Home to 1.63m people, Gabon has one of the most dynamic insurance markets in Central and West Africa. Although personal lines are beginning to expand, sector development has been driven by large-scale industrial operations. The domestic financial sector does not have the capacity to fully underwrite major industrial and transport risks, but operators circumvent this through fronting agreements in which high-risk premiums are transferred abroad to foreign partners and reinsurers. The process is well-established and provides solid margins for local insurers, while ensuring that risks are securely managed. Economic growth, increasing awareness of insurance products and the adoption of more direct marketing approaches have opened up new avenues for expanding life and non-life products. The introduction of Gabon’s national reinsurer in 2012, Société Commerciale Gabonaise de Réassurance ( SCGRE), will help to retain a greater share of premiums on the local market and, eventually, to expand reinsurance activities in other African countries.
In 2012 Gabon surpassed Senegal to become the third-largest market in the region regulated by the Inter-African Conference on Insurance Markets (Conférence Interafricaine des Marchés d’Assurances, CIMA), which covers 14 countries in West and Central Africa. Direct premiums increased by 12.94% year-on-year (y-o-y) from CFA99.5bn (€149.25m) in 2012 to CFA112.37bn (€168.55m) in 2013, putting Gabon behind the main player in the region, Côte d’Ivoire, with premiums of CFA209.76bn (€314.64m) in 2012, and Cameroon with CFA154.26bn (€231.39m). Life insurance showed the strongest growth in 2013, expanding by 22.55% y-o-y to reach CFA19.03bn (€28.5m). This is the fastest rate registered by the life segment in the last four years. Life insurance continues to be dominated by collective schemes, but there is significant room for expansion in both group and individual lines. The spread of bancassurance is also helping insurers to reach a wider pool of potential clients and will continue to drive growth.
As in all CIMA countries, Gabon’s market is dominated by non-life insurance, primarily automobile, health, transport and fire. Premiums grew 11.17% in 2013 to reach CFA93.35bn (€140.02m), representing 83.07% of total premiums. And yet, the non-life segment has declined from an 85% of market share in 2010 as the sector diversifies and oil production declines. Hydrocarbons represent roughly 45% of GDP, but output has fallen one-third since its peak in the late 1990s, which in turn has lowered insurance demand. The state awarded 13 new offshore licences in late 2013, raising hopes of new exploration activity (see Energy chapter).
Finally, the creation of SCG-RE in 2012 has helped to keep a significant portion of reinsurance cessions on the local market. The national reinsurer generated CFA7bn (€10.5m) in mandatory and voluntary cessions in 2013, up from CFA6.54bn (€9.81m) in its first year of operation in 2012. This figure is set to expand in 2014 as the reinsurer gradually takes on high-risk segments in aviation and oil exploration.
Thanks to the high level of collective, and particularly industrial, contracts, Gabon has strong indicators compared to other markets in the region. Insurance penetration – or total premiums as a proportion of GDP – fell slightly from 1.18% in 2010 to 1.10% in 2012, as economic growth outpaced premium underwriting. However, insurance penetration in Gabon has been consistently higher than the CIMA average, which hovered between 0.87% and 1% in the last three years. It is also considerably higher than in the six-country Central African Economic and Monetary Community, where penetration ranged between 0.67% and 0.79% in the last three years.
Given Gabon’s population of just 1.63m, premium density is well above the CIMA average; premiums per capita in Gabon rose 7.7% to CFA60,974 (€91.46) in 2012, more than 10 times the CIMA regional average of CFA5621 (€8.43). By the same token, Gabon’s per capita claims rate is also higher than the regional average, driven primarily by the automobile segment. The total volume of claims grew 10.5% y-o-y to reach CFA36.8bn (€55.2m) on the local market in 2012. This works out to per capita claims of CFA20,893 (€31.34), nearly 10 times the CIMA average of CFA2622 (€3.93). While 2013 figures are not yet available, the Gabonese Federation of Insurance Companies (Fédération Gabonaise des Sociétés d’Assurances, FEGASA) reports that claims payment remained fairly steady from 2012 to 2013, with a slight dip in the automobile segment.
