Just like the golden fish has no hiding place in water, the talents of Lady Isioma Chukwuma, the Managing Director of Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation, was exposed, and she was eventually elected to be the President of the CIIN for the next two years. In this interview, she shares her success story and speaks on prevailing issues in the insurance industry.
The College is a pet project of the institute. What is the level of development and what is the qualification to gain admission into the college?
The college has been renamed Centre for Insurance and Management Studies. The project is being handled in various stages. A lot of development has actually taken place in the college. For now, we have completed the admin/multipurpose block, the e-library, a 50 room students hostel, the guest chalet, the Administration/Director’s quarters, and blocks of about 10 lecture rooms of various capacity all fully furnished.
However, the recreational facilities are yet to be developed. So, a lot has taken place in the centre.
As regards qualification for admission into the centre, currently we have diploma programme. For that, the requirement is the first degree or Higher National Diploma (HND). Then, we intend to have Part-time Diploma Programme. We realized that a lot of companies are not ready to release their staff for full time programme, so, very soon, the Part-time programme would be introduced.
There is also a plan to start a foundation programme. This one is aimed at getting students that has just finished secondary school, but are not able to get straight into the universities, to do a foundation programme. The requirement for that is school certificate with a pass in English and Mathematics, and at least three other subjects.
The idea is that, when they are through with the foundation programme, they can be admitted into second year in universities. But we will work out which universities we are going to be collaborating with, in this regard.
CIIN is in educational arm of the insurance industry. As you take up the mantle of leadership of the institute, in what area do you think you can assist to develop manpower in the sector?
Incidentally, I am the current chairman of the Centre for Insurance and Management Studies. So, the purpose for which the centre was set up is to provide long lasting solution to the manpower needs of the industry. As I take up the mantle of leadership of the institute, I am going to ensure that the motive for setting up the centre is realised.
Low awareness is the major bane of insurance industry. In what capacity will you try to promote insurance education and sensitization, as the president of CIIN?
Yes, it has been a challenge to all practitioners in the industry and the past presidents have embarked on series of awareness campaign to increase insurance acceptance. I know that the past presidents tried to do a live radio programme, but because of cost, it could not be sustained. So, as I come in, in the spirit of continuity and the spirit of consolidating the gains of the industry, I also intend to continue, but not with the radio programme, but with the print media.
I intend to initiate a project whereby, on a daily basis in the newspapers with wide coverage, there would be discussion on insurance issues. That way, we will be able to create awareness in the country.
The unified mega conference that took place last month, is an idea of CIIN, Nigeria Insurers Association (NIA), Institute of Loss Adjusters of Nigeria(ILAN), National Council of Registered Insurers Brokers(NCRIB), to make it a yearly event. Do you think of sustaining it, and which area do you think there should be improvement in the near future?
Definitely, the purpose is to bring all the arms of the industry to act and speak in one voice. It’s a very laudable idea and I will do everything within my power to sustain it. What I will do is to encourage more participation.
Whatever challenges we discovered in this one, will be corrected in subsequent ones. That way, we can sustain the tempo. Most importantly, we want to make sure that the participation is wide spread and that all arms of the industry are well represented.
What plans do you have to increase insurance education?
With regards to insurance education, the former president successfully commissioned textbooks for secondary schools and about 2,000 insurance textbooks were distributed among public secondary schools in the country. Even, the outgoing president embarked on training of teachers on insurance to train these students. I intend to follow up the programme to continue to create awareness among secondary schools, reach out to more schools and create awareness for them to take up insurance as a career. I also intend to cover other geopolitical zones that have not been covered in terms of Training the Trainers for insurance. I believe this will create the needed awareness in the country.
It seems there is no serious harmony among associations in the industry. How are you going to ensure that the industry is united?
I don’t think there is no harmony in the industry. It is not a true statement that there is no harmony among trade unions in the industry. There has always been mutual collaboration among the bodies in the industry. It is in that spirit of collaboration that IICC was established to further strengthen the collaborative effort among the trade associations.
As you are aware, the president of CIIN is also the Chairman of IICC. So, as the president and chairman of IICC, all I can do is to strengthen the existing relationship and to further encourage collaboration among practitioners.
In Nigeria, women are somehow not allowed to occupy some sensitive position in the society. In your emergence as the president, do you encounter any of such?
