Why investors are attracted to Côte d'Ivoire's insurance market

 

With several years of accumulated growth helping to re-shape the fundamentals of Côte d’Ivoire’s economy, strong overall business performance looks set to boost the country’s insurance sector. Premium has risen steadily over recent years, although the level of insurance penetration remains relatively low, at roughly 2% of GDP in 2018, leaving ample room for expansion. Côte d’Ivoire has the largest market share of all 14 members of the Inter-African Conference on Insurance Markets (Conférence Interafricaine des Marchés d’Assurances, CIMA), making the economic capital Abidjan an attractive jumping-off point for businesses looking to expand in the region.

Yet, the industry is not without its challenges. New arrivals have contributed to oversupply, resulting in lower-than-average tariffs for some insurance products, such as auto coverage. This has led to a system whereby some insurers lower their prices to compete and then are unable to fulfil their commitments to customers. Such moves have resulted in a weak financial position for several industry companies and, in some cases, has negatively affected the perception of insurance in Côte d’Ivoire at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has weakened global financial markets.

Despite the current difficulties, there remains potential for the insurance market to grow significantly. The country’s role as a regional economic centre has translated into large-scale construction projects, as well as the arrival of new international firms aiming to expand operations across West Africa. Although investor appetite is likely to dampen in the short term due to the spread of Covid-19 in the first half of 2020 and the October presidential election, the country’s longer-term growth prospects remain attractive. A host of new regional regulations that includes higher minimum capital requirements is likely to strengthen sector fundamentals. Furthermore, the move towards new mandatory insurance requirements, particularly in the construction sector, is set to increase revenue.

Sector Structure

Due to its size, recent economic performance and lower penetration rate, Côte d’Ivoire remains one of the most attractive insurance markets in West Africa. The country accounted for 27% of all premium in the CIMA region at end-2017, according to the most recent figures from the Ministry of Economy and Finance (Ministère de L’Economie et des Finances, MEF). At that time, the insurance sector employed at least 3000 professionals and accounted for CFA6bn ($10.3m) in tax revenue for the government. At the outset of 2019 the sector comprised 21 non-life providers, 11 life insurance companies, 437 insurance brokers and 11 reinsurance firms.

The local market has witnessed dynamic expansion, owing to the entrance of a number of regional insurance players. In late-2016 Moroccan provider Wafa Insurance began operating in both the life and non-life segments, offering health insurance, general protection and savings products. Tunisia-based Compagnie Méditerranéenne d’Assurances et de Réassurances began operating its Ivorian subsidiary at the end of 2017, focusing on non-life products like accident and transport insurance. Another Moroccan insurer, Atlanta Assurances, was awarded an operating licence in 2016 and began its activities in Côte d’Ivoire the following year, offering life and non-life insurance products. More recently, in mid-2019 Cameroon-based Activa Assurances received its operating licence from the MEF and was scheduled to provide non-life insurance products such as fire and damage coverage beginning in July of that year, although operations had yet to commence as of April 2020.

Premium

According to provisional figures from the Association of Insurance Companies of Côte d’Ivoire (Association des Sociétés d’Assurances de Côte d’ Ivoire, ASA-CI), premium increased by 8.4% in 2019 to CFA389.8bn ($670.1m). This marks a continuation of the market’s upward trajectory, which has seen premium rise steadily from CFA247.2bn ($424.9m) in 2014. Similar to the composition of other insurance markets across the continent, non-life insurance premium represents the majority of the market. At CFA221.2bn ($380.2m) in 2019, non-life inflows accounted for 56.7% of total premium that year and marked a growth rate of 7.7%. Meanwhile, life insurance premium grew by 9.3% to reach CFA168.6bn ($291.5m).

Despite the rising volume of premium overall, the market remains consolidated at the top. With 25.3% of sector premium, the largest firm in non-life insurance was Saham, a Morocco-based insurer that was acquired by South African insurance group Sanlam for $1.1bn in late 2018. This was followed by the local subsidiary of German insurer Allianz, which commanded just under 11% market share. Out of the 21 companies operating in the non-life segment that are members of ASA-CI, 12 had market shares of 3% or less, while the bottom-four companies held under 1% of the market each.