Gabon’s insurance sector is fragmented and highly competitive, with eight direct insurers, one reinsurer and 19 brokers vying for market share. Five companies specialise in non-life insurance: Ogar, Nouvelle Société Interafricaine d’Assurances du Gabon (NSIA Gabon), Colina Assurances Gabon, Axa Gabon, and Assurances Industrielles et Commerciales ( Assinco). Three firms specialise in life insurance: Ogar Vie, NSIA Vie and UAG Vie. The sector is also highly internationalised. Axa, the oldest insurer on the Gabonese market, is part of the French insurance major Axa Group. UAG Vie is part of Senegal-based SUNU Group, which is present in 11 countries in the CIMA region. Only Ogar and Assinco were not established as part of foreign networks, but both are looking beyond Gabon’s borders for new sources of growth. Assinco integrated into the pan-African Globus network via its banking partner BGFIB ank, and Ogar plans to expand into the sub-region in the coming years (see analysis).
Ogar is the main player with a 33.8% market share and total premiums of CFA37.99bn (€56.9m). Ogar contributes 30% of non-life premiums, half of which come from transport insurance. Its separate life insurance branch, Ogar Vie, accounts for half of total life premiums. Ogar’s total market share has declined from 41% in 2009 as smaller operators carve out a greater stake. NSIA Gabon is the second-largest firm, with a combined 16.8% market share in 2013. Like Ogar, NSIA Gabon has dedicated non-life and life insurance companies, the combined turnover of which fell 1.3% y-o-y to CFA18.88bn (€28.3m). Over 85% of NSIA Gabon’s turnover comes from the non-life segment, but NSIA Vie has grown quickly, accounting for 11.8% of the life insurance market since its launch in 2006.
Colina is the most recent market entrant, having launched operations in November 2006, and has since become the third-largest operator by market share. The firm focuses on the property and casualty segment, and turnover grew by 18.3% in 2013 to reach CFA16.81bn (€25.2m). This allowed Colina to increase its market share by half a percentage point to 15% by the end of the year. Assinco follows closely behind with turnover of CFA16.6bn (€24.9m), 14.77% of total premiums. Assinco increased its market share by two percentage points in 2013, largely thanks to a 70% increase in health insurance sales marketed through bancassurance channels with BGFIB ank. This gave Assinco the second-largest share of health premiums (CFA4.4bn, €6.6m) after Colina (CFA5.3bn, €7.95m).
Axa also had a strong performance in 2013; turnover increased nearly 30% y-o-y to reach CFA14.87bn (€22.3m), thanks to solid gains in automobile, health and casualty lines. Finally, UAG Vie had the smallest overall market share, 6.42% in 2013, with turnover of CFA7.22bn (€10.8m). However, UAG Vie also increased its premiums by nearly 30% in 2013, representing over one-quarter of life premiums.
Gabon also has a network of 19 brokerage firms. Brokers were the first to arrive in Gabon in the 1940s, primarily to insure risk related to oil exploration. The first direct insurer, Axa Gabon, began operations in 1976, but intermediaries maintained a strong role in the market as it developed. Although some insurers are beginning to adopt more direct marking strategies, intermediaries have maintained their market share and represent over 70% of insurance sales today. The top three brokers, France’s Ascoma and Gras Savoye and local firm ACR, account for two-thirds of brokered sales.
The market went through a transition period when CIMA reforms adopted in 2011 reversed payment flows between insurers and brokers. Previously, intermediaries were able to cash in premiums and then transfer funds to insurers after extracting a commission. Brokers, rather than insurers, had developed the human resources, management skills and equipment necessary to process the majority of premiums. Under the new scheme, brokers must transmit premiums immediately to insurers, which are required to return their commission within 30 days. There were some growing pains in 2012 as insurers worked to develop the necessary capabilities, but the market stabilised in 2013.
The CIMA Insurance Code, introduced in 1995, applies to all 14 countries in the zone. CIMA sets the regulatory tone for the region, and its Regional Commission for Insurance Supervision handles in-country monitoring of insurance companies, identifies market needs and sets specific guidelines for national insurance policies. In Gabon, the sector authority is the National Insurance Directorate. A series of regulatory reforms adopted in 2011 have helped to strengthen the financial health of Gabon’s insurance sector. Fierce price competition pushed Gabonese operators to lower premiums and expand their client bases rapidly. In addition, premiums for year-long contracts were often broken up into several instalments, making the insurer liable regardless of whether payments were made on time. Both factors contributed to a rising level of arrears, which reached 40% of booked revenue by year-end 2011, placing financial strain on insurers and slowing down claims payments.