Fortunately, no. On the contrary, I have always enjoyed the support and respect of my colleagues, right from the time I joined the council in 1999. I have always enjoyed their support. So, when I become the president, it just come naturally, they don’t consider whether I am a male or female. It didn’t really matter my gender.
The insurance industry is trying to achieve a N1 trillion premium income in the next three years. Taking into consideration, the fact that the industry recorded N303 billion premium income in 2014, do you think this target is realizable?
Sincerely speaking, I don’t think it is realistic enough, because the penetration of insurance is still very low in the country. But that is not to say we are not trying, I am optimistic that we can improve on what we already have, but N1 trillion is unrealistic.
The continuous late passage of budget is regarded as a dent on the renewal of government insurances, especially, with the implementation of the No Premium No Cover in insurance industry. How will you access government compliance to this directive?
The late passage of budget, as far as I am concerned, should not have anything to do with the renewal of government insurances. It depends on the priority they placed on insurance. If they are serious about insurance, there should be adequate plans and measures put in place to renew the policies as they expire. So, the issue of budget, whether it is passed earlier or not, should not affect insurance renewal of government.
As regarded compliance to No Premium No Cover, I want to think that the government should know better and it is very clear, if you don’t pay your premium, there will be no cover.
Over the years, some underwriting firms are fond of submitting their accounts late to the regulatory authorities, thus, they pay huge fines running into millions of Naira, thereby, depriving shareholders of dividend. What is your advice to your colleagues to improve in this aspect?
I think the whole confusion and conflict, as regards the submission deadline, is responsible for the delay. In the first instance, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) deadline is on or 31st of March, whereas, NAICOM says on or before June 30. Usually, companies will rather wait for their accounts to be approved by NAICOM, before they submit to NSE and because of the delays they usually experience with NAICOM, they don’t usually meet up stock exchange deadline. So, that is why they find themselves paying those huge fines.
But luckily, NAICOM has now reviewed its own date; instead of June, it is now April. Even though, the NSE is 31st of March, I understand that companies still have a grace period of one month, after the deadline, to submit.
What most companies now do is to submit their accounts in good time, so that whatever issues they have with the account are resolved before the deadline date. What I would advise my colleagues to avoid such delays, is that companies should do interim audit just like we do in Nigeria Re. They need to start the auditing of the account early enough, you don’t have to wait till very last minute before you start rushing to submit.. Do internal audit, may be quarterly internal audit, so that by year end, what they will just do is to compile all the quarterly accounts they have audited. That way, they won’t run into any delay.
The regime of sanctions adopted by NAICOM seems not to go down well with some operators. What is your reaction to this?
I will say that sanctions are only applied when deadline are not met and when infractions are made. So, what I will advise is that all the operators should have compliant officers that should be very well abreast of NAICOM’s regulations and the timeline for submission of all the reports. They should try as much as possible to beat deadline set by NAICOM.
Rate-cutting is regarded as an illegal attempt by some underwriters to lobby for insurance businesses in the country, yet, it seems it has become a perennial act. Proffering solution, some are calling for uniform ratings. Do you agree to this measure?
I don’t agree that uniform ratings should be the solution, because right now, there is uniform ratings on motor business, for instance, yet operators come up with different forms of discount which still negates the essence of uniform ratings. So, even if you have a uniform ratings, you will still find some people coming up with one form of discount or the other to bring down the premium all in a bid to get that business, hence, I don’t think it would work.
All I will just encourage the regulators to do is to continue to find out ways of trying to beat, monitor and supervise these ratings. It is really a challenge in the industry.
During rainy season, people are exposed to various forms of risks. What is your advice to Nigerians to adopt insurance, especially, during this period?
More enlightenment programmes are needed to tell people the risk, the dangers they are exposed to during the rainy season.
On the topography of the area they live, for instance, you can make them realise the risk they are exposed to, which is flooding. They should be encouraged to clear their drains, when drains are cleared, there would be less flooding, except in some natural prone areas. But that way, there should be control measures to be able to contain or minimize the risk of flooding.
For building collapse, I will just encourage the professionals, estate surveyors, and quantity surveyors to study the topography of whatever area they are putting up building or construction and then to make sure the right mixtures of materials are used. What you find out is that substandard products are used in the construction of buildings which is usually responsible for the collapse. In most cases, they don’t use the right mixture of cements, sands and so on.
