By Ifeanyi Ugwuadu
Williams Coker is the Secretary-General and CEO of sub-regional insurers organisation, West African Insurance Companies Association (WAICA).
He is a student of West African Insurance Institute in The Gambia and also a citizen of the country. He was in Nigeria where he held high level talks with officials of ECOWAS on the future of WAICA. An apostle of regional integration, Coker spoke exclusively to Vanguard weekend on his current brief for the transformation of the body to a commercially viable organisation.
What does WAICA represent in the insurance market
The acronym, WAICA stands for West African Insurance Companies Association. It is an association of insurance companies and really itâ€™s limited to underwriting companiesâ€” brokers are members of the association. Loss adjusters, reinsurance companies are also part of the association. Really, the association was formed way back in 1973 by founding fathers such as Prof Joe Irukwu from nigeria, insurance leaders from Ghana, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Liberia.
They decided to come togetherÂ in 1973 to pool their resources to protect the economic interest, (that is, the insurance aspects of it) in the sub-region and also to develop it by setting up various schemes and objectives as to education in insurance, exchange of business, exchange of personnel. So its was really a platform on which to develop insurance in West Africa.
Is WAICA in any way related to ECOWAS
It is interesting you should ask that question. You should, of course, know about the Brown Card which is the international motor insurance certificate. That scheme was actually started by WAICA and its members and because WAICA members like Prof Irukwu and the like wanted to give more international flavour. Even though it originated from English speaking West Africa, they realised that non of the English speaking countries in the sub-region has a common border which implied we have to get first through the franco- phone neighbours by road to get to each other. As a result of that, the founding fathers brought in ECOWAS. Now ECOWAS being a bigger body took up the project and that is why itâ€™s called the ECOWAS Brown Card. That is how we got involved in ECOWAS and since then ECOWAS and us having been collaborating. But lately, since I took over some two years ago, we have strengthened those relationships and forging stronger ties with the sub-regional body thinking along integration.
How would rate the performance of WAICA in relation to the objectives it set out to achieve
one of the major projects that was set by the founding fathers was the establishment of an educational arm where we can train personnel because prior to 1973 there were not many trained personnel at middle management level and as a result there was a gap. So, the founding fathers conceived of an institution that would train people for that particular level in our insurance hierarchy. The West African Insurance Institute was set up.Â That was a major project and it was achieved and recently it celebrated its 30th graduation. Fortunately,
I am a product of that institution. This is one achievement that was targeted by the association. The other was the exchange of business: now that has happened because, one, the graduate students of WAII on returning to their different countries will exchange businesses with each other in the various countries because they have come to know themselves through the school life they spent together. And that has helped retain foreign exchange within the sub-region. Of course, we have not reached the maximum potentials of this opportunity. It is still ongoing and we are hoping to build on that.
Is there any real integration talks between you and ECOWAS
Since I came here in Nigeria, I had held meeting with officials of ECOWAS with a view to achieving another objective of the founding fathers and that is the establishment of the WAICA Reinsurance Corporation which hopefully, will be the commercial arm of WAICA while WAII remains the academic arm. We are hoping to get ECOWAS involved in it as a major possible way to establish it. Again this another sign of integration. We will also bring companies to put money into it and thus, give us a common front in helping us retain more foreign exchange within our sub-region which is a very vital thing. And this will create more capacity in the insurance business.
Wouldnâ€™t this conflict with the role Africa Re plays in the continent
No, it shouldnâ€™t. Infact, it should be complementary as opposed to competition. It would interest you to know that Africa Re has a seat on the WAICA board. So, really, we work together.
What are the developments that informed a sub-regional reinsurance company now
WAICA Re has been on the table for a long time. One school of thought can justifiably say that it ia project which is long overdue. But why now? Now because weâ€™re more focused in making sure that we make our contribution to our sub-regional economy.
Now because our economies are growing. Many of the countries are beginning to discover good deposits of oil along the coasts while some already have large deposits. Of course, Nigeria has been there for quite some time. This means the economies will be growing in leaps and bounds and when it does happen, insurance needs have to be there to support the economies as they grow. So, another reinsurance company is most appropriate. If not yesterday, definitely now and certainly not tomorrow. Tomorrow will be too late!
Does this have any implication on the reinsurance, WAICA Pool, domiciled in Nigeria Re
Let me say I wasnâ€™t expecting this question. But let me seize this opportunity and the platform provided by Vanguard to publicly express our grateful thanks to the board and management of the Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation over the years and up till now for housing the WAICA Pool and managing it on behalf of WAICA. Weâ€™re grateful and also hopeful that this will be another step to development. Now to the specifics of your question:
The pool was actually set up as a seed to WAICA Reinsurance Corporation. Now that we are quite focused on getting the reinsurance company off the ground, we are hoping to use the pool as the foundation for the reinsurance corporation.
So, itâ€™s not really weâ€™re starting from scratch. No! We have something that has been there over the years and have been quite profitable and we are looking forward to the transformation of the pool to WAICA reinsurance company.
This means the WAICA Pool has exited from Nigeria Re
It has not been exited yet. What we are doing now is a reconciliation of the books. And once we conclude that, then we would be in a position to know at what level the building is so that we can thereafter transfer it formally.
Would WAICA Re be domiciled in Nigeria or elsewhere in the sub-region
Again, we want to thank the government of Sierra Leone for actually giving us the privilege and offering to host the reinsurance corporation.
We are looking forward to working with them in establishing it there. This has been the decision long ago and over the years, we have been working with the Sierra Leone market players. Again, weâ€™re opportune and quite blessed at this point in time in that the Sierra Leonean Head of State, Dr Ernest Koroma is actually an insurance man. He trained in WAII and has great passion for insurance.
So, he is quite willing to host us because he knows the benefits of insurance and what it does. We are therefore, hoping to locate the head office of WAICA Re in Freetown. I will quickly add that weâ€™re still going to maintain a contact office in Lagos because Nigeria is a big market. World players donâ€™t ignore Nigeria and so who are regional players to ignore the market. It will be to our detriment.Â Weâ€™re certain that we will have a fully functional branch office in Nigeria and of course we will look at other countries that we need such business as well.
What is your timeline
Weâ€™re looking at 2010. Like I said we think this thing is long overdue and we donâ€™t want to keep it too long any further. But definitely 2010 is our target.
The West African Gas pipeline project and other such projects should need sub-regional insurance support. Is WAICA in the picture
Even before WAICA, letâ€™s look at the direct insurance first. One of the briefs of my office is to have a situation where such large multinational projects can be insured by a consortium of insurers from within the region. That enhances integration!Â But then one insurance company from one country cannot actualise it. However, an institution like WAICA can bring these various companies across the sub-region to provide a cover for such project.