Ebose: Accurate Data Vital for Ease of Doing Business

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Managing Director, Anchor Insurance, Mr. Augustine Ebose, in this interview speaks on the impact of inadequate data on the drive by the federal government to create a conducive business environment in Nigeria, insisting that non-availability of accurate data poses problem to premium income generation among insurance industry operators. Ebere Nwoji brings the excerpts:

This is the fifth month of the year. How has business been so far in 2019?

You are right that businesses slowed down as a result of the focus on the campaigns and subsequently the elections. However, as a going concern which cannot tell stories of failure to owners, the industry never allowed that to affect its zeal. At Anchor Insurance, we did not relent. However, I must confess the political activities, to an extent, affected the result we had expected. Business was not rewarding as we thought because of the elections. You know government is the chief customer of the insurance sector.

Government appeared to be more concerned with the elections and this greatly impacted on the industry negatively. Also, then focus on elections slowed down debate on the nation’s budget. Everything was based on the Nigerian budget except for very few agricultural products which do not add much in terms of insurance premiums. Now that elections are over, the economy is picking up. We hope that the president assents to the budget, then we can start harnessing our potential in terms of getting businesses and premium gathering.

Data collation and presentation is a problem in the industry do you agree with this and what is the way forward?

The truth of the matter is if we don’t have records of people, then data collation becomes an issue. Ease of Doing Business will also be an issue. The government launched the campaign but since it was launched, how many people have been doing business easily? There are no data, not even with government agencies and it is really affecting businesses. If I want to do a business with you, there are some basic details I will need you have but ready data are not there to fetch any required details from. Over there, in countries that have got it right, the information is there. For instance, through such data, you can know the level of compliance to the purchase of the compulsory insurances.

With such information available, you can effectively go after those who are yet to subscribe to ensure full compliance. And it is because there is such ready information that people feel apprehensive to readily respond to such compulsory regulations. Details like your date of birth, where you live, your parents, the kind of insurance policy you have, what you do for a living, previous work done are known. If you go to their data bank, every information about their people are there. By telephone call, you get every information you need about me but here, the reverse is totally the case. Apart from data on persons, volume of businesses transacted and the consequent revenue are perfect. With all these things not being the case in Nigeria, how can business be done here easily and profitably? Until we get our data right as a country, doing business will be difficult.

Data issue in Nigeria is indeed a big challenge and that is why sometimes people doubt data being released by some agencies in the country. Take for instance, in the insurance industry, most times the data released by NIA will be different from the one released by NAICOM and the one released by the National Bureau of Statistics. So with these differences, which one do we take?

Just as I said earlier, inaccuracy in data or lack of data is an issue in Nigeria. If you go to the Corporate Affairs Commission, what exercise have they carried out to check if those directors whose lists are sent to them actually exist? We are not doing business with people because we are not sure of them. When you have doubt in people, the journey that will take you three minutes will take you three years. Even at that, we still have issue of trust, that is our problem. So, if we don’t deal with the issue of data, nobody will trust our credibility. My name is Augustine Ebose. It can never change. It is part of my data.

Here in Nigeria, people will want to do business with Anchor Insurance because they know me but abroad, people will go to your website to check for the needed details about your company and go further to confirm such by logging on the site of the Office of Statistics or an appropriate government body but here, where such exists, there are variances. So, the ease of doing business will be a mirage if our data as a country is inaccurate and our statistics as a country is not reliable. A police man abroad will arrest you and tell you your story that you have forgotten because he has your data. So, if I come to your bank and you, as a bank manager, already have my data from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, that way, doing business in the country will be very easy. Business is done on trust and after trust comes the relationship.

Can we say that it is the same lack of trust that is making insurance penetration which we have been struggling to achieve difficult to get?

