in March 2015. Representatives from Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Ghana, Gabon, and Cameroon called on CIMA to establish a separate regulatory framework for the reinsurance segment, and to clearly define state, multilateral and pan-African reinsurance activities in order to better enable compliance with the reforms.
The group also stated that the mandatory paid-up capital requirement for reinsurers, at CFA10bn (€15m), was too high, arguing that it should instead be set at CFA5bn (€7.5m). Non-payment has also been cited as a concern. Nazaire Abbey, CEO of NCA Re, told OBG, “Reinsurers suffer from non-payment of premiums from insurers, indicating that the non-payments are not solely a problem with customers, but also a problem with the insurance companies and brokers themselves.”
The two largest reinsurers in the sector, CICA-RE and African Re, are both intra-governmental reinsurers. CICA-RE was established in 1981 and is the CIMA region’s reinsurer. The majority of the reinsurance company is owned by 12 CIMA countries, which hold a combined 65.24% of shares. Insurance companies operating in the region, as well as the West African Development Bank and the African Solidarity Fund, are also shareholders. Africa Re was set-up in 1976 and is owned by member countries of African Union, alongside the African Development Bank and – with roughly one-third of the shares, more than a hundred insurance and reinsurance companies.
Other reinsurers have established themselves in Côte d’Ivoire as an entry point into francophone West Africa. Aveni RE Assurance was set up in 2004 to focus on West and Central African insurance sectors, and has a capital of CFA8bn (€12m), while Tunisian reinsurer Tunis R opened its offices in the country in 2012. These firms were followed by Nigeria-based Continental RE and Kenya RE, which set-up shop in 2014. Sen-RE and NCA Re are also present in the market, as is Société Central de Réassurance, part of Morocco-based Caisse de Dépôts et de Gestion, which opened an office in 2014.
In February 2016 the country’s first reinsurance broker, Reinsurance Solutions, opened its doors. The entrance of the Mauritian firm is seen as a step forward for the industry, as the majority of insurers worldwide go through brokers for reinsurance services.
Expansion of insurance provision is likely to be accelerated by new micro-insurance schemes, which have so far mostly been led by foreign entrants. In 2016, for example, Moroccan group Banque Populaire opened in its first microfinance agency in the country, under the microfinance brand Atlantic Microfinance for Africa, which will not only offer micro-credit products but also focus on micro-insurance.
Much of the groundwork for new insurance products targeting informal workers and lower-income families was laid in 2012, after CIMA published rules framing the provision of insurance policies with annual premiums below CFA35,000 (€52.50). This has led to partnerships between underwriters, microfinance institutions and mobile communications providers, and the country’s three major operators now offer insurance policies with premiums and claims payable through mobile money transactions. However, there are still plenty of challenges to be overcome to develop the industry. “Micro-insurance has difficulty taking off because of the economic situation of the families with small incomes. It is not a vital need for these families, and so it is hard to sell them insurance,” Harati told OBG.
“The commercialisation of insurance services through mobile is going to get much bigger in the coming years. The mobile phone is the new distribution channel, which will increase the penetration rate of all type of insurance. However, CIMA regulations must be adapted to mobile insurance by, for example, removing the mandatory signature necessary to get an insurance policy,” Sébastien Ngameni, assistant general manager at Belife Insurance, told OBG.
Mobile operators and underwriters now offer products as relevant as accidental death/funeral expenses coverage bundled with mobile communications services. But smaller property protection micro-insurance schemes are also arising. In early 2016 AXA announced a partnership with e-commerce firm Jumia to offer mobile phone protection policies in Côte d’Ivoire. The schemes will cost CFA2500 (€3.75)-3500CFA (€5.25), depending on the price of the mobile phone, and be valid for a year. Coverage will be capped at CFA200,000 (€300), according to the local media. “Inter-industry collaboration, with telecoms operators or banks, is required to boost penetration, especially within rural areas,” Joël Ackah, CEO of Saham, told OBG. “New technologies allow us to reach clients via the internet or their mobile, and allow us to streamline communication and payment methods for either premiums or claims.”
The positive developments taking place in Côte d’Ivoire’s economy are driving insurance sector growth. Moreover, recently implemented changes in regulation are sure to lead to market consolidation over the coming years. With stricter regional insurance rules forcing insurance firms to strengthen their financial positions, non-compliance by providers will certainly be reduced, easing efforts to expand insurance penetration to new pockets of the population. “Given the low purchasing power in Côte d’Ivoire, traditional insurance products do not cater to the real needs of the market,” Samaké Vakaramoko, CEO of Scconas Assurance, told OBG. “Insurance companies and brokers need to adapt their products to meet these conditions, and tap into the largest segment of the population.” This will, however, be dependent on how well insurance operators develop products for lower-income citizens, as 46.3% of the country’s population remains at or below the poverty line. Micro-insurance options, although still at an embryonic stage in their development, will be key to raising awareness about insurance on a large scale.
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