Article 13 of the CIMA Insurance Code was amended to require that premiums be paid upfront and in a single payment; however, a 60-day grace period applies to premiums that are higher than CFA76.8m (€115,200). This applies to all sectors except those most prone to claims: automobile, health and merchandise transport. In Gabon, there was some concern that without the ability to fraction premiums, prices would become too expensive. However, companies began issuing shorter contracts that are valid for three or six months, depending on the value of the risk. This allows firms to make more manageable payments, and protects insurers from having to assume risk without steady payments.
These measures helped to reduce arrears to 10-15% in 2013. The new regulation also places a three-year limit on arrears, after which they must be wiped from the books, resulting in a net loss for insurers. Therefore, all arrears that existed in 2011 must be written off at year-end 2014, so insurers and brokers are making a strong push to collect debts in the remaining months. CIMA is encouraging companies to respect the three-month deadline for claims payment by making this a criterion for its solvency tests.
The up-take of life insurance began slowly in Gabon, restrained by low awareness, limited purchasing power and a lack of confidence in insurance products. However, life insurance has become one of the most dynamic segments in the last five years, supported by economic growth and sustained marketing efforts. Renaud Allogho Akoue, Ogar’s secretary-general, told OBG, “The Gabonese market could see life premiums double in the next five to eight years, given the low level of penetration today.” Life premiums grew 54% in the last five years from CFA12.37bn (€18.5m) in 2009 to CFA19.03bn (€28.5m) in 2013, with the largest gains (22.55%) registered in 2013.
As with other sectors, life sales are dominated by collective contracts. However, bancassurance has become a well-established channel for life insurance in Gabon, which increases insurers’ exposure to both corporate and individual clients. The percentage of banked Gabonese was estimated at 21% in 2011, up from 16% in 2010, which is still low considering Gabon’s position as an upper-middle-income country. And yet, distribution through the banking network allows insurers access to the client base with the highest potential, particularly for life, health and credit insurance.
Automobile & Transport
Vehicle and transport insurance, which covers imported and exported goods, are the only two obligatory products, and represent nearly 50% of non-life premiums. The automobile segment was not affected by the new CIMA requirement for lump sum payments and premiums grew 9.6% in 2013 to reach CFA28.75bn (€43.12m). This represents one-quarter of turnover and 30.8% of the non-life market, consistent with previous years However, although car insurance is mandatory, an estimated 40% of drivers are still uncovered. The government announced the creation of a national guarantee fund in 2009 that would protect victims of car accidents when the perpetrator is uninsured. The fund is slated to be financed by a special tax on premiums, but it has yet to be put in place.
Transport was the third-largest segment in 2013, generating turnover of CFA20.5bn (€30.75m), or 22% of non-life premiums. Gabon imports the majority of its food, construction materials, cars and consumer goods, creating strong demand; however, transport is one of the more saturated segments, and premiums decreased by 2.35% in 2013. Barring a major uptick in imports or exports, which could happen in the medium term as Gabon looks to develop local industries, this segment is expected to remain stable in the future.
Awareness of health insurance has increased considerably in the last decade, and it has become a key segment for private insurers as businesses adopt collective health plans. Health premiums jumped from CFA13.2bn (€19.8m) in 2011 to CFA21bn (€31.5m) in 2013; turnover expanded by 27.8% in 2013 alone, making health the second-largest line after auto.
This segment was expected to undergo a shock in 2013 with the introduction of Gabon’s universal public health care system managed by the National Healthcare Insurance and Social Welfare Fund (Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie et de Garantie Sociale, CNAMGS). The system consists of three funds for public employees, private sector employees and low-income populations. Enrolment began in 2009 with low-income populations and students, followed by the public sector in 2011 and the private sector in 2013. CNAMGS ultimately plans to cover 80% of the cost for basic medical services and generic medications, and up to 100% for low-income populations and pregnant women. However, CNAMGS is still negotiating with private insurers to reconcile their health insurance schemes.
Public & Private
Insurers initially expected to lose much of their health market share as they transitioned to CNAMGS in early 2014; coverage for private sector employees was set to take effect on June 1, 2014, but the kinks are still being worked out. Ultimately, CNAMGS officials indicated that they aim to reach a system similar to France’s mutuelles, under which state-funded insurance covers a basic menu of services, and private insurers offer complementary programmes to cover additional costs or specialised services.
CNAMGS signed a convention with the country’s main brokerage firms on May 28, 2014 that aims to strengthen complementarity between the services each will offer their clients. However, it will take some time to fully develop this system; insurers expect to continue to see solid growth in the next three to four years, after which health premiums may begin to slow.