And then, to the insurance practitioners, they should encourage contractors to suspend constructions during rainy seasons to avoid collapse. Most importantly, the public should take up insurance policy, because when they take up insurance policy, and even if you take all these measures, the risks are still bound to occur. But when they take up insurance policy, then, when the risk occur, the insurance industry is there to mitigate effect of the risk.
Insurance industry, over time, has been least represented in the national discourse and planning. Now that we are having a new government, what will be your advice to the Federal Government to ensure that insurance is given the needed prominence?
The IICC is proactive and they are taking measures to ensure that insurance is given the right its deserves in the country and in the new administration. The institute has put up a paper to that effect and we hope when the new government settles down, they will look into the proposal we have put before them, and hopefully, insurance will be one of the first they will listen to.
As one of the two reinsurance companies in the country, how will you rate the performance of Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation?
Nigeria Re has had its fair share of challenges in the past few years, but the cooperation is gradually overcoming that and I am proud to say that today, Nigeria is doing not too badly.
Nigeria Re is one of the companies that had its accounts approved before the deadline set up by NAICOM expired. Despite the difficulties encountered by some of your colleagues to submit their accounts, how were you able to meet deadline?
I am very glad over the quick approval of our account. I want to attribute this to the computerization of our operation, the commitment of the staff and our determination to beat NAICOM’s deadline and not to pay any penalty.
I will want to encourage my colleagues to try to do the same. Like I said earlier, if you do interim audit of your accounts and you don’t wait until the year runs out, you will not be fined.
Start early enough, so that you can conclude on time. And luckily, NAICOM has also put measures in place to speed up the checking process and they have also assured that all things been equal, if you submit your account for approval, within one or two weeks at most, the account will be approved.
All we just have to do is that, before the account gets to NAICOM, necessary steps should be taken to ensure that it is not returned. The delay starts from when an account is returned back to the company.
But once it gets to NAICOM and everything is in order, within two weeks, your account is approved.
Now that your account has been approved, what should your customers and shareholders expect from the management?
Let me first of all appreciate our shareholders and the customers for their supports and for believing in us. What I will assure them, especially, our shareholders is better returns on investment. And to our customers, I will assure them of continued improved service delivery.
In the areas of claims settlement, it seems you have been able to make some appreciable claims?
I am proud to say Nigeria Re has been, and will continue to meet all genuine claims as it is our obligation to do so. The records are there for verification. We are able to achieve that because it is part of our strategy at repositioning the company, since we realised that in the past, the issue of outstanding claims has always worked against us. So, as a strategy, we decided that we will not, henceforth, waste time paying genuine claims that has been properly processed. Luckily, that is how we have been able to maintain almost more or less zero claims payment ability.
Nigeria Re is an age long brand. What are you doing to sustain the brand as well as how will you rate reinsurance business in the country?
Reinsurance business is very vital for survival of insurance business. Resinsurance is very essential for direct insurance companies . Reinsurance companies are there to provide cover for insurance companies, to enable them have confidence to underwrite business above there capacity. Nigeria Re is one of the reinsurers and we have been providing backup capacity for insurance firms.
With the national election, change in government, devaluation of Naira, drop in the price of international oil price, among others, all taking place in the current year, do you think the projections for the current year in the insurance industry is still achievable?
Well, the industry will record some level of growth, but not as much as one will expect. And because of the low awareness and penetration of insurance, people don’t accord insurance that much importance. With the austerity measures, things are hard, insurance would be one of the things they can quickly say they can do without. So, unfortunately, that is how it is going to negatively affect the industry.
Can our reader knows who Lady Isioma Chukwuma is?
Lady Isioma Chukwuma is from Asaba, Delta State. I had my primary education in Lagos and went to my town in Asaba for my secondary school education. Thereafter, I came to Universiity of Ibadan for my first degree. I had a degree in French, went on to University of Lagos to do my Masters in Public Administration.
I joined Nigeria Re in January 1980 and incidentally, I have had my whole career life in Nigeria Re. I have worked virtually in all departments of the corporation, and by the glory of God, I have risen from a Graduate Trainee to become the Managing Director of Nigeria Re.
Anybody in my shoe should be satisfied, because it is like I have gotten to the peak of my career.
How do you spend your time off from work?
You will be amazed at the things I like doing. I like to play computer games, I like to play puzzles and I like to watch Nollywood home movies. That is how I spend my time off from work.