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Insurance market in Gambia is challenging

Mrs Senor Thomas-Sowe, Managing Director of International Insurance Company (IIC), Gambia in this interview with Patience Saghana reveals some challenges facing the Gambian insurance market, the wave of unethical practices particularly in medical insurance and the tasks of being a young CEO among more experience and advance colleagues in the market and what makes IIC thick

rs Senor Thomas-Sowe, Managing Director of International Insurance Company (IIC), Gambia

How is Gambian insurance market?
We thank God for the regulations now because there were no strong regulations for insurance industry in Gambian before.  And that brought about the review of Gambia Insurance Act in 2006.

And the Central Bank of Gambia is doing a lot now to change the industry and we hope that things will be better in the years to come. Insurance regulation used to be a unit in the Central bank now they have a full department of Insurance. And we have a Commissioner who is the head of the Insurance department in the Central Bank of Gambia.
Do you have compulsory insurance in Gambia?

Yes. That is only Motor Insurance. And compliance is good. Gambian Insurers Association (GIA) is lobbying the CBG to localize marine insurance. That will help the market to grow. Out license are tied with Tax. If your tax is not up to date, you can’t renew your vehicle license. And they give us till March before they start chasing those who have not updated their tax

How is International Insurance Company doing?
We are one of the youngest and among the leading insurance companies in Gambia. I am happy about that and Give God all the glory for taking the company this far. It has not been easy being a young chief executive and her young and dynamic staff. Not easy in the sense that we have advanced people in the market with vase experience yet we are able to compete with them. And Gambia is a small country with 11 insurance companies. You can agree with me that competition is not easy here.

The competition is tough with rate cutting and what have you.
How would you rate IIC in the market?

I would say we are among the top four insurance companies in the Gambia market.
Are you intimidated as young CEO?

I am not in any way intimidated. I like what l do and l have a good relationship in the market and among contemporaries.

Were you the founding CEO of the company?
No. Though l set up the company but was the technical manager and as at that time, we had and Managing Director and l became the MD two years after since 2003.

How would you describe IIC 2009 Operations?
Since l took over in 2003 to date, the company has been making progress. The company has really grown in terms of premium and capital base.

What distinct IIC from others?
What distinct IIC from other is a combination of our products, claims settlement, service delivery etc. The human resource, the average age of staff in the company is 30 and below but they are dynamic and innovation. We maintain our integrity.  I t also has to do with our relationship with the company’s clients. Our word is our bond as far as insurance sis concern in Gambia.

What are your most trying times as CEO of IIC in the last seven years?
We did not have much problem during the recapitalization because we were the first to fully capitalise. We had the support of the shareholders and the board. We were well capitalized even before the deadline when most insurance companies were still struggling to recapitalize, we had already recapitlised.

We had a difficult time when l took over in 2003 because we had so many claims at that period and huge claims to settle on medical insurance. I had to confront my staff and said to them that those that wished to join the winning team should support me and those that did want to could leave us and some had to leave. It was really tough for me to make such decisions because l had to, in order for the company to move forward.

And Gambia is a small country where everybody is kind of related one way or the other, so it was hard for me to take that decision. I said to my self then that if we could not turn-around the company, then l had to resign.

I presented by challenge to the board. And today, l give glory to God that we were able to turn the company around for the better for that 2003 to date. It was really tough, because l had sleepless nights and claims to settle. And that period we had serious medical claims pay which affected the company’s liquidity. I was very young then and there were skepticisms here and there over how l would cope with the turning around of the company.

I took over in June 2003 and between June of that year and December it was indeed tough because l had to decisions that made me unpopular even among my staff. And that was the turning point from that period till now.
Any regret?
No. I have no regret because the team l have today are the best in the country. I know they can lead the company without me. And I am really proud of them.

How do you manage to excel among your colleagues in the West Africa?
It is the grace of God. Again, I have good relationship with people. The way I behave outside and within the West Africa, that is the same way I behave with my staff.

And every year I make my staff to the lowest cadre to assess me but when it comes to work, we have to do the job.
Were you threatened by IGI’s Gamstar Insurance?

No. We are the highest capitalized insurance company in Gambia and we got it before others were struggling to raise fund to recapitalize. We are not at all challenges because we have built our name and reputation. We have over 30million Dalasis capital base and the minimum is 15million Dalasis.

.How was Gambia able to host the 37th AIO?
It was not easy to host AIO in a small country like Gambia but we than God. Our budget was 9million Dalasis ($340,000). We had our partners from outside the Gambia who supported us.

It was like are we sure we could make it. But l personally, as the Chairperson of Finance and Fund Raising committee because of my relationship with people got tremendous support. Every door that we knocked was open to us. Nigerians are fantastic. Reinsurance companies in Nigeria even at the national \insurance Commission level and outside support us in all the major events.

Even our neighbor in Senegal which we have not been given business much because of French Anglophone barrier. We decided at association level that we really need to support Senegal if only to give they part of our treaties. We initially budgeted for 500 people, but we ended up having over 700 people. Gambian Government supported us through the Central Bank of Gambia. Banks in Gambia also came to our aid with Qcell, a telecommunication operator supported us.


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