Penetration Levels

Compounding the challenges for smaller insurers is the inherent difficulty of promoting insurance adoption in Côte d’Ivoire. Although the economy has averaged annual growth of 8% since 2012, 46% of Ivorians lived below the national poverty line in 2015, according to the World Bank. “Most people in Côte d’Ivoire are focused on their primary needs,” Kamal Harati, director-general of KH Assureurs Conseils, told OBG. “This does not mean there is not a market for insurance, it just means there is not a mass market of insurance users yet.”

At 2% of GDP in 2018, the insurance penetration rate remains low. The most developed insurance market on the continent belongs to South Africa, which posted a penetration rate of 17% that year, according to PwC. Regionally, Namibia (6.7%), Kenya (2.8%) and Swaziland (2.4%) also outperformed Côte d’Ivoire. However, the same 2018 data highlights that Côte d’Ivoire’s insurance penetration is faring better than many of its immediate neighbours: Senegal reached 1.5% insurance penetration, followed by Ghana (1.1%), Cameroon (1.05%) and Nigeria (0.3%).

Performance

Sector payouts increased by 12.3% in 2019 to CFA214.8bn ($369.2m), according to ASA-CI. Of this total, 50.5% were related to life insurance and 21.6% resulted from health insurance claims. Auto insurance, the third-largest source of payouts that year, accounted for 13.1%, or CFA28.1bn ($48.3m). Overall, payouts to life insurance policyholders rose by 9.4% to CFA108.4bn ($186.3m) in 2019, while non-life payouts grew by 15.5% to CFA106.4bn ($182.9m).

Technical results – which denotes the difference between revenue (including premium) and expenses (including payouts) – fell by 7.6% to CFA39.57bn ($68m) in 2018. Technical results have seen significant variation in recent years, expanding from CFA10bn ($17.2m) in 2014 to CFA48.9bn ($84.1m) in 2016, before slipping to CFA42.8bn ($73.6m) in 2017.

Market Players

A regular influx of players has seen the market become increasingly competitive. In addition to the 11 life and 21 non-life providers, there are eight firms operating in both segments: Allianz, Atlantique Assurances, La Loyale, NSIA Vie Assurances, Saar Insurance, Saham, Sunu Group and Wafa Insurance. In October 2019 Stane Assurance announced that its operating licence had been revoked by the Regional Commission for Insurance Control. The nonlife insurance firm, which had been operating since July 2017, did not provide a reason for this withdrawal.

In the non-life segment, the five-largest insurers – Saham, Allianz, Sunu Group, AXA Insurance and NSIA – accounted for 65.5% of premium in 2019, according to ASC-CI. The top market position was occupied by Saham, which registered premium of over CFA56.8bn ($97.6m), or 25.7% of the non-life market that year. In second place, Allianz had a market share of 11.4%, with CFA25.3bn ($43.5m) in premium. This was followed by Sunu Group, which accounted for CFA23bn ($39.5m) and 10.4% of the market; France’s AXA, with CFA20.3bn ($34.9m, 9.2%); and local firm NSIA, supplying just over CFA19.5bn ($33.5m, 8.1%).

In life insurance, the top-five providers accounted for around 75% of the market. Sunu Vie led the segment in 2019 with 29.7% of total life premium, or CFA50.1bn ($86.1m). This was followed by NSIA Vie Assurances, which registered CFA27.3bn ($46.9m, 16.2%); Allianz Vie, with CFA26.5bn ($45.5m, 15.7%); Saham Vie, with CFA25.5bn ($43.8m, 15.1%); and Prudential Belife Insurance, with around CFA9.2bn ($15.8m, 5.4%).

Regulatory Review

While the sector’s largest competitors are likely to remain key participants in coming years, regulatory enforcement – combined with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – is likely to change the dynamics for the smallest players. On a local level, the MEF is tasked with overseeing and regulating the insurance market. However, as a CIMA member, the ministry is obliged to follow the rules set out in CIMA’s insurance code. In addition to Côte d’ Ivoire, CIMA oversees the regulation and enforcement of insurance laws in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

In recent years CIMA has focused on improving insurance provision and increasing policyholder protections. However, limited resources have made it challenging to consistently audit major players. “There needs to be closer control of the number of insurance claims to see if companies are operating correctly and accounting is done as it should be,” Rosalie Logon, director-general of Atlantique Assurances, told OBG.