Yes, it is part of it because the Nigerian insurance industry is the microcosm of the entire economic policy of Nigeria. We cannot take ourselves away from our culture or environment. We can only make policies that would change our environment. That is what will change the way we behave, reason and do things. Abroad, when you lay fraudulent claim, you will go to jail. How many people who have done business in Nigeria with fraudulent claims have been sent to jail? I haven’t heard of any since I have been working in the insurance industry.

It is the same people that will come out and say insurance sector does not pay claims. We don’t pay claims but we only pay valid claims. Abroad, people do policies that hold them accountable because they have history. But here, you do an insurance policy and when you mess up, you will go to another insurance company and still be given cover because the other company does not have your history. Abroad, they have a central system that if you take an insurance policy, you mess up and go to another insurance company, they will tell you where you are coming from and treat your case very specially. So, it is also affecting our premium income, lack of trust, even the government itself does not trust insurance companies. Why will government that regulates insurance company be asking for advertisement to steer the company to summit documents when the documents emanated from them? You want to do business with NNPC, the corporation is asking you whether you are qualified to be there? Why don’t they write to NAICOM to give them the names of qualified insurance companies? That is what I sit down here sometimes to think about.

NAICOM understands the state of all insurance companies, they regulate us, mark our books, check our budget and premium incomes. The same NNPC which is a government agency will set up a bid and be advertising for insurance companies to apply. Are you saying that NAICOM does not know the insurance companies that are qualified to write such insurance policies in Nigeria? Corporate Affairs Commission will want to do business with insurance and set up a bid and ask them to apply with list of their directors. Are you saying that the government agency doesn’t have the list of all directors with them? It is something we need to sit down and write to NAICOM and NIA to find a way of making things easy for the insurance sector as it relates to this poser. That’s the way forward. Inadequate data is affecting the premium income and affecting the way we do business in Nigeria as far as insurance is concerned.

Anchor Insurance is now under your care. How did you meet the company and what are plans for the company?

I came into this company as an Executive Director in January, 2017. I was appointed the Managing Director of the company by the Board of Directors precisely February 14, 2018. So, I am just some months above a year on my seat. I met the company on a stable ground, though there were a few things I felt needed to be changed to create a new challenge for the company. The company’s premium income was never above N2.2 billion year-in-year out all its 28 years of doing business before I came on board. But as I speak to you now, we did about N3.5 billion in my first year. It is our deliberate plan to change the narratives for the company through aggressive marketing strategy.

We have sent our strategic officers on needed training programmes and they are already delivering expected results. We have looked at every staff area of strength and posted those who need to be moved to where they will deliver superior results for the company. However, much as we hated to advise any staff who did not have the needed speed to be on our fast moving train, we couldn’t resist the temptation to do. We also looked at the information technology system as this is the major source of doing business seamlessly. We are happy with the results we are getting today. We further looked at the places where there were wastages. We have closed them. We have also looked closely at those we deal with, whether local or foreign reinsurers, in terms of our reinsurances for our risk purposes. Where there were gaps, we have also closed them. So, our insurance is robust.

We are going visual. We want to start using drones to take pictures of immediate claims report for on-the- spot assessment. We are working in that area to improve on our claims assessment and payment. In the next five years, we want to see ourselves in the paperless economy where we don’t use paper to process business or claims or do our work and where everything is online. That is the way to go. We are looking for the manpower; we will get there in the next five years. Furthermore, the thought of broadening our revenue base led us to think of more products to add to our list. Today, we have NAICOM’s approval to sell agriculture insurance products.

Our Loss of Employment Insurance Scheme for those in employment has been retuned and it is currently receiving massive acceptance. We are not resting on our oars. We are visionary in our approach. We are looking at doing not less than N10 billion four or five years from now, hoping that the economic assumptions we have when we came in are improved upon or above the same. Though NAICOM has dropped its tier-based minimum solvency policy for insurance companies, we at Anchor Insurance have sent in the necessary papers to our regulator asking for approval to raise our capital base from about N5.12 billion to N10.4 billion. We are working round it as I speak. This is to ensure we play in the list of the bigger ones in the nation’s insurance sector.