The Congress Hall of the Transcorps Hilton Hotel, Abuja was brimming with the who-is-who in the global pension industry – experts, operators, stakeholders, members of the diplomatic community, and of course political leaders from within and outside Nigeria. The decoration was tasteful, and everything bore an ambience that excites and calms at the same time. The compere, Ebele Young, did not disappoint, just as some of the best in the Nigerian entertainment industry, such as Omawumni Megbele, thrilled the audience with those performances that have the number one destination in the African entertainment industry.
The event was the 2016 Africa Pension Awards (APA), held on the sideline of the World Pension Summit, Africa Special (WPS- AS), in Abuja on 27th September, with the National Pension Commission, PenCom, once again, living up to its reputation as a pacesetter in the Africa pension industry.
APA, which maiden edition held during the Africa Special Summit in Abuja in 2015, was instituted to recognize excellence, achievement, and commitment to the development and strengthening of the African pensions industry, particularly the contributory pension scheme.
“The objectives of the APA are to promote the innovations implemented by both Operators and Regulators in order to optimise the quality of the services they render to their various stakeholders.
“To provide a platform for exchanging experiences and sharing ideas on how others resolved difficult issues and challenges, including how efficient resources were utilized in the resolution processes.
“And to showcase any innovation that was tested in product offerings, service delivery, extending coverage to the self-employed and the informal sector”, the organisers explained.
Thus, APA creates an opportunity for African countries to benchmark their progress and the development of their respective pension schemes, while promoting positive local and global image of the pension industries.
The 2016 edition of APA was special in some respects. The maiden edition of the APA was restricted to regulatory agencies that were members of the International Organization of Pension Supervisors (IOPS), with Kenya’s Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) bagging an award for its achievement in the Extension of Contributory Pension Coverage and Namibia’s Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority (NAMFISA) winning the award for theSocio-Economic Impact of its Contributory Pension System, while PenCom bagged awards in all the three Award Categories to emerge the best.
However, the 2016 APA went a notch higher as it was thrown open to pension fund managers and regulators across Africa, in addition to introducing two new award categories, namely, Innovation in Risk Management and Innovations in Communication Strategy for Improved Customer Service Delivery.
The quality of the Evaluation Committee did not disappoint, as it comprised as it comprised renowned industry players and professionals like Dr. Daniel Seddoh, an accomplished Chartered Accountant and also a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation Ghana. He cut his teeth at KPMG, with over 25 years employment history that is deeply rooted in the financial services sector, largely, pensions, insurance, banking, finance and leasing, to name a few.
Also on the panel was Dr. Gaye Fall, a Canada-trained Associate Professor of Oncology at the University Hospital, Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar University in Senegal, who has served as the Director of the Centre for the Training of Social Security Funds Safety Technicians and also served the Social Security Funds of Senegal.
Mr. Amed Bamba, an economist with over 30 years work experience in the field of social security was also on the APA 2016 panel. He has been heading the International Social Security Association’s Liaison Office for West Africa since 2009. He had served as a Senior Executive and Technical Advisor to the Director-General of the Social Insurance Institute and National Social Insurance Fund of Côte d’Ivoire.
The otherwise bustling venue was enveloped by loud silence once the announcement of winners began, then exploded in a vortex of ecstasy and jubilation once PenCom was announced as the winner in the corporate category of the Prize for Innovations in Corporate Governance.
On hand to receive the award was the Director General of PenCom, accompanied by the leadership team of the foremost Nigerian pension industry regulator.
The second prize in this category went to the National Pension Regulatory Authority of Ghana. The organisers said: “The importance of Corporate Governance cannot be over-emphasized as it serves as the nerve center of running an effective pension scheme.
“It highlights the legal and institutional frameworks as well as administration standards that have been enshrined in regulating and managing the scheme.
“The assessment focused on the strength of enabling laws and extant legislations; robustness of the institutions; and the effectiveness of service standards”. The Premium Pensions Limited, a Nigerian Pension Fund Administrator, clinched the Operators’ award for Innovation for Corporate Governance.
Also, the infrastructure need of Africa is monumental; hence the need for African pension funds to support the development of the Continent’s economies in the foreseeable future through investment in infrastructure.
PenCom also carted away the award for Socio-Economic Impact of Pension System focused on infrastructure development, intermediation in the real sector and development of capital markets.
According to the organisers, “entries in this category were evaluated based on the impact of the Pension Fund’s investments on these three key sectors, in particular, and on the other sectors of their local economies.
“Participation in this category was open to both pension regulatory authorities and managers. In the case of entries by regulatory authorities, a holistic view of the country’s overall pension or social security investment portfolio was taken”.
Only recently, PenCom rolled out plans to invest 40 percent (more than 2.32 trillion) of the pension funds in infrastructure and sustainable investments like railways, power, agriculture and real estate, by 2019 as part of its five-year strategy to enhance inclusive growth and generate better value for contributors. This, experts believe, will help catalyse economic development, job creation, and economic sustenance in Nigeria. It is only being careful to ensure it does it as securely as possible.
Meanwhile, the second price went to the National Social Security Fund, Sudan.
First prize for Deployment of Innovative Practices to Facilitate Wide Coverage and Inclusion was won by Premium Pension Limited, while ENWEALTH Financial Services of Kenya bagged the second prize.
According to the organisers of APA, supports from extended family members to the aged are diminishing, the two operators were considered best in widening coverage of pension system to reduce the number of people transiting into old age in poverty.
First Prize for Innovation in Risk Management, aimed at recognising those who are the best in planning, organising and controlling activities and resources to minimize the impact of the many risks that pension assets and all other aspects of pension administration are exposed to, was clinched by Axis Pensions Trust of Ghana, while the Social Security Regulatory Authority, Tanzania, went home with the second prize.
The CEO of Axis, Afriyie Oware said: “Over the past three years, our preoccupation has been to establish sound institutional structures that provide peace of mind and comfort to our clients. We least expected an award for that. At the larger industry level, this is also exciting as it reflects positively on the success and high standards that private pension players have introduced to the pensions landscape in Ghana”.
First, second, and third prizes for Innovations in Information and Communication Technology Platforms for Improved Customer Service Delivery were won by Stanbic/IBTC of Nigeria, MINERVA Benefits Consulting of Zimbabwe, and the National Social Security Institute, Guinea Bissau, respectively. This award category recognised those pension institutions that have used creative ways for sensitsation and made effective use of communication technology in their product and service offerings.
Although the APA 2016 has come and gone, its memories will continue to linger; and the global community will not forget in a hurry the steadfastness of successive Nigerian governments in transforming the Nigerian pension industry from one reeling in debts to one full of opportunities; defined by far-reaching reforms and the requisite regulatory will and innovations to support development and economic diversification.
In 12 years, PenCom has painstakingly built a reliable, transparent, and solid pension system driven by a dynamic and strong regulatory structure that have helped to grow Nigeria’s pension assets from N2 trillion debt/deficit inherited in 2004 to N5.8 trillion as at July 2016.
These awards notwithstanding, the clearly elated DG of PenCom, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, no doubt spoke the minds of many Nigerians when she admitted in her acceptance speech that “While we are deeply elated and encouraged by this acknowledgement of the progress we have made in repositioning the Nigerian and African pension industry, we see the awards more as a mandate to sustain and surpass whatever we have achieved because the reward for a job well done is more work”.
“Enforcement and innovation are require a lot of firmness and creativity, but we are happy that we have behind us the President Mohammadu Buhari-led administration that is giving bite to our barks, supporting us all the way, and we won’t disappoint”, she added amidst applause.