Several regulatory measures are in place to strengthen insurers’ financial positions and ensure the sector can meet its commitments to customers. In 2011 CIMA banned the allocation of insurance on credit. Equally important, the watchdog raised minimum capital requirements in 2016. As such, insurance companies operating in the regional market are required to have minimum capital of CFA3bn ($5.2m) as of 2019, to be increased to CFA5bn ($8.6m) by 2021. The move was expected to accelerate sector consolidation by leading to either mergers or the disqualification of smaller players. “Raising the minimum capital requirement for insurance companies should have helped to reduce the number of operators in the market and make them stronger,” Logon told OBG. “Unfortunately, this has not been the case so far.”

The deadline for meeting the 2019 minimum capital requirement was in May of that year, but as of October no decisions had been made regarding the handful of insurance companies that had failed to meet the threshold. “Over the coming two years, I think there will be a disruption in the market. Once that happens, we will be able to restart business on a more solid footing,” Harati told OBG. At the same time, strengthened industry safeguards and higher minimum capital requirements should help local insurance companies mitigate negative impacts of short-term liquidity challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Life Coverage

Solid economic performance, rising standards of living and a growing middle class are raising the profile of life insurance policies. As a result, the value of life premium has increased steadily over the years, from CFA110.5bn ($189.9m) in 2014 to CFA168.9bn ($290.3m) in 2019, according to provisional figures from ASA-CI. Life insurance accounted for 43.3% of total sector premium in 2019, and around half of sector payouts, or CFA99.1bn ($170.4m).

Motor

The market’s second-largest individual segment is auto insurance, which accounted for 18.5% of sector premium in 2019. Auto insurance remains the only mandatory insurance type under current legislation, and is regularly enforced through police checks. However, the government is also working to make insurance coverage for construction and building sites compulsory (see analysis).

In 2019 auto premium grew by 4% to CFA72.3bn ($124.3m) and payouts rose by 18% to CFA23.8bn ($48.3m). Due to the rising number of vehicles on the country’s roads, the client base for auto insurance has been progressively expanding. Since auto insurance is traditionally considered a gateway insurance product, price competition in the segment has escalated substantially. The government established a minimum price for auto insurance in 2003; however, some companies continued to sell products below the threshold as late as May 2018, according to regional media. In an effort to counteract the problem, that same month members of ASA-CI signed an agreement with the authorities to implement the mandated minimum prices, which ensure enough funds to pay claims.

Health & Accident

The third-largest insurance segment in 2019 was health care and accident coverage, which brought in 18.1% of overall premium. Increasing by 27% in 2018, that year marked the second consecutive year that health and accident coverage was named the fastest-growing segment at CFA67bn ($115.2m) in premium, later reaching CFA70.8bn ($121.7m) in 2019.

However, the segment continues to be faced with profitability challenges. The authorities launched incentives in 2006 to encourage the more widespread adoption of health insurance, but the segment remains primarily dependent on employers who purchase group policies in bulk to cover employees. Health insurance policies are also linked to high instances of fraud. In 2019 health and accident providers accounted for 18.2%, or CFA47.1bn ($81m), of total sector payouts – the highest percentage of all non-life segments. This payout volume was up 13.2% over 2018.

Fire & Damage

While fire and damage insurance was the only segment to experience a negative year in 2018 – with premium falling by 4%, from CFA33.8bn ($58.1m) to CFA32.5bn ($55.9m) – it bounced back in 2019, with premium growing by 14.2% to CFA37.1bn (67.8m), according to ASA-CI data. At the same time, fire and damage payouts expanded by 14.4%, growing from CFA20.2bn ($34.7m) to CFA23.1bn ($39.7m). There was a steep, 141% increase in 2018 caused by a largescale factory fire that took place in Abidjan in 2017.

Micro-Insurance

The economic challenges faced by a large section of the population are increasingly underlining the role that micro-insurance can play in expanding access to previously underserved areas. Already, some micro-insurance products targeting low-income earners have been made available through popular mobile money platforms.

