Â Speaking from the perspective of an international investor, the new Chairman of Sigma Pensions, Mr. Mark Collier, in this interview, speaks on the enormous prospects in the pension industry in Nigeria and how technology is playing a huge part in its success.Â Nume EkegheÂ presents the excerpts: Â
Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
My name is Mark Collier and I have just been appointed the chairman of Sigma Pensions. The background is that I seat on a number of boards of financial services company mostly in developing markets. For example, I seat on the boards of companies in India, South Africa, and Nigeria and previously in Brazil and Indonesia.
So the value I bring to Sigma Pensions is the developed world experience where I used to work for two investment and pensions companies in the United States; one called Fidelity investments which is a big asset manager and the other called Charles Schwab in San Francisco. So combined with that experience and sitting on the boards of these emerging market companies it is a great pleasure for me to be appointed chairman of a Nigerian company.
You seem excited about being chairman of a Nigerian company, what are your thoughts on Nigeria?
Nigeria I think is a fantastic country. The people are amazing and I been coming to Nigeria once every three months in the last two years. The opportunities here both for the financial services industry and how it develops going forward as well as the pensions industry are enormous. And this is just the beginning of what it would be huge period of growth in the interest of hard working Nigerians have a great interest in how their monies are being invested and how their investment savings are being put into a pension and how the pension money is being looked after. These are really important things because all these are ultimately going to work very hard and hopefully have a very comfortable retirement. One of the most important things Nigerians or anyone in the world is to save for their long-term health and their long term welfare.
Sigma is extremely well placed to do that and we are a very dynamic company. As you know, Dave Uduanu is our Chief Executive officer/Managing Director who joined us about 12 months ago and already we are growing at a much faster pace than we had done before. Also, with the recovery in the Nigerian economy which we are already seeing a real sprout of growth.
So Sigma Pensions is fantastic company with great people, with a great management team, lots of talent and Sigma Pensions is well on the way of being a world class pension administration business.
What are your expectations in terms of performance?
The marketplace and the demand well run, good performing pensions are deep and we are going to do a number of things. Firstly, we are going to help Nigerian understand the role of pensions in their lives and the reason for saving and how to make the most of their saving. More choices as you know coming into the savings market place with the introduction of multi funds which is going to give Nigerians who are in pension fund the decision to decide which fund they would like to be in. So there is going to be a big role for education to help Nigerians understand what the best funds for them and how they should invest. Also this would sweep their personal lives as well because as Nigeria develops, people become more sophisticated and we realise we need to make provision for our working lives and save during that process. So it all about customer service and servicing the needs of our clients, making sure they understand what they are investing in and making sure they feel good about their investment decision.
You mention earlier you seat on boards of other Pension companies other emerging markets some more advanced than Nigeria. If you were to compare Nigeria with some of these countries, what do think can Nigerian PFAâ€™s do better?
So I seat on the board of Alexander Forbes in South Africa and they have the right to claim that they are Africaâ€™s largest pension administrator and investment management company as well, and therefore it is very interesting to compare the two. Firstly, in Nigeria in shorter period of time have had access to pensions funds whereas in South Africa it has been for a much longer period of time. So there isnâ€™t that familiarity yet here in Nigeria or indeed the understanding of the importance yet. So if you were to contrast South Africa with Nigeria, there is that educational process which the pension administration has done there whereas it is just beginning here in Nigeria. So there is inevitably probably 20 to 30 years gap but the interesting thing now is that modern technology today closes that gap dramatically. So therefore, the tools which we have today; the web, ipads, digital information, branch networks move these sorts of things and also the marketing materials we have can close that gap.
So within a few years, I fully expect the difference between the South African Pension environment and the Nigerian one would be completely closed. Nigeria is a much larger population and it has and would have a much larger economy over time so the opportunity here for the pensions industry and for Sigma particularly is very strong.
I understand your company has some ambitious goals for the year 2020. Can you speak on them?
We have some ambitious stretch goals which the management team have embraced obviously I canâ€™t divulge what they are but we intend to be definitely within the top three pension administrator here by assets under management and by numbers of customer. So that is one of our top priorities to achieve that goal at the same time really helping Nigerians really feel comfortable about their investments and how their money is being invested.
What is your outlook for Sigma Pensions?
For its outlook, I think continued prosperity for its customers by working hard to ensure that we manage their money very well and that they really understand. So the future looks very bright along with the prospects for Nigeria along with the recovery in the economy and all the good things taking place in this country. I think is all good for everybody.
Lastly how confident are you with your management team?
One hundred per cent, we have a very fantastic management team. Dave Uduanu is a tremendous chief executive by any measure and we have really got some excellent and world class managers in the business.