Fire insurance is the fourth-largest product in the non-life segment; premiums grew by 1.8% in 2013 to reach CFA13.1bn (€19.65m), equivalent to 14% of non-life turnover. General liability and various casualty and damage products contributed a total of CFA9.9bn (€14.85m), and are some of the fastest-growing sectors. General liability insurance for construction projects has increased in recent years, as required by public works contracts.
Claims in the damages segment are typically higher in proportion to other segments, particularly in fire and automobile. According to insurers, improved risk prevention and response mechanisms would help to reduce the claims burden. The government has worked in recent years to improve road condition and lighting to prevent accidents. However, efforts to better equip fire services and strengthen monitoring of workplace safety standards will be necessary. Plans to reduce the footprint of the informal retail sector should also help to decrease casualty risk. A CFA27bn (€40.5m) modern shopping centre is under construction adjacent to Libreville’s main outdoor market, Mont-Bouët, which will improve safety standards. Overcrowding and unregulated expansion in Mont-Bouët has led to dangerous conditions; a wood-constructed section of the market caught fire in late 2012, the third fire in as many years, leaving large sections inoperable.
Several product lines remain relatively untapped, and there is considerable room for growth in both home and construction insurance considering the pace of new building projects. According to Patrick Mabika, FEGASA secretary-general, sector representatives are petitioning parliament to make those insurance products mandatory, which they hope to achieve by 2015. While the market will continue to be dominated by collective contracts, demand for personal lines of insurance is expected to grow in the coming years, supported by rising purchasing power, new agencies and increased marketing efforts. Programmes to expand the country’s mid-range and high-end housing stock will help the personal lines segment. Allogho Akoue said, “The fact that large numbers of Gabonese students and young professionals spend time abroad benefits the market, as it increases awareness of the value of residential and other personal insurance lines, creating new demand when they return to Gabon.”
Authorities are working to finalise the regulatory context for the introduction of microin-surance products. These schemes have proven successful elsewhere in CIMA, and Gabon’s significant income disparity and low banking penetration make it a high-potential market. This industry consists of adapting traditional insurance plans to the needs and means of low-income populations. CIMA passed a set of microinsurance guidelines in 2012 that will serve as the basis for their introduction in Gabon. Microinsurance premiums were capped at CFA3500 (€5.25) per month or CFA42,000 (€63) per year; this is relatively expensive considering that conventional monthly premiums averaged CFA4632 (€6.95) in 2012. Conventional and microfinance firms will be able to apply for a licence, and will be subject to capital requirements of CFA1bn (€1.5m) and CFA500m (€750,000), respectively.
Fronting will remain a necessary mechanism to allow local insurers to process high-value claims without assuming undue risk. However, the government aims to capture more of the value of reinsurance cessions locally. Prior to 2012, companies relied exclusively on foreign reinsurers and in 2009 37.3% of total premiums were transferred outside the country. Since SCG-RE’s creation in February 2012, insurers are required to cede 15% of non-life and 10% of life insurance premiums, in addition to any voluntary cessions. The reinsurer reported at year-end 2013 that its annual turnover increased 7% y-o-y from CFA6.54bn (€9.81m) to CFA7bn (€10.5m) and that its net operating result grew tenfold from CFA59.7m (€89,550) to CFA678m (€1.02m). SCG-RE is developing a network of conventional reinsurance clients elsewhere on the continent, and ultimately aims to establish itself as a pan-African reinsurer. SCG-RE increased its capital in 2013 from CFA2bn (€3m) to CFA5bn (€7.5m). The government now holds a 69% stake, divided into 61% for the Gabonese Strategic Investment Fund and 8% for the Deposit and Consigments Fund. The remaining 31% is held by all eight insurance companies. SCG-RE also aims to gradually raise its capital to CFA10bn (€15m).
In the short term, partnerships with other reinsurers will be critical to providing the knowledge transfer and experience needed to expand SCG-RE’s activities. The high-risk sectors of aviation and oil activity will be brought under the firm’s portfolio for the first time in 2014, which will expand cessions significantly. SCG-RE signed a risk-sharing agreement with several foreign reinsurers that will allow the company to share the burden of high-risk, high-volume sectors.
Efforts to increase insurers’ exposure to clients through investment in multiple sales channels, the introduction of new obligatory insurance lines and the implementation of microinsurance products could all help to expand the Gabonese market in 2014. However, it is still not clear how the industry will be affected by the budgetary blockages and trade union strikes in early 2014, as turnover will depend on overall economic performance. Nonetheless, the sector’s improved financial health and increasing awareness of insurance products create a strong basis for continued growth.