In 2014 life insurer NSIA Vie Assurances teamed up with South African’s MTN to release the NAF Mobile service, which provides up to CFA250,000 ($430) for funeral expenses in the event of the policyholder’s death. Sunu Vie collaborated with France’s Orange in 2016 to offer life insurance products up to CFA500,000 ($860). Similarly, Allianz Vie allows its clients to pay their premiums monthly through MTN for policies valued up to CFA1m ($1719). Atlantique Assurance Vie, for its part, has partnered with South Africa’s Moov to provide Moov-Prévoyance, which covers costs associated with death or injury in the event of a traffic accident for a monthly premium of CFA400 ($0.69). Another insurer to have joined forces with Moov is NSIA. This partnership offers customers Moov Soutien Funérailles to cover funeral expenses though a monthly premium of CFA1000 ($1.72).

Within Côte d’Ivoire, as part of a wider trend across the region, mobile money systems are proving an effective method to customise insurance offerings and extend insurers’ reach beyond their physical distribution networks. This is likely to accelerate alongside growing smartphone penetration. “Adoption of new technology helps companies to come up with tailor-made products and innovative solutions for their target clients,” Issiaka Savané, director at local financial institution Unacoopec, told OBG. “This is especially important when catering to the rural economy, as smallholder farmers have unique needs.”

Reinsurance

CIMA’s reinsurance market has enjoyed growth spurred by a regulatory overhaul in 2016 that sought to retain a greater share of reinsurance premium within the region. A modification to Article 308 of the CIMA code imposed more stringent limitations on the volume of reinsurance that can be sourced from outside the region. In 2015 as much as 66% of the CIMA zone’s reinsurance policies – worth CFA281bn ($483m) – had been taken out with reinsurers beyond the regional market, according to a 2017 report by Africa-based consultancy Finactu.

Previously, only 25% of small risks, such as automotive and life insurance, had to be reinsured within the CIMA region; however, now 100% of such risks must be reinsured within the zone. Similarly, the required proportion of specialised risks – such as for oil and gas infrastructure or aviation – that must be issued by regional reinsurers has increased from 25% to 50%.

Since the reform, several international reinsurers have opened offices in CIMA countries, with many of these selecting Côte d’Ivoire as their operating base. This includes German reinsurer Hannover Re, which opened a representative office in Abidjan in November 2017 and commenced CIMA operations the following year. Two Kenya-based reinsurers, Kenya Re and ZEP-RE, and Morocco’s Société Centrale de Ré assurance were granted CIMA licences for their Abidjan offices between November 2017 and January 2018. More recently, Swiss Re received regulatory approval for its Côte d’Ivoire arm in August 2019. Other reinsurers that operate from within the country include Ivorian firm NCA Re, Senegal-based Sen-Re and Nigeria’s Continental Reinsurance.

Outlook

Côte d’Ivoire’s insurance sector seems to have reached a turning point, partly stemming from the rapid increase in the number of operators competing for market share. With the insurance penetration rate still relatively low, a number of market players have resorted to aggressive price strategies that have undermined not only the financial conditions of insurers, but also their ability to pay claims.

In the first half of 2020 local insurance firms are likely preparing themselves for the distinct challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and global recession that many analysts say will follow. Insurance companies that offer products most impacted by the virus, such as contingency, private health care and surety services, will face heightened challenges. This is especially true for Côte d’Ivoire’s health segment, which may feel the twin impacts of reduced employment-based premium and increased payouts. Conversely, insurance companies with well-diversified risk portfolios will be least affected. Additionally, the poor performance of global stock markets, as well as lower interest rates, could put pressure on balance sheets and affect equity-based policies, such as some life insurance plans.

In the medium term, consolidation would ensure the development of a stronger sector with more promising perspectives. The foundation to achieve this was established by raising minimum capital requirements. However, in order for regulation to achieve its intended objectives, adherence must be enforced. Closer monitoring of the sector would ensure that insurers more tightly manage their operations. This would likely enhance the observance of minimum tariffs for specific policies and the accurate reporting of insurance claims and payouts in financial statements.

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The Report: Cote d'Ivoire